Grapevine: Gottex – the pride of Israel’s fashion industry

There was an aura of sophistication, high drama and unusual creativity, guided by the genteel but firm hand of Lea Gottlieb.

The late Tami Ben Ami models Gottex swimwear a quarter of a century ago (photo credit: GPO)
The late Tami Ben Ami models Gottex swimwear a quarter of a century ago
(photo credit: GPO)
Glamorous though it may be, the fifth Gindi Tel Aviv Fashion Week – which opened with a 60th anniversary tribute to Gottex, the beachwear company that put Israel on the international fashion map, with clients that included Nancy Kissinger and the late Princess Di – cannot yet compare with the Israel fashion weeks of the 1970s and 1980s, but it’s getting there.
The former fashion weeks were conducted in hotels in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Eilat, and attracted in the range of 100-120 foreign buyers from boutiques and major department stores located in Europe, the US, Africa, Asia and the Pacific. There was excitement in the air, with so many foreign languages floating out of the corridors, and Gottex invariably had a series of extravagant gala shows in the hotel ballroom and in the hotel’s presidential suite, which it invariably occupied.
There was an aura of sophistication, high drama and unusual creativity, guided by the genteel but firm hand of Lea Gottlieb, who, together with her husband, Armin, founded Gottex, the brand name being a hybrid of Gottlieb and textile.
In its prime, Gottex sold to 80 countries, contributing greatly to Israel’s image and its economy. In 2008, when Yad Vashem mounted a “My Homeland” exhibition in tribute to Holocaust survivors who played an essential role in Israel’s cultural, economic and homeland security development, it devoted the largest amount of space to Lea Gottlieb.
After Armin’s death, Gottex, even though it was still selling well, fell on hard times financially, and in 1997 Lea Gottlieb sold the company to Lev Leviev, who has the controlling interest in Africa Israel. But in 2009, Africa Israel became strapped for cash and began selling off its assets. The upshot was that Gottex received new owners – Joey Schwebel and Chanan Elituv of the Trimera Group. Schwebel came to the 60th anniversary gala with his wife, Melissa.
Former male model Motty Reif, who later became the owner of a successful model agency, and has a long history of producing fashion shows, was asked to help the first of the TLV Fashion shows and has been in charge of them ever since. Members of the Gindi group approached him when Gindi TLV Fashion Mall was in the early stages of construction, at which time he told them that the mall should be the top of the top, and it seems that they listened to him, because it really is impressive, albeit not quite finished. It has been under construction for seven years, and its total space adds up to half a million meters. It’s one of the most coolly elegant features of the changing face of Tel Aviv, and within a few weeks, according to the Gindi family and their partners, all the stores will be operating.
There were more than half a dozen speeches, before the show got under way, but one suspects that they were dragged out until the arrival of the prime minister’s wife, who in a classic emerald green dress stood out from the crowd, whose members were mostly dressed in black or white or a combination of both. Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev chose a fetching black lace dress.
A retrospective fashion show requires a special injection of nostalgia, and Reif’s formula was to bring on a bevy of some 75 models and beauty queens who over the years had modeled for Gottex. Some of the models were women who had modeled for the company before Lea Gottlieb sold it to Lev Leviev, and other younger women have been part and parcel of Gottex fashion shows and shoots ever since.
Among those whose names used to be household words were Pazit Cohen, Ronit Yudkevitz, Dorit Yelinek, Dana Wexler, Yamit Noy, Yamit Assaf and Sigal As Kaufman. It was amazing how the more veteran models had kept their figures.
In a joint effort by the Foreign Ministry, the Tourism Ministry and the Israel Export Institute, some 100 fashion writers from 20 countries and five continents were brought in to write about Israeli fashion, and it will be interesting to get their views on what both veteran and young designers are doing. It will be equally interesting to see if they compare the Gottex creations of yesteryear – which are still completely appropriate today – with the current collection, which in many respects is much more conservative, with high necklines and high-waisted panties and full bras in the two-piece swim suits, which in some cases look more like vintage underwear.
The current collection also includes lattice swimsuits, metallics, shimmering fabrics, blouson maillots, embroidered bodices, monokinis, bikinis, tankinis and lazer cuts, plus flowing tops, though not as many caftans as in Lea Gottlieb’s day.
