THE FABRIC of Israel at 70

The challenges of contemporary fashion design

Elisha Abargel looks at a new design (photo credit: COURTESY ELISHA ABARGEL)
Elisha Abargel looks at a new design
AS ISRAEL celebrated 70 years of independence, much has been written about in recent weeks of the entrepreneurial spirit and can-do attitude that has made Israel into the “Start-Up” nation in technology. But it is not just seen in the hi-tech offices of Tel Aviv, as Israel has also produced a vibrant, creative, and dynamic center for fashion design within the city as well. Brimming with passion and creative energy, designers are crafting strong new statements. A visit to the workshops and studios of Tel Aviv’s creative fashion designer world today gives insight into not just Israeli fashion but about the influences that lie behind the scenes and stitches.
“The Israeli fashion scene is a collection of independent ideas, free of laws, order and history, cut off from rigid cultural rules,” says Galit Reismann, Israeli entrepreneur, curator and fashion-content expert. “It’s also a community of young designers who, with tremendous passion for their profession, work in an environment that is impossibly competitive (with no state support and with a marked shortage of materials and manpower) in the challenging reality of the Middle East. Israeli contemporary design in fashion is being held up as a cultural and social mirror to Israel at 70.”
For those bold enough to leave the traditional tourist routes in Israel and wander into the design studios and workshops of Tel Aviv fashion designers, new insights and under standing of Israeli culture and society can be uncovered.
Growing from her passion for fashion and her deep connection to Tel Aviv, Reismann set out to create TLVstyle where she offers bespoke tours that bring newcomers and old-timers to Tel Aviv. Here with TLVstyle, they meet a range of different contemporary designers who are found in situ in their workshops and design studios located at the ends of tiny alleys, out of the spotlight hidden behind closed doors or nearly lost amid the hustle and the bustle of gentrified Old Jaffa. “You can begin to understand the challenges that the industry meets on a daily basis and yet at the same time stand in awe of the designers’ innovation and creativity that have been born from the very same challenges,” says Reismann.
Israel today is an exhilarating blend of ancient cultures and cutting-edge innovation. Reismann believes that after a few hours in and out of the studios, anyone can see these two worlds clearly live in harmony in the design spaces of Tel Aviv and that Israel can be explored in many directions through the prism of contemporary design. Innovation, ancient arts, sustainability, social comment, creativity, cultural attitudes, supplier challengers and more are all there for the visitor to encounter.
As an immigrant society with people arriving from more than 100 countries over the past 140 years, the local Israeli culture is a tapestry of subcultures: European Ashkenazi, Mizrahi Jewish, Arab, Russian, Ethiopian, as well as ultra-Orthodox. Designers draw inspiration from this reservoir of cultures and traditions, some dating back to ancient times, while combining them with the realities and needs of the modern world. Much like the modern State of Israel, their designs are an expression of the synthesis of values, traditions, reimagined for the modern world.
Reismann is the first to say that many contemporary Israeli designers work with monochrome colors. She argues that although base colors are easy to wear – and therefore good to sell, the ‘overuse’ of monochrome colors comes from the fact that it is in part actually due to necessity. As in other fields in Israel, raw materials are limited, expensive and not always easily accessible.
Elisha Abargel is a prize-winning designer in Tel Aviv who brings to the table traditional craftsmanship with the latest in technology practice so much so that his latest collection is called RomanTek, which showcases a yearning for the romanticism of old with a twist of today’s tech scene. His designs are for bold, fresh, independent women that are produced from a hybrid process of creativity. First Elisha creates the design motifs by hand and then uses technology to digitally create the fabric. He says that the saying “necessity is the father of all innovation” rings true for him as well. The lack of choice in raw materials for contemporary designers to use motivated him to create his own digital printed materials that are produced in hot vibrant colors, inspired by the energy of Tel Aviv, its colors, the sun and the blue skies and sea of the Mediterranean.
