Grapevine: Making a splash

Gottex, an Israeli luxury swimsuit brand, celebrates its 50th anniversary; modesty isn't a strong suit for MK Braverman.

WHAT WAS the common link between Princess Di, Nancy Kissinger, Shirley McClaine, Elizabeth Taylor and a host of other famous females? In a word - Gottex. Female dignitaries - and the wives and daughters of male dignitaries - combined visits to Israel with trips to Gottex showrooms. "Gotta get a Gottex" was the snob-value slogan. Even high society in Arab countries with no relations with Israel bought Gottex swimsuits outside of Israel and cut out the labels - though the swimwear would have been recognizable to anyone who looked at a Gottex catalogue. The haute couture swimwear company that put Israel on the international fashion map this week celebrated its 50th anniversary with a multi-media fashion show of retrospective and current Gottex collections at the Dekel Beach in Eilat. Buyers, agents and distributors from all over the world flew in for the gala bash that started just after twilight so that they could experience the sight of the lights going on in homes in Aqaba, across the water. Gottex president and CEO Joey Schwebel enthused about the birth of Gottex and its reputation, which he attributed to "a revolutionary woman" whom he did not name. In fact, Lea Gottlieb, 88, the legendary founder of Gottex, though glimpsed occasionally on the giant screens that featured video clips of showings of past collections, was neither mentioned nor invited. Gottex, which due to mismanagement had fallen on hard times financially, was bailed out eight years ago by Africa Israel chairman Lev Leviev, who changed the company's business strategy and brought it back into the black. When Leviev acquired Gottex, Gottlieb and her daughter, the late Judith Gottfried, came along with the deal. But it was not a good marriage, and a after a year or so, the Gottlieb family parted company with Gottex in what was a somewhat acrimonious divorce. After Judith Gottfried succumbed to cancer, Lea Gottlieb needed something to fill the void in her life and decided to found a new swimwear design company under her own name. Now that she's competition, it was decided not to invite her, for fear that she might lure away some of the business. But, of course, one can't write the history of Gottex without reference to Lea Gottlieb, and journalist Helen Schoumann, who was commissioned to write the text for the Gottex 50th anniversary souvenir book, did ample justice to Gottlieb, as did a flattering full-page photograph. Schwebel was delighted to tell anyone who didn't already know that Gideon Oberson, who is one of Israel's leading designers, is now the creative director for Gottex. There is a certain irony in this, since Oberson was once considered the company's chief rival, and he was the only Israeli designer who could match Gottex in concepts of luxury, glamor and sensuality. So now, in addition to designing swim and beachwear under his own label, Oberson is also designing under the Gottex label, and has managed to produce collections that are entirely in keeping with the Gottex tradition. Asked by The Jerusalem Post whether the experience was "schizophrenic," Oberson replied that his own signature line would be eternally Oberson, whereas what he produced for Gottex would be the Gottex of tomorrow. That may sound enigmatic, but Oberson was using a diplomatic vehicle to distinguish between the past the future - though, to be candid, the current retro trend makes the new Gottex collection more than a little reminiscent of past glories that can be attributed to Lea Gottlieb. Certainly no one can take away from her the fact that it was she who brought Gottex as a brand name to world attention. "It's a very well-known company around the world, which brings us a lot of honor," said Leviev. Leviev's daughters, who like their father are religiously observant, came fashionably dressed, but in contrast to most of the other women present, had no flesh showing beyond their hands and faces. One of the Gottex icons over the years was supermodel Tami Ben Ami, who was discovered by Lea Gottlieb when Ben Ami, who died of cancer more than a decade ago, was still in the army. Her son, Bar, and his father were invited to join the festivities, as was another former Israeli supermodel, Pinchie Mor, who often appeared on runways with Ben Ami and was famous for having the longest and most beautiful legs in Israel. Though middle-aged, Mor has retained her model proportions and always attracts attention. She came with her young daughter. Had Lea Gottlieb still been in charge, the 50th anniversary gala would have contained more glam and less gimmickry. It was a bit like an Israeli convention in which there are always too many short, shallow speeches, because not enough time has been made available for in-depth presentations. Here