A big to-do

Stylists, models rub elbows at Israel's 1st-ever hairdressing championship.

hair style 88 248 (photo credit: Hannah Weitzer)
hair style 88 248
(photo credit: Hannah Weitzer)
Hair is one of those things. You've either got it or you haven't. And if you have, then there's a whole Pandora's box of whats, ifs, hows, dos and don'ts that must be considered between that moment you get out of bed in the morning and take leave of your place of residence - exiting your safe space to the realm of random critical judgment that is the public sphere. Thing is though, it doesn't have to be random - for you or your hairdresser. And that's where the OMC Israel Cup 2009 comes in. For the first time, Israel held a championship to choose a winner to send to the OMC Paris Cup Open, scheduled for October 18 and 19. But let's take a step backward. The Organisation Mondiale Coiffure is "the world's biggest beauty organization, with over 60 member countries and 500,000 salon owners worldwide," according to its Web site (omchairworld.com). Member countries include China, Lebanon, Pakistan, Russia, Ukraine, the US and, of course, Canada. The countries are divided up among different regional zones. Israel, which only joined last year, is in the Western Europe zone, as some sort of Zionist dream. And, to be clear, it is Zionism that was the propelling factor for Israel to seek membership. At the press conference (that took place a week prior to the Israel Cup), blue and white was a constant reference by the event's organizers. "Our vision is to promote Israel," offered one participant. Though they were also very careful to make a distinction between politics and art, which, it was frequently asserted, "do not go together." It seems that this might have stemmed from the concern that, on the international level, Israeli champions will come in direct competition with champions from enemy states, a recurring point of conflict for the locals. At the time this piece is being written, the OMC Israel Web site cannot be accessed - despite attempts on multiple Web browsers. Each time the warning that the site could harm your computer is displayed, indicating that someone, somewhere, decided that an Israeli pursuit of hair, makeup and nail championships is a bit too normal for a country still occupying another people. Or, it's just some punk kid having a good time. Either way, it should be noted that almost every time the words "blue," white" or "Israel" were said, it was wrapped in a Russian accent. In fact, on the OMC's main Web site, it list the contact languages for Israel as English and Russian. While no one would comment directly on the disproportionate representation of Russian participation, I was told by one Israel Cup organizer that this is just big in the East. Well, now it's big in Israel. ARRIVING AT Tel Aviv's Dan Panorama, it was clear that this was going to be an event best categorized as "other." Swarms of people had arrived for the days event, free and open to the public with the minor hassle of having to register. Entrance was dependent upon presenting your printed-on-the-spot name tag. Aside from that little environmental faux pas, walking into the exhibition room was like taking a step into the most toxic salon space you could ever imagine. Coughing and taking quick breaths, I tried to expunge the horrible memories of youth that involved my mom taking me with her to have her hair done. But if one can get used to the Tel Aviv air - hot, sticky and carcinogenic - outside, then, well, inside could almost be played off as a a slight improvement: it wasn't as hot. Even before entering the main hall - with its runway, myriad prep tables and oodles of oglers (especially surrounding the four body art models), there was a veritable madhouse of cosmetics, hair products, nail accoutrements of previously unimaginable varieties and those types who look like they go to a bar only if it has FTV on a projection screen. We (my photographer and I) were now playing bumper bodies in Little Odessa. This market had representatives of so many different suppliers for commercial and personal use, including Reisz Professional, BOAZ, Minx Nails, Nano Keratin (an anti-aging hair product) and other gems, such as OPI. OPI is the largest producer of nail polishes, based in the US. Its product, says Ilana Casif, an OPI instructor, is made without carcinogens and with an emphasis placed on "green" ingredients. It was also the only vendor present with a bar. That's because the "nail bar" it had set up, called as such due to the high table and chairs that people sit at to have their nails done resembles a bar. But, in Israel, says Casif, "a bar is a bar." So alcohol must be served. I'm convinced. But the intrigue of the main hall is too much to ignore. It's where the actual action of the day's festivities is going down. So, we enter to take in the scene. And what a scene it is. "It's like backstage at a cracked-out fashion show," says the photographer. I'm inclined to agree. WE ENCOUNTER wedding dresses filled with brides that get your juices flowing, but that you might think twice about taking home to mother. One female has her body painted with scales, in green and black, with her hair done in alternating stripes of those same colors. Then there is the fantasy competition, which entails models decked out in various Vogue-type fashion - all-inclusive, from dress to makeup to nails to hair. But mixed in are two models who stand out for rather obvious reasons. One is "Eve" - barefoot and holding an apple with tree branches and flowers adorning her costume. And an Israeli sports girl - her body painted with the logos of various local teams from Maccabi Haifa to Maccabi Ashdod. Announcements come, once again, in Russian-accented Hebrew, calling out Russian names and the cities where they're from. To add to the whole atmosphere of unexpected oddities, the musical interlude, during the afternoon runway shows, is provided by Jamie Cullum, piped in over the sound system. Then we come to the evening's award ceremony. After all. this is what the whole day has been about. Israelis of various origins have congregated here to compete for the coveted Israel Cup to represent the country in Paris later this year. This is about the models as much as it is about the designers. Shelly Greenberg, 17, from Rishon Lezion, is a model representing the work of Gabi Weinstein, himself representing Carin Gal hair and cosmetics. This is Greenberg's first time in the big leagues and she is excited. Decidedly attractive, Weinstein's input has added a few years on the high-schooler, who admits that the competition brings out the glamour in its participants. But it is the designer who takes center stage. In this case Weinstein, who has a long career behind him, is looking to advance on a professional, world-class level. From the photo gallery available on the OMC's main Web site, there is a huge gap to be traversed. The sheer representation of creativity and fantasy from abroad that is presented outshines the bush-league presentations of the local crews. But "this puts us on the map," Weinstein asserts. "This opens the doors to a new generation." And between Greenberg's glowing appearance and the sheer multitude of local participants, he is most likely correct. Besides, apropos the earlier assertions that there is no connection between politics and art, he promotes the notion that "maybe this will help to advance the relationship [between Jews and Arabs]." AND THEN the evening's gala event goes down. The room starts off, packed with spectators and participants, eager to advance to the international level. A woman of Russian background hosts. She is a somewhat frightening Eastern-looking Christina Ricci. Between announcing the winners, she introduces the evening's entertainment. First comes a Russian singer, dressed like a slutty belly dancer. Then comes a Russian opera singer, decked out in an internally lit costume, from skirt to bra to outlandish headpiece. As the night wears on, the crowd thins and it is clear that those remaining are waiting/hoping to receive the OMC Israel Cup medallions that will ensure their advancement to the international championship in Paris. And, as Arthur Yakubov, who took first place in the Street Fashion competition says, "Thank God, [OMC] arrived in Israel." To him, it is very important to carry the Israeli flag to Paris. But in the short-term, his victory has already had a positive influence on his Ashdod-based salon. So, Paris or not, OMC Israel has already made waves. Where it is to go from here, only time can tell.