Innovation comes in all different forms. Just as Israel is known for having its experts in water desalination techniques and solar panel energy that all drive to a more sustainable world, so too are there fashion designers who make sustainability part of their work: whether it comes in the creative processes that cut down on the amount of water used or by using the 3-d printer that cuts down on waste.
“Israel had a textile industry but that is long over. Now, in the past 5-10 years young designers coming out of Shenkar and other institutions are reinvigorating and reshaping the field,” notes Reismann. “This revival can be seen in the small independent studios they are opening, where they explore the use of new technologies and new materials.”
Danit Peled is a prime example of the hitech start-up nation in fashion. A graduate from Shenkar, who specializes in 3-D printing, fashion designer Peled is into traveling light as long as she is in close proximity to the 3-D printer because she will happily print out any outfit she needs to wear.
EDEN SAADON while completing her studies at Shenkar College chose to produce a line of feminine handmade lace undergarment items, using a single tool – a three-dimensional drawing pen, the 3Doodle, the first 3D printing pen available on the market. By connecting the known visual of traditional knitted lace and the new visual of 3D drawing of the synthetic material, Eden now presents a new visual language and offers a wide spectrum of creative possibilities. In both cases, this technique does not produce any waste, and the Flexy™ material is biodegradable, and thus environmentally friendly.
Fashion has always been a social commentator reacting to the social, political, economic influencers of the day. For commentary on pre-state Israel, one only needs to look at the ATA textile factory that was founded in Kfar Ata in 1934 by Erich Moller, a Jewish industrialist who emigrated from Czechoslovakia. ATA specialized in work clothes and uniforms, reflecting the Zionist and socialist ideology of the pre-state. Every aspect of garment-making, from thread manufacture to sewing and packaging, was produced in the ATA factory. The name of the factory was invented by Israeli Nobel Prize Laureate S.Y. Agnon. ATA is an acronym for the Hebrew words “Arigei Totzeret Artzeinu” – “fabrics manufactured in our land.” The same rang true for the early years of the State of Israel. Ruth Dayan, the wife of Moshe Dayan, founded Maskit, the first fashion house in Israel in 1954. When there was a need to find employment for the many new immigrants who entered the young country, Ruth Dayan realized that many of the immigrants were skilled in decorative arts such as embroidery, rugs, and arts and crafts. Maskit’s designs were based on modern European patterns and combined them with ethnic embroidery – a fashion and decorative arts house that helped to create jobs for new immigrants.
There is no equivalent of London’s Bond Street in Tel Aviv, and menswear designers are hard to find. Reismann attributes this fact that the Israeli market is very small and at the same time the Israeli man has not yet developed a strong dress code and therefore is not searching out homegrown items. “To be a fashion designer in Israel is very challenging,” says Reismann, “but to be a menswear designer is double the challenge.” Up until about ten years ago, the uniform for men in Israel – both casual, going out or in the work space – was a T-shirt and jeans.
Ariel Bassan, an interior designer turned fashion designer, is one out of the over 100 designers that Reismann works with when exploring the Israeli fashion design scene to travelers. Bassan says that this trend is now changing and the field is developing as men begin to feel free and excited to express themselves through fashion. Inspired by his architectural background from FIT New York, Bassan’s garment designs are minimalistic in design and sharp in structure.
Acknowledging the different insights that Reismann offers the traveler, UK Creative Tourism Network recently awarded her a prize for her “originality in allowing participants to discover the local culture through encounters with its creators.” Reismann is a staunch believer in the local blue and white brand of Israel and wants to keep on broadening the platform that allows people from near and far to explore and appreciate the creative fashion community in Israel. Reismann, recently back from being the keynote speaker for an Independence Day celebration of the Jewish Federation in St. Louis, in the US, relates how exciting it has been for her to connect people to Israel through Israeli design. “I love sharing,” says Reismann, “and the excitement in a shared experience of the city and a shared discovery in fashion is something that happens every day with TLVstyle. This is what inspires me every morning!”