Uga's latest collection, inspired by the 1940s and '50s, seeks to empower professional women.
By MEREDITH PRICE LEVITT
Dressed in burgundy leather boots, a light gray mini-skirt and an elegant charcoal jacket, Liron Elgrabli breezes into her newly-opened store on Tel Aviv's Rehov Dizengoff like a tempest. Tall enough to be a runway model, her thick mob of dark curls are swept partially away from her face, accenting her large brown eyes. Wearing fashions she created for today's working woman, Elgrabli looks like a powerful professional, not another whimsical artist with a penchant for trendy clothing.
"I came from the studio and there was no parking," she says, exasperated that she is 15 minutes late for the interview. "Did you see the clothes?" she asks, wheeling a thin silver rack of clothing to the side of the store and chastising the stylist for not reorganizing the racks by color as she requested.
Along one wall, chic cocktail dresses and high-waisted satin mini-skirts in elegant prints and satin solids are hanging in neat rows. Two moveable racks in the center of the cozy store display the newest items from her Uga label's winter collection - soft wool tunics in neutral shades, solid leggings, tailored satin jackets and pants and a variety of solid and print halter tops.
"I'm not into the flowing, transparent bohemian look," she says. "I like strong fabrics that are tight but flattering."
Last November for the store's grand opening, Elgrabli decided to host a fashion show on Dizengoff right in front of Uga. "We threw a cocktail party with sushi and fine champagne," she says, showing me images from the catwalk stored on her lap top. "For the show, I chose models who weren't too thin and had a European, femme fatale look with high cheekbones, white skin, full lips and blue eyes to compliment the winter collection of high-waisted, fitted dresses. It was a smash."
Inspired by the "Glam Girls" of the 1940s and '50s who started the fight for equal rights, Elgrabli says her clothes are designed to empower women in professional positions who need to look like they are in charge. Symmetrical, straight lines with a twinge of tailored masculinity are the focus of this season.
Two- and three-piece suits that can be worn together or separate are made up of jackets and trousers that accentuate every curve. Thigh-length trench coats in vivid colors with large buttons and classic tops with large collars and lapels complete the line.
Perhaps the importance of dressing for success comes from Elgrabli's own struggle. Before creating her own label in 2006, she worked her way from humble beginnings in sales at a store on Rehov Sheinkin. Born and raised in a small town near the Kinneret, she always longed to get out of the country and into the city. After the army in 2000, she immediately moved to the country's fashion capital, Tel Aviv.
"I was always that weird girl growing up who was into fashion," she says. "I watched MTV before anyone in my town had heard of it. When I got to Tel Aviv, I knew I had found the place where I belonged."
Unsure of what she wanted to do, her first job was selling clothes in a boutique on Rehov Sheinkin. After three months, the store's owner asked her to consult on upcoming trends and do the buying for the entire chain. "I knew what girls wanted to wear and what looked good on them."
After a while, she created a small accessory line of her own and started selling them to other boutiques. "One day my boss walked in and said, 'I want you to be my designer. I believe in you. I'll teach you everything you need to know.'"
Elgrabli, who had tried modeling, photography, styling and just about everything else related to fashion, jumped at the opportunity. For three years, she worked as the head designer. "I don't have a formal education, but what I learned was far more valuable because I came from the business side and worked my way into the design," she says. "It was better than school."
The job required her to be in charge of people twice her age in a predominantly male world. "It was not easy," she says. "But the experience was invaluable."
When the company was bought by a larger firm abroad and the orders began to be overwhelming, she decided the stress was too much and it was time to follow her own dreams. "I didn't want to do mass production. I wanted to create small lines of my own." She partnered with Ami Ronen, an art director and graphic designer from the world of advertising and interior design, invested in a small studio on Rehov Mohilever in Tel Aviv and started making clothes.
"I needed to take care of my soul. It was a big risk and it was scary, but making a living doing what I love is really a dream come true."
As Uga began to take off, she began searching for the right place to open a store of her own. Uga, which was inspired by the Hebrew word for cake, was carefully chosen with an eye toward the future. "The label is an opportunity to grow beyond just me and my name," she says.
Part of the philosophy behind the clothes comes from Elgrabli's experience. "When you need to be in control, if you give thought to your appearance, you've done over half of the work," she says. "If your clothes say you have great self-confidence and self-esteem, you impress people with your strength. You can attract attention by being feminine and being strong. The two are not in opposition to one another."
The mixture of old, classic designs with uber-modern chic is intended to meet the needs of today's career woman. "This trend toward equality started in the '50s, but it's today's women who are really creating the revolution. The real change is now."
Her tight-fitting, tailored clothes are progressive. Rather than hiding the shape, they enhance it. "Power is sexy," she says. "If you look like you deserve respect, people will give it to you."
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