Floor-length stories

Beit Hatfutsot’s ‘Here Comes the Bride’ exhibition is a successful marriage between design and heritage.

Design by Maya Leibowitz (photo credit: Courtesy)
Design by Maya Leibowitz
(photo credit: Courtesy)
All brides, one presumes, prepare for their nuptials with great excitement and invest much time and effort in getting ready for their Big Day. Well, a bunch of mostly female students of the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design have got their wedding-dress plans in early and, in fact, not even for their own use.
A new exhibition, which goes by the lengthy but highly picturesque title of “Here Comes the Bride – Wedding Gowns Embroidering the Story of the Jewish People,” will open at Beit Hatfutsot on Wednesday, September 18. The 13 exhibits were made by 14 Shenkar students in the final year of their degree, and as the show’s name implies, mostly feed off an eclectic range of cultural roots.
The project was initiated by Israel Friends of Beit Hatfutsot director Irit Admoni Perlman, c h a i r m a n G i d e o n Hamburger and board member Motty Reif, together with Shenkar’s Fashion Department. The result is a display of wonderfully crafted wedding gowns, decorated with handmade embroidery and inspired by artifacts from Beit Hatfutsot and other institutions, and by sources close to home.
Beit Hatfutsot is, of course, a repository for artifacts that reflect the traditions and religious practices of Jewish communities from all over the globe. The student fashion designers came to the museum to take a closer look at some of its collections and get ideas for their final year projects. The exhibits resonated strongly with some of the students, and moved them to delve into their own cultural roots.
Shani Dahan and Shani Zimmerman, for instance, came up with the idea of producing a three-garment set, incorporating a bridal gown, a dress worn by the bride at her prenuptial henna ceremony and a set of clothes for the groom.
It is the only one of the students’ offerings that comprises more than one item of apparel, and feeds off Dahan’s multilayered family roots.
“My and Shani’s project is based on my family’s past. On one side we are Moroccan, and on the other side we are Algerian,” explains Dahan. “The idea was for us to dig into our own personal roots, and we got the idea of looking at ceremonial garments from Morocco and Algeria.”
The seed for “Here Comes the Bride” was sown a while back. “I contacted Shenkar about a year ago, and I proposed this project,” says Admoni Perlman. “Happily, they went for it, and it has produced some wonderful results. It was a course on which they learned haute couture, and when you learn that you make either grand evening dress or bridal gowns.”
THE TECHNICAL know-how was enhanced by Beit Hatfutsot’s display offerings which, says Admoni Perlman, was a premeditated move.
“We thought the students would come here, see the synagogue models we have here, and then they’d choose something that originates from some parental ethnic roots. The synagogue models are popular with everyone who visits Beit Hatfutsot.”
The miniature edifices, which represent a wide swath of Jewish ethnicity, indeed kickstarted the students’ final projects, but led the budding designers in some unexpected directions. “Yes, it started with the synagogues, but it mostly ended up with very different sources of inspiration,” continues the director. “There was one student who saw a model of an Eastern European synagogue – her family comes from there – and she was drawn to the story of the dybbuk [disturbed spirit that possesses the body of a living person].”
Admoni Perlman notes that the bridal-gown project also boosted the museum’s attendance figures.
“Almost none of the students had been here before, so a new generation of people came here and they really connected with the things we exhibit.
One student has a grandfather who was a musician, so she began to research Jewish music, and accessed the archives and listened to bits of music. She discovered her greatgrandfather was an oud player, and she based the design of her dress on the aesthetics of the oud and of the [Arab zither-like instrument] qanun.”
The said gown, made by Adi Bakshi, whose family comes from Iraq, is an intricate creation with lattice-shaped elements on either flank. “My father’s home, and the music that was the sound track of the celebrations and weddings of the community of Iraqi Jews among whom we had lived, served as the source of my inspiration,” Bakshi explains.
“While designing the dress, I focused on building the musical instruments such as the delicate Oriental-style woodcuts with thin silver cords. I found similar decorative elements in the amulets and hamsa talismans, which were commonly used in Baghdad as protection from the evil eye.”
“This is very much about creating something new from something old,” observes Neta Harel, cocurator of “Here Comes the Bride.”
“The students dug into their past and came up with some amazing discoveries. One student went to see her grandmother, who opened up her own wedding trousseau and other places in the house, and took out all kinds of things she herself had not seen for many, many years. This project has been an odyssey into the past for everyone concerned.”
THE DAHAN-ZIMMERMAN creation was fueled by some familial excavations.
“My grandmother opened up a cupboard with old family things, and we found there a garment which had been used over the generations for the pidyon haben [redeeming of the firstborn son] ceremony,” explains Dahan. “That provided us with our starting point, and it gave us the idea for the materials we used, and the handcrafting of the set of clothes we made.”
Opting for the traditional manufacturing route, says Dahan, meant putting in long hours with needle and thread, and paying painstaking attention to detail. “We worked day and night on this. For the galabiyeh [traditional Egyptian garment] we made, for instance, I developed a new technique with strands of material. Every time I put the needle through the material I had to make absolutely certain it was in the right place. There was no margin of error, there was no going back if I got it wrong.”
Mor Kfir was inspired by the aforementioned iconic devilish entity.
“The idea for my bridal gown was spawned by the mythological character Leah’le, as portrayed by [legendary actress] Hanna Rovina in the play The Dybbuk, performed on the stage of the Habimah Theater in 1928,” says Kfir. “I like literature and theater, and when we went to Beit Hatfutsot, the first thing that struck me was the sort of mystical ambiance of the synagogue models – as if I felt specters from the synagogues of yesteryear. I immediately saw in my mind’s eye the image of the Old-New Synagogue in Prague, and later we went to the Israel Museum, and I got more and more into the side of the Jewish tradition. That felt more natural to me than digging into my own family’s past.”
The result of Kfir’s Rovina-fired endeavor is a finely crafted bridal gown with semi-transparent, filigree-like expanses between the white material and a close-hugging bodice, while the lower part of the dress drops from a high waist in soft folds. “I went to the Habimah archives and saw some amazing photographs and other things connected to Hanna Rovina and the play,” Kfir adds. “It was very inspiring to see all that.”
Other items that will be on display in the exhibition include Hadar Brin’s bridal gown, which was inspired by the story of her great-grandfather hiding a mezuza in one of the interior walls of his Lodz, Poland, home during the Holocaust. Incredibly, the mezuza was later recovered and brought to Israel.
Yael Geisler’s contribution was inspired by the dowry chest her Izmir, Turkey-born grandmother left to her daughters, which contained tablecloths, napkins, linen and silverware. “In designing the dress, I focused on the wealth of embroidered gold and silver vessels that were emphasized in traditional ceremonial clothing,” explains Geisler. “The dress is tailored from silk satin combining delicate gold lace and adorned with handembroidered oriental motifs. The dowry chest is a testimony to a lifetime lost.”
For more information about “Here Comes the Bride, Wedding Gowns Embroidering the Story of the Jewish People”: (03) 745- 7808 and www.bh.org.il