Mandinka offers modernism and sophistication for independent women who know what they want.
The fusion of art, fashion, photography and interior design makes a striking impression in Mandinka's spacious store on King George Street in central Tel Aviv. Perched just above Kikar Masaryk, one of the city's trendiest hubs for young and innovative designer stores, the high ceiling, white walls and contemporary lighting provide the perfect platform for displaying both the newest collection of clothing and artistic works of abstract photography.
"These images are close-ups of different walls in the industrial area of Sderot," explains Tali Tene, pointing out that just about everything in the store, including the catalog and interior design, is the work of her and her partner, photographer and artist Shimi Bar.
In the first abstract image of a stained cream-colored wall, the shrapnel from rocket fire is barely visible. A single piece of metal embedded in the pock-marked wall at the heart of the framed photograph is the central focus, but unless you look closely, it's hard to discern what exactly it might be. In the second, streaks of black grime run down the dilapidated, dusty wall like ebony tears. The third zooms in on a barrier whose layers of paint have been slapped on in patches, giving it a disorganized, fragmented look. The lovely photographs are pieces of art that emerged from disaster, a statement about finding beauty in even the most violent, disturbing subjects.
Aside from decorating the store, these were the three photographs the duo printed on last summer's T-shirts for men. This year a new set of images, also originally Bar's photographs, were carefully chosen to complement the language and artistic direction of the new collection.
THE INNOVATIVE collaboration between designer Tene and Bar began by chance. Four years ago, after Tene was asked to create a portfolio that would illustrate her unique vision of clothing design for the prestigious Utrecht academy in Holland, Shimi helped her design it. She was accepted into the master's program for fashion design and the pair received great critical acclaim on the results of their alliance. Although they decided not to take the opportunity because of the great expense, it was the beginning of a synergistic union that would lead to the creation of their own label: Mandinka.
"That was when we understood that we can work together well and that we should pursue a career together. After that, we put together our first collection and started to sell it," says Tene, her enormous blue eyes reflecting the deep passion she has for her work.
Named after SinÃ©ad O'Connor's Grammy-winning love song "Mandinka" from her first album, The Lion and the Cobra (1987), the label has no connection to the ethnic group in West Africa. "I also just like the way it sounds," Tene says as we move to the new summer collection. A silver rack is lined with evenly-spaced shirts, tunics, dresses and skirts arranged by color - soft grays, light blues, bottle greens, pale pinks and deep shades of ink blue, jet black and strong eggplant. Almost exclusively solids (Tene mentions that high-quality print fabric is extremely difficult to find here), this summer's collection is defined by three distinct elements: gathered material, folded fabric and a nickel zipper accessory.
"The zipper serves two purposes. It's aesthetic and it's functional," says Tene, holding out an asymmetrical azure dress with a horizontal zipper across the waistline. To demonstrate the versatility, she unzips the dress at one side and holds up the top, which can be worn alone or over a body suit and has a cool zipper fringe that gives it a unique look.
"We used the zipper a lot in our winter collection and we decided to put it in some sleeveless vests, dresses and skirts for the summer," she adds.
FOR MANDINKA, great emphasis is placed on consistency in the design language. A pair of trousers from last year might go well with a new tunic as the overall style does not fundamentally shift from collection to collection.
"We really like to play with combinations of fitted and loose," says Tene, holding up one of this summer's "boxy" tops, a squarely cut gossamer sleeved shirt that is perfectly suited to the hot weather and goes well with a pair of leggings or skinny jeans. "The top has a cool, easy-going look that is flattering and comfortable with a slight masculine edge."
But the best part about Mandinka's clothing is the way it feels. Tene compares the texture of the silky viscose and soft cotton to water. My word for it would be sumptuous. They use only the highest quality fabrics imported especially from Italy. "Every fabric we choose is luxurious, sits well on the body and feels fantastic on the skin."
Indeed, handling each piece is like stroking a rabbit - pure silk, sheer voile, and smooth polyester-cotton blends that are designed to fall against the body in romantic silhouettes. This summer's collection, their seventh together, boasts light, delicate fabrics that accentuate the feminine figure with gentle folds, asymmetrical lines, gathered necklines and low collars that wrap the nape. The line is casual but elegant enough to wear to the office and out afterward for the evening. "The clothes are sexy without being provocative," Tene says.
Aside from rigidly upholding their own standards of perfection, one of Mandinka's goals is to avoid creating trendy designs that will be out of style in a few months. Rather, they emphasize classy, clean lines. Their prices range from NIS 200 for tops up to NIS 650 for skirts, and clients tend to be modern professionals typically between 30 and 60. Although Tene says their guiding principles are to follow their own concrete sense of aesthetics, they always have the Mandinka woman in mind, a woman not unlike the strong and secure Mandinka evoked in O'Connor's lyrical verses.
"We know what she likes and what makes her feel good," says Tene. "We are inspired by art, music, dance and theater, but the Mandinka woman is always with us. We emphasize minimalism, modernism and sophistication without overdesigning, and we attract independent women who know what they want."