After a hiatus of over 30 years, fashion week returned to Israel last year when it was kicked off by famed Italian fashion designer Roberto Cavalli.An effort that took almost two years to organize, Tel Aviv Fashion Week was reintroduced by Ofir Lev, general manager of Israel’s Fashion & Textile Association.Its aim is to serve as a platform to promote and further develop Israel’s fashion industry, comprised of innovative and cutting-edge designers.This year, the three-day event was kicked off by Moschino and included over 15 runway shows from Israeli fashion artists, including Michal Negrin, Frau Blau, Tamar Primack, Anya Fleet, Liora Taragan, Yair Jarmon, Galit Levi, Morin Woolf, Mauricio, Ido Recanati, Ilana Efrati, Yaron Minkowski, Ofir Dahan and upcoming designers from Haifa WIZO School of Design. All shows were held at Hatahana, the refurbished Jaffa railroad station.“We are thrilled to welcome the Moschino Fashion House as our guest of honor at the second annual Tel Aviv Fashion Week. Opening this year’s Fashion Week, Moschino’s participation demonstrates close collaboration between the Israeli and Italian fashion industries.We view Moschino as the ultimate example of establishment and sophistication in haute couture for budding Israeli designers,” said Lev.Rossella Jardini, Moschino’s creative director, comments: “Tel Aviv represents dynamism, energy and evolution: qualities that characterize Moschino’s spirit. For this reason, when I received the invitation to be guest of honor at Tel Aviv Fashion Week I accepted with enthusiasm. I’m sure this will bring energy and positivity to the brand in such a unique place.”Bill Shapiro, Moschino’s chief designer, says Tel Aviv is the right place for him to be. “I think there’s an energy that’s coming from Israel and that energy... is perfect for us. It really reflects the love and passion that we have in the work we do and we can feel the love and passion from the people here.”Shapiro has also said in past interviews that people should have enough confidence to wear what they feel good in without having to follow trends.An audience of thousands, including top foreign media from Europe, the US and Asia, international and local celebrities, politicians and business people attended the event. Tel Aviv Fashion Week’s sponsors include Ferrari, Maserati, Renuar and American Express. The Tourism Ministry, Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Tel Aviv Municipality are official partners.A number of top, world-renowned fashion bloggers were in attendance as well. They were BryanBoy, Daniel P. Dykes, Robb Young, Ada Alti and Rumi Neely.I MET with Lev in his Tel Aviv office to discuss the fashion industry in Israel and its current status.“All the production went to the East,” he said. “It went to China, Vietnam, India and Bangladesh. In the late ’80s, when the local fashion industry was based in Israel, production was in Europe. In the ’90s, when labor became too expensive, it became necessary to check other options and that’s when everything moved East. Today, production from Israel only stands at around 20 to 30 million dollars in exports – down from one billion!” When I asked Lev what led him to reestablish fashion week, he said he had looked back in history for inspiration and discovered that many of the people in the textile industry, especially in America, were Jewish.And even today, many individuals at the top of the fashion scene around the world, including popular fashion journalists, are Jewish. Lev realized he could recruit Jewish heavyweights in the fashion world to assist in putting Tel Aviv on the fashion map.“I have a network around the world that helps make Tel Aviv Fashion Week happen,” he says. “I love fashion because it is a very colorful area with a lot of interesting people. But you have to be professional. I didn’t come into the fashion business just for fun. I came to create business opportunities. I believe, and hope, that eventually people like Marc Jacobs, Donna Karan or Ralph Lauren will support us as well.”“My next ambition,” says Lev, “is to make Tel Aviv another stop on the map together with Milan, Paris, New York and London.Tel Aviv and Milan are sister cities and Lev has already signed a five-year cooperation agreement with Milan Fashion Week.“I’m a dreamer and I have a vision. I see what is going on in the world. I see what kind of neighbors we have and I believe that we can work with them the same way other countries do. I think at the end of the day, when the region may be more stable, Egypt and Jordan could become major production centers for Israeli fashion.”Lev explains that Israel’s potential is enormous, though it needs to be approached one step at a time.“The world appreciates Tel Aviv as a fashion center.Due to the amount of news that is generated out of Israel, there are people in countries like Japan who think Israel is huge. So there are many countries who already like us in terms of fashion.“Unfortunately, internally Israel is fragmented. There are a lot of ego problems here. People say about themselves, ‘I am the best.’ But I think we should join together and say collectively, ‘We are the best.’ In any case, this is just the beginning.”WHILE LAST year’s Tel Aviv Fashion Week was produced as a joint project between Ofir Lev and his business partner Moti Reif, this year they went their separate ways, which resulted in two fashion weeks – Lev’s on November 11-13 and Reif’s on November 26-28.The local and foreign press blamed it on “business disagreements” between the two.“This year, on the business level, I could not continue with my business partner Moti Reif due to conflict of interest,” said Lev. “I represent the Trade Office, the Export Institute, the Tourism Ministry, the Foreign Ministry and the Textile and Manufacturers Association,” says Lev. “So the reason we have two fashion weeks is that one is commercial – organized by a real-estate company – and that’s fine. I believe that any event related to fashion makes the local fashion industry bigger.