Galit Gutman, who continues to be in the supermodel category, said that when Reif had asked her to talk about Gottex in its heyday, she felt very sad, because the person who should have been talking on stage was the legendary, sultry, statuesque Tami Ben Ami, who was Lea Gottlieb’s muse and who inspired her best creations. Ben Ami, who was always the star of a Gottex show, died of cancer in 1996. Reif paid tribute to another supermodel, Pinchi Mor, who likewise was stricken with cancer and who died in 2013.
Gutman called Lea Gottlieb Israel’s ambassador of fashion, who brought the beauty of Israel to the world, and succeeded in promoting Israel without talking politics. Her all-white Jerusalem of Gold collection, for instance, with the breastplate of the high priest on the bodice, was shown on runways around the world to the background music of “Jerusalem of Gold,” and won universal rave reviews. Several items from it were included in Sunday’s gala.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said that he is proud that his city has become a fashion hub, and Regev said that because fashion is part of culture, she is going to encourage it by establishing annual designer awards. She also said that Israel’s 70th anniversary celebrations will include a retrospective showing of 70 years of Israeli fashion. Presumably, that will be another big assignment for Reif.
Members of the Gindi family, who collectively have built up whole neighborhoods in different parts of Israel, seemed more excited by this project – building the largest fashion mall in Israel – than by any of their other projects, excitement shared by their partner Zeev Stein, CEO of Blue Square Real Estate.
■ VETERAN FASHION designer Tovale Hassin, who is part of Fashion Week, was interviewed by Judy Shalom Nir-Mozes on her radio show on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet last Friday. The two are longtime friends, and Shalom Nir-Mozes in mock anger said that she was upset that Hassin had not invited her to model her creations. “You know how much I love to parade on the runway,” said the mother of five, who has model proportions and looks much younger than her chronological age. Hassin said that she did indeed know but thought that Shalom Nir-Mozes would be much more effective in the Knesset than on the runway and advised her to run in the next elections.
Shalom Nir-Mozes is still debating with herself as to whether she wants to be a legislator, but she did promise to come to see Hassin’s show, and she was at the Gottex gala on Sunday night.
■ ONE COULDN’T help feeling sorry for Israeli actor Lior Ashkenazi, who plays the prime minister of Israel in Joseph Cedar’s latest film, Norman. Following a screening at the Jerusalem Cinematheque last Thursday, Ashkenazi sat on stage with Cedar and Richard Gere, who stars in the film’s title role. Early during the press conference, after Cedar made it clear that, despite certain similarities, Ashkenazi’s character was not based on Ehud Olmert or Benjamin Netanyahu, Ashkenazi was all but ignored by the many media people in the room. Had Cedar stated the opposite, there might have been more questions directed at Ashkenazi than at Gere, who actually looks much better in the flesh than on screen or in photographs.
Cedar tried to make it easier for Ashkenazi by explaining that because English is not his first language and because so many Israelis, especially politicians when they speak in English, construct their sentences in accordance with Hebrew grammar, Ashkenazi’s part was written first in Hebrew and then translated into English, using the Hebrew grammatical construction. However, even though the journalists in the auditorium asked diverse questions on political issues, on script inspiration and construction, on whether Gere had learned anything from the character that he played, on the love between Norman and the prime minister and how easy it is to fall into corruption, apparently no one present was interested in linguistics; so Ashkenazi, who is actually quite a sympathetic character in the film, missed out again.
Fortunately, for members of the public who wanted to know more about him, Hannah Brown, who covers cinema for The Jerusalem Post, did a separate wide-ranging interview with him.
While the focus of the film is obviously on Norman the fixer, or the macher as he would be called in Israel, there is actually another macher who is much more obnoxious than Norman. The Israeli macher is called Duby, and he runs interference for the prime minister, often preventing him from doing something that he really wants to do, which includes obstructing telephone calls from Norman to the prime minister. Even though Cedar claims that his Prime Minister Eshel is not based on the current prime minister or his immediate predecessor, the Duby character played by Yehuda Almagor provides food for thought as to what vital information was kept by the respective bureau chiefs from either Olmert or Netanyahu.
It’s hard to tell whether Cedar’s choices of names for his characters were inspired by real people or simply a Freudian slip. For instance, Ariel Sharon’s senior adviser was Dov Weissglas, usually called Duby, and one of Netanyahu’s bureau chiefs was called Natan Eshel. Israelis and New Yorkers who see the film will all be reminded of someone they know.
