Catwalk comeback

Israeli fashion is gaining international attention once again.

A model reacts as her outfit by designer Tamara Salem is steamed backstage during Tel Aviv Fashion Week (photo credit: FINBARR O'REILLY / REUTERS)
A model reacts as her outfit by designer Tamara Salem is steamed backstage during Tel Aviv Fashion Week
(photo credit: FINBARR O'REILLY / REUTERS)
FOR FOUR days in March, in one little corner of Tel Aviv, where one day a fashion mall will stand, thousands of Israeli fashionistas, resplendent in their leather pants, flowing cloaks, tight skirts, chunky jewelry, and shoes of all kinds, were in fashion heaven. This was the scene as Israeli designers took to the catwalk with their newest collections, with cameras flashing, music blaring and models working it like in the big leagues during the second Gindi Tel Aviv Fashion Week.
Among the collections shown were Ronen Chen, Kedem Sasson, Collecte, Dorin Frankfurt, Tovale+, Yaron Minkovski, SAMPLE, Comme Il Faut, Maskit, Tamara Salem and Alembika.
Giving the event some added star quality was the arrival of Franca Sozzani, editor-in-chief of the Italian-language Vogue magazine, who noted that Israeli fashion was gaining momentum internationally, and the opening show by Rosita Missoni, the 82-year-old matriarch of the renowned Italian design house Missoni.
“There are fashion weeks all over the world and in Israel we have lots of potential with young and new designers,” asserts Michal Portman, the international press officer for TFW, whose leading Israeli fashion blog Matryoshka promotes young Israeli designers.
“There is a lot of talent in Israel. This showcases another side of the local industry.”
Fashion, says Portman, her hair swept up in a bouffant style wearing a retro flounced baby pink skirt, a tucked-in Dorin Frankfurt T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Made in Tel Aviv” and high heels, is a personal statement, and no matter what you choose to wear in the morning, you are a walking advertisement of yourself.
“People see you and they know who you are without you even having to open your mouth,” she tells The Jerusalem Report.
Opening the same week as the glitzy Tel Aviv affair, but in a more subdued Jerusalem style, was “Dress Code,” at the Israel Museum, which celebrated 200 years of Jewish fashion putting on display 100 from among 10,000 garments in its collection of Jewish costumes throughout the world. The exhibit will run through October 25.
Ayala Revah, director of marketing for the museum, notes that the exhibit is an example of how the museum can reach out to audiences, which may not normally be museum-goers.
“Fashion can be a sort of bridge,” she says.
“Anything to do with fashion can reach far to other audiences.”
“This collection actually can be an inspiration for fashion designers today. I think if they are looking for something different, they have such a large area to choose from. They can take these subjects and make them universal,” Efrat Assaf, curator of the exhibit tells The Report.
The exhibit is divided into five themes re-volving around clothes and identity, she points out. For instance she says, the Central Asian robes worn by Jewish women on the one hand blur the identity of the wearer while, on the other hand, emphasize the communal religious and geographical association.
In a first-of-its-kind live exhibition held after the opening, the museum did indeed invite young designers – some of whom had shown at the Tel Aviv Fashion Week – to be inspired by a garment of their choice in the exhibit, and design a dress.
“As these six designers have demonstrated, historical influences continue to absorb and radiate to the present in our own time and place,” says James Snyder, director of the Israel Museum.
Designers Yaniv P ersy, I lana E frati, A di Singfer of MeDusa, Philip Blau and Helena Blaunstein of Frau Blau, and Sharon Tal, head designer at the resurrected legendary fashion house Maskit, originally founded by Ruth Dayan, took their inspiration from a black Afghani burka worn by Jewish women, a Bukharan embroidered robe, a 19th century gown from the Jewish Bahgdadi Indian community in Calcutta, the cloak of the chief rabbi of Turkey, a Yemenite celebratory after-birth robe and an elaborately embroidered Turkish wedding dress, which traditionally accompanied a woman from her wedding day to her death, when the velvet material was used to sew a Torah cover in her memory by the community.
PERSY, DISPLAYING the half cape on his felt wool and silk black dress worn by a model, noted that he chose the burka with the idea of empowering women with the clothing they wear.
“In that culture femininity was covered and hidden. In this look, on the one hand, the body is covered, but in the back it empowers the woman’s silhouette,” he says indicating the fitted back of the dress.