“Our event is very focused. It is an export-oriented event like those around the world. We also have an agreement with Moscow Fashion Week. And because there are many Russians in Israel, it is a very logical connection.“We are changing, through fashion, the perception of Israel. I realized that people are starting to talk about Israel in a different way. It is something so big – bigger than us – that I don’t care if others have fashion events. And that’s because I believe it’s good for everybody. It will help create the understanding that there is something called ‘Israeli fashion.’ It will help create a dress code.”Lev emphasizes that his goal is to bring the fashion industry to a global level, on par with other countries.“Our program is to offer a stage for young designers as well as existing and established well-known designers, but the purpose of fashion week worldwide is export. It’s not just a show. It’s not about bringing local celebrities to drink champagne. It’s nice to have, but the business is export – getting orders and selling. Everybody knows when the show starts – it’s just for the show.”SO WHAT’S the next step? Lev is optimistic.“The next step for us is to help young, talented designers. We recognize that some artists cannot make enough money and their vision gets left behind thanks to the harsh reality of the necessity to support themselves.“So we want to initiate a greenhouse project to create a sewing center where these young designers can go and turn their vision into reality – and we are working with the government on this. We want to use fashion week to offer a boost for young designers.“I decided this year to give one day to the next generation. This means there are 15 talented designers who presented their creations.And I think this is really what the world is looking for. The established designers cannot move too far to the left or right. They can’t deviate from their established look. Young designers can still show something else and fly with their dreams.“The reason we call it a greenhouse is because it teaches them how to work on a high level.”And there is plenty of fresh talent in Israel, including Mia Pava, who made it to the top 10 for the recent Vogue Talents Young Vision Award, and Sarin Zaken, who developed fabric prints using patterns formed by bacteria.Concerning the two fashion weeks and the fact that a number of top Israeli designers went with Reif, including Dorin Frankfurt, Sasson Kedem and Dorit Bar Or, Lev takes the high road and sees the positive side of it.“I do not believe in coincidence. I believe everything happens for a reason. And if a number of designers decided not to participate in Tel Aviv Fashion Week this year and participate in other events, then I believe one way to look at it is that this is an opportunity.So I gave this opportunity now to the next generation. And I believe this is the right thing to do. I gave them the platform and they just need to show up and present their collections.”Especially important was the fact that the president of the Italian Buyers’ Association, Beppe Angiolini, was present at Tel Aviv Fashion Week, and his observations are important to the industry here since he can go back home and generate interest there.CAN MANUFACTURING return to Israel? Lev replies in the negative.“Israel today is like a boutique design. It’s a baby. This is just the beginning. Giorgio Armani won’t produce here. He doesn’t even produce in Italy – everything is in China. To create good quality collections, you need good workers and you need to pay well. The collection must be perfect.You need to have proper branding and pricing.We are not changing the world – we are changing Israel.“I took it upon myself to show people the light, that the fashion industry could thrive here. People said to me that I was crazy and that people from abroad would not come here. When I went to Milan to meet Roberto Cavalli, my wife said to me, ‘Don’t come back without a picture of yourself with him, because nobody will believe you! Show them you met him!’ And I came back with a photo of the two of us. I asked him to be our guest of honor for the first Tel Aviv Fashion Week and he agreed. So that’s how it started.“But we still have a problem. Fashion is still not on the local map. Maybe 10 percent of Israelis look at fashion or care about it. There isn’t a lot of buying power. We only have eight million or so people here.Turkey has 60 million. It’s a mass market there! “When I brought companies such as GAP here, I did so as a businessman. And when other businessmen complained that bringing brands from abroad damages them, I replied that it gives them higher standards to meet. The world market used to consist of 80% local manufacturing and 20% foreign.Today, it is the opposite. Clothing here is expensive because there is no mass purchasing power. When there is no high traffic and demand, companies need to sell at high prices.“Here, there is no mentality or culture of fashion. It exists but in very small percentages.Consumers here are Jews and they wait for the sales. The prices in the beginning of the season are high and those who want the latest products and designs will pay the higher price. Toward the end of the season, stores lower their prices but must remain within a certain limit to pay for expenses.“I used to live in Milan and I rented a room from a family. Each morning, the husband would get dressed in a suit and go off to work – and he was a garbage truck driver. He would change at work and then change back into a suit again before he came home. That’s when I realized that it is a mentality.”The mentality Lev speaks of is one in which people care about how they look and how they dress. It’s about the impression they want to give off.The fashion industry in Israel has already reached international standards and it can continue to grow to become a major player.Lev firmly believes that along with Paris, New York, Milan and London, Tel Aviv can become another stop on the global fashion runway.