■ THERE IS a certain irony in the cutoff date for the Israel Broadcasting Authority and its replacement by the Israel Broadcasting Corporation, which is scheduled for April 30, which ironically is the eve of Remembrance Day. The IBA has always honored the memories of the fallen of Israel’s wars with extensive broadcasts that focus on the personal histories of these soldiers and the wars in which they fought.
The following day, May 1, is May Day, International Workers Day or, as it is generally known, Labor Day. In the early years of the state when Israel was ruled by left-wing political parties, May 1 was a very important date in the calendar, and there were May Day parades in the streets. May Day all but faded into oblivion under right-wing administrations.
The total staff of the IBC is less than half of that of the IBA at its peak, and although the Finance Ministry has urged the IBC to take on more IBA employees, the newest IBC staff member was previously with Channel 10. Histadrut labor federation chairman Avi Nissenkorn says that a great iniquity has been done to the employees of the IBA. It looks like the IBC is a done deal, he said, but that doesn’t mean that he’ll stop fighting for the rights of IBA employees. He has also asked IBC to take more of these people onto its staff.
Many of the employees say that Nissenkorn hasn’t done enough. Employees from behind the scenes have begun to disrupt news programs in order to state their case, and to appeal to Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon. Some are parents of young families and are worried about how they will feed their children once the ax has fallen. They are also featuring an on-screen warning to others who have to rely on the Finance Ministry for their incomes: “Today it’s us. Tomorrow it’s you.”
■ NEW AGE guru, advocate for alternative medicine, proponent of Western meditation, author, public speaker and interior designer Deepak Chopra visited the Israel Museum this week and spoke to recently installed director Dr. Eran Neuman, who has a background in architecture. Presumably, this was among the subjects they discussed.
■ BUSINESSMAN AND tour guide David Zwebner, who is a man of many talents, decided somewhat late in life to complete his BA, and since he hails from South Africa, he decided to base his thesis on the contributions made by South African immigrants to Israel and particularly to Ashkelon, which was founded by South African immigrants.
Over the past year, he’s come across some fascinating information, including a clipping of an article by the late Philip Gillon, who was born in Johannesburg, came to Israel in the early 1950s and was for many years a popular Post columnist. Figgy, as he was fondly known, made no secret of his ultra-left political leanings, and used his review column of television programs as a vehicle for airing his political opinions. Figgy also wrote a column called “Ashkelon Diary,” from which the clipping was taken. The column is headlined “Everyone is Happy in Gaza.” Gillon died in 2003 at the age of 90, but even he, who could conjure up the most bizarre scenarios, would be hard-pressed to repeat that headline today.
■ IT’S NOT difficult to see the connection between singer Rita, comedienne Adi Ashkenazi, filmmaker Rama Burshtein and actress Rivka Michaeli, who are all in the entertainment industry, albeit from diverse backgrounds and lifestyles. The four will link at the Jerusalem Conference on Women and Business, taking place Wednesday, March 15, at the YMCA Jerusalem under the auspices of the Jerusalem Development Corporation and the Onlife Health company, with Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel and educator and “mother of the IDF” Miriam Peretz, who lost two sons in the line of duty.
Also among the speakers will be Ghadir Kamal Meriah, the first Druse woman to present news in Hebrew and Arabic on television. In the few weeks since she has been a news presenter in Hebrew as well as in Arabic, Meriah has been in great demand at forums and conferences.
The conference will help to dispel myths about ethnic and gender discrimination.
Burshtein, an award-winning filmmaker who was born in America, is haredi and has proved that one can make romantic films about life in haredi society without sex scenes or any actual physical contact between men and women. Of all the women mentioned, she is the only Ashkenazi.
Rita was born in Iran. Michaeli, though born in Jerusalem, is of Georgian background. Ashkenazi, though raised in Herzliya, comes from Turkish stock. Peretz is originally from Morocco, and Gamliel was born in Gedera to a Libyan mother and Yemenite father. Before entering politics, she was a national student leader.
Although women are seldom included in conventions aimed at men, there are nearly always male speakers at women’s conferences. In this case, there are two, one of them being Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat in conversation with Peretz. It was Barkat’s interest in education that initially spurred his involvement in local politics, so the two will have a lot to discuss on that issue.
■ AN ECCENTRIC, opinionated and outspoken intellectual, the late Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz, though strictly observant in the practice of religion, unlike most other Orthodox Jews, was not a right-winger in his politics.