“I love this idea of taking tradition and bringing it into the modern world,” notes Maya Kramer, a fashion producer, stylist and co-founder of Stylit, a personal shopper/fashion consulting service, who collaborated with the designers for the live event. Earlier, she had also attended Fashion Week in Tel Aviv.
“All the designers were incredibly inspired by the pieces.”
Having come to Israel from New York seven years ago, Kramer said she has seen a shift in the Israeli fashion trends.
“In such a short amount of time it is becoming global in fashion. At the end of the day, Jewish fashion is fashion from all over the world,” says Kramer. “We know what we are talking about. We are very up to date. I saw this exhibit before I went to Fashion Week and I saw the influence [of the traditional dress] on the runway. It still exists; we still get influenced from our past.”
Just as in the world of hi-tech, Israeli fashion designers think “outside of the box,” she says.
“It’s part of their personality.”
Many fashion designers elsewhere also look to the past for inspiration, but then they generally tend to forget it, notes Adi Singfer of Me- Dusa who had created a modern version of the black embroidered Yemenite after-birth robe in white, with a plastic clutch.
“In Israel, we look back to our past and then we [use it as a springboard to] go forward,” she says. Although she was not invited to present at the Tel Aviv Fashion Week, she says the event was a move in the right direction for local fashion. “It is very important because we have some very talented designers with unique abilities and this brings important people from around the world here to see them. For me, as a young designer, I hope that in the future there will also be a place for small labels.”
Of half-Turkish descent, Sharon Tal, of the Maskit fashion house, was inspired to create a wedding dress, which incorporates the traditional embroidery of the Turkish cloak, also a signature style of Maskit.
To create her inspired wedding dress, she researched other examples of embroidery in the museum’s collection, she says.
“Israel is something special. We have some 72 cultures here with 72 ways of dressing and traditional fashion,” she says. “This museum exhibit is very emotional and exciting for me, looking at these 100-year-old garments and seeing how we have kept up with the tradition of embroidery. We can see the transition and how it can be very modern. It is important to have something like this, not just for people in the industry but for everybody. The new generation doesn’t even know about this.”
In Tel Aviv, Dutch fashion blogger, Linda Tol, taking a break from the shows at TFW notes that Israeli style is totally different from the style she has seen in European and American shows.
“Europe is minimalist, here it is the opposite,” Tol says, sporting large sunglasses with little delicate plastic flowers on the corners. “You see a lot of glitter here, sparkle, diamonds.”
But then, she says, Holland is different from Paris and Paris is different from New York.
“I’d never heard of Israeli designers, that’s why I am here,” she adds.
According to Shelly Ziv, deputy editor of the Israeli entertainment magazine “Pnai Plus” who had come to enjoy the fashion shows, this year’s event is a step forward for the local fashion scene.
“THE CHOICES of materials and textures are more interesting this year. This is showcasing something of normalcy in this country, which we must celebrate,” she says. “On the one hand, Israeli fashion can be very simple but, on the other hand, it can be very adventurous.”
Though this year at TFW there was a participation fee of $10,000, the sum is still a fraction of the cost it would take for the designers to put on their own shows, thus, theoretically, helping young designers get their collections out there.
Nevertheless, there was some criticism of this year’s show focusing on more established designers.
Mingling with the crowd following a successful showing of her collection, veteran designer Dorin Frankfurt notes that a designer’s collection has to grow rooted in the place from where one is.
“My agenda 30 years ago was and remains a good design. It has to develop from where you are. It gets strength from the place where one is from, and if it works abroad, it is a miracle,” she says. “At the end of the day, at least we are supporting our community and that is something.”
Stylist and fashion journalist Tamar Marcovitz notes that Israel is slowly getting itself back onto the fashion map as in the golden days of the 70s when fashion houses Oberson and Maskit made names for themselves.
“We don’t have an unlimited budget and that makes us very creative. We are really good at combining East and West,” she says.
The Israeli fashion scene may be expanding, says bag designer Assaf Shem-Tov from Collecte, as he breezed through the crowd, but still, it does not compare to the almost free-forall opportunities that can await a designer in Europe, where the target audience is larger, the rich are really, really rich, and take more risks with their fashion.
“Here in Israel they go less crazy,” says Shem-Tov, who notes that his designs have seen quite a bit of success through his website, another means which Israeli designers are using to get their collections seen abroad, with orders coming in from Australia, Russia, China and the United States.
“The customers are more practical here.”