In ‘Vogue’

After working in fashion design for 48 years, one of Israel’s most versatile designers, Jerry Melitz, is closing his fashion house on Dizengoff Street.

Fashion521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
After working in fashion design for 48 years (temporarily, he notes), one of Israel’s most versatile designers, Jerry Melitz, is closing his fashion house on Dizengoff Street and maintains he is ready to try something else. He is not sure what it will be, but his first move is the publication of an illustrated album of his life’s work, which, he points out, gives him the opportunity to think about how it all began, the personalities for whom he has designed and how his creations were featured in fashion magazines around the world and sold in international markets.
The tall, balding man in his late 70s with an easy manner, a keen sense of humor and a sharp sense of original style says he is ready for a change.
Born in Cordoba, Argentina, he came to Israel in his teens and entered the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design at the age of 17 for a four-year course in commercial art.
He excelled at drawing, drafting and graphics, rounding out his education at poet Leah Goldberg’s lectures on Shakespeare, N e c h a m a L e i b o w i t z ’ s course on the Bible and anybody else’s classes on the arts.
The design philosophy he has transmitted to paper, wood and metal has taken his viewers, including many former clients, through a ramble in different fields that include graphics, textile prints and jewelry design.
The atmosphere of Jerusalem in the 1950s, his fascination with the intellectuals and artists he met there and the input of his Bezalel art teachers who passed on their Bauhaus training in architecture had a significant effect on his development. However, he always had his own direction too. He has always known what he wanted to do, he emphasizes.
“I may have lost some of the enthusiasm of the young man, but not the child in me,” he chuckles.
Melitz began his career in design even before his army service, starting with three-dimensional constructions like show windows, stands for exhibitions and highway signs. He also dabbled in printing and graphic design for the home. He received his first substantial order from Ruth Hirsh, general manager of Dubek, to create decorative articles for the Israeli tobacco firm. Using simple plywood, which he favored because it was smooth and flat and could be easily painted on, he produced several end tables whose tops he gave an interesting finish with a design that r e s e m b l e d screen printing.
He also created wooden boxes with metal tops, designed with the kind of script found on the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as gold- and silver- plated gift items, wall plaques, paperweights, ashtrays, key chains and Passover Seder plates.
Some of them were sold by gift shops around the country, including in the Israel Museum. Melitz also filled orders for his designs from the Trade and Labor Ministry and El Al, for whom he designed award plaques to be presented to their outstanding employees.
He entered fashion, he realizes, quite by chance, while married to his former wife, Miriam, with whom he experimented with textile prints for which they found ready markets. His Ban-lon dresses earned him a wide reputation in Israel and abroad in the early ’60s.
No longer based on classic French tailoring, a revolution with a new approach to style was taking place in the world with free-flowing fabrics and dramatic effects gaining popularity. These brought Melitz to the attention of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and other prestigious fashion magazines around the world. Later, a new career developed for him following a visit to Scotland for a family wedding, when he decided to try his hand at tailored suits.
He brought in his own original designs when he returned to Israel and presented them to the Bathsheba de Rothschild Boutique. The manager, Adina Berger, fell in love with them and ordered a few for herself and for the shop. One day, in walked legendary choreographer Martha Graham, a friend of de Rothschild’s who was designing the new repertoire for the dance company in her name. Graham ordered two collections. Amazingly, they looked as smashing on her as they did on the store manager, who was half her size. “We were in business,” Melitz concluded.
After that came his association with Maskit and its director, Ruth Dayan, another person Melitz credits with having helped advance his career. The main credit, he says, goes to his loyal clients, for some of whom he has designed for 20 to 30 years and who even send their daughters to him. One client, he recalls, ordered a suit to wear at a wedding and when it was ready, she tried it on and gasped, “I never knew I could look like that!” From then on, she was a steady client.
But what of some others who complain that Melitz is temperamental, opinionated and reluctant to brook the slightest criticism? He has even been known to become upset if clients so much as object to the length of the hemline or the choice of a button. According to Melitz, such clients should go to a dressmaker, to whom they can dictate what they want, not to a designer who creates a style.
“Sometimes a client will come to me and ask for something that will make her look slim. I tell her, ‘I don’t solve figure problems and don’t provide illusions. I provide well-designed garments. I don’t look for the perfect figure in a customer, but for the person inside.’ I make a lot of effort to get to know her personality. I look at how she moves, talks and even how intelligent she is. I don’t need anyone unhappy with her looks who tells me what to do to change them.”