In fact, long before the establishment in March 2004 of Breaking the Silence, he warned that “a state ruling a hostile population of 1.5 to 2 million foreigners would necessarily become a secret-police state, with all that this implies for education, free speech and democratic institutions. The corruption characteristic of every colonial regime would also prevail in the State of Israel. The administration would suppress Arab insurgency on the one hand and acquire Arab quislings on the other. There is also good reason to fear that the IDF, which has been until now a people’s army, would, as a result of being transformed into an army of occupation, degenerate, and its commanders, who will have become military governors, [would] resemble their colleagues in other nations.”
His views made him the darling of the Left. In fact, one left-wing group, Yesh Gvul, founded at the outbreak of the First Lebanon War in 1982 by combat veterans who refused to serve in Lebanon and who oppose military service in the disputed territories, which they call the occupied territories, created a Yeshayahu Leibowitz Prize, which this year will be awarded on Friday at 12 noon at Tzavta in Tel Aviv.
The two prizewinners are Hanna Barag of Machsom Watch, which monitors the way that Palestinians are treated at checkpoints, and lawyer Hassan Jabareen, the founder and director-general of Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. The moderator at the event will be Leah Shakdiel, who is Orthodox but also active in movements for peace and reconciliation, as well as in social protest movements. Shakdiel captured international headlines when, in 1988, following an appeal to the Supreme Court, she became the first woman to sit on a local religious council.
■ THE OLD adage of not judging a book by its cover also applies to not leaping to conclusions before checking the facts. Liora Goldenberg-Stern, the gossip writer for Maariv’s weekend edition, Maariv SofHashavua, which is part of The Jerusalem Post Group of publications, received a call from one of her acquaintances who asked her to check out what Attorney- General Avichai Mandelblit was doing in the lobby of the Kfar Maccabiah Hotel in the company of three women. Goldenberg is no slouch when it comes to calling well-known personalities and probing into their private lives, and so she immediately called Mandelblit, who told her that one of the women was his wife and the other two were event planners. Mandelblit added that there was also another man in the group who happens to be the manager of Kfar Hamaccabiah – and what they were discussing were his son’s forthcoming bar mitzva. So much for conspiracy theories.
■ FOR ALL of her life, Zionist Union MK Merav Michaeli has lived in the shadow of the grandfather she never knew. Michaeli is the granddaughter of Rudolf Kastner, or Rezso Kasztner as he was known in Hungary. In Israel he was generally known as Israel Kastner. She was born a decade after his assassination, and earlier this month a friend from London sent a reminder of the 60th anniversary of the day her grandfather was shot by Zeev Eckstein, who had been a member of the Stern Group before Israel gained independence, and was part of a three-member militia gang that executed traitors.
Kastner had been a journalist and lawyer in Hungary and one of the leaders of the Budapest Aid and Rescue Committee. He personally negotiated with Adolf Eichmann to allow a trainload of 1,684 Jews, who might otherwise have been deported to Auschwitz, to go instead to Switzerland. For this “generosity” Eichmann received a huge bribe consisting of money, gold and diamonds. After the war, Kastner moved to Israel and worked as a spokesman for the Ministry of Trade and Industry.
In 1953, Malchiel Greenwald, a freelance writer, distributed a pamphlet in which he accused Kastner of collaborating with the Nazis. The government sued Greenwald for libel. This resulted in an 18-month trial, during which Kastner became a recluse, his wife became depressed and would hardly get out of bed, and his young daughter, who is Michaeli’s mother, was mocked at school and had stones thrown at her in the street. Judge Benjamin Halevy ruled that Kastner had sold his soul to the devil, and declared that by saving the Jews on what had become known as the Kastner train, he had doomed the mass of Hungarian Jews to the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
Kastner was shot by Eckstein on March 4, 1957, and lingered between life and death till March 15, when he died. Less than a year later, Kastner was exonerated and Halevy’s ruling was overturned by the Supreme Court.
Michaeli wrote on her Facebook page that it is customary to say in such cases that someone was fighting for his life. She doubted that her grandfather, who had been a hero in Europe, could have adapted to the change in status in Israel. In those days, there was little respect for Holocaust survivors. They were nobodies. Even today, when there are many organizations and individuals that concern themselves with the welfare of Holocaust survivors, the government has still not given them their due.