it was gimmicks instead of speeches, and the huge crowd gathered on the boardwalk didn't know where to look first. There was a "love boat" in the water, replete with bathing beauties. Walking slowly across the sands like something out of the Arabian Nights was a caravan of camels bearing beautiful models garbed in exotic Gottex creations. On a stage on the boardwalk was a mammoth bed with a luxurious mattress in a shade of gold with a lot of large, similarly hued scatter cushions and a model whose whole body had been painted in gold to match the gold lame swimsuit that she was wearing. She kept posturing in the bed, moving from fetal to full-stretch positions and back again. On another stage stood a man clad in black sailor pants. His upper torso was bare and painted white, as were his face and feet. He made robot-like movements, but later proved to have elasticity when he was dancing with one of the models. There was just too much to see and it all became too confusing, which is why so many people turned to the buffet tables before the show was over. Needless to say, there was more than enough food to feed an army. Fashion aside, one of the most noteworthy aspects of the event was the band that played and sang songs from the fifties that had been at the top of the charts. The sound was at a sufficiently pleasant level to enable guests to converse while listening to the music. "IS THIS the Sherman wedding?" asked a woman as she entered the Ulamei Nof banquet halls in Jerusalem on Lag B'Omer eve, when weddings abounded all over the country. It was obvious that this was her first experience with a Sherman family celebration, which is invariably distinguished by the period-style gowns worn by all the female members of the immediate family, including those not yet old enough to walk. The Sherman women get new gowns for each occasion. The little girls are always dressed identically, while their mothers and aunts wear the same color scheme, though not necessarily in the same style or fabric. This time around the color was champagne with a hint of gold. Eliot and Binyamina Sherman were marrying off the ninth of their 10 children. David Sherman took as his wife Chava Schwartz, a beautiful high-school pupil, whose gorgeous mother looked young enough and happy enough to be a bride herself. The parents of the bride are Daniel and Yehudit Schwartz. During the reception, the bride sat beneath a huge frame of closely clustered white roses. The number of white roses that featured in the floral arrangements in the reception area, in the decor lining the path to the bridal canopy and on the tables in the banquet area was just mind-boggling. In sharp contrast, the bride carried a bouquet of blood-red roses that stood out against the simplicity of her full-skirted, high-necked, long-sleeved bridal gown that was almost entirely free of adornment. The marriage leaves only one of the 10 Sherman siblings still at home, 19-year-old Pinkie. Neither of his parents believes that he will be there for long. According to Binyamina, better known as Benji Sherman, the matchmakers are already knocking at the door, so Pinkie's bachelor days are numbered. After that, there will be a brief respite, and the weddings of the next generation will begin. The oldest of the Shermans' many grandchildren - of whom there are more at each wedding and bar mitzva, with the boys decked out in little black tuxedos with white shirts, black bowties and black kippot - is 13, so her turn under the bridal canopy is not that far off. Sherman weddings also provide an opportunity for people who lived in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City 20 or so years ago, who have since moved elsewhere, to get together. The Shermans, who for several years have been living in Tel Stone, don't forget old friends and neighbors, so every wedding, in addition to being a family celebration, is a reunion. MODESTY is not exactly the strong suit of fledgling MK Avishay Braverman. He's proud of his achievements, and he's not backward about coming forward to talk about them. Even though he was in a hurry last Thursday to keep a speaking engagement in the Galilee, he honored his commitment to the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association, and spent the better part of an hour at the residence in Ramat Gan of British Ambassador Simon McDonald, whose task it was to introduce him to the IIBCA audience sitting in the sunken garden surrounded by jacaranda trees. McDonald listed Braverman's Ph.D. in economics from Stanford University, his distinguished career with the World Bank and his remarkable record as president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Braverman was quick to remind him that he had omitted to say that Braverman is now a member of Knesset. Priding himself on having been born in the same year as the state, albeit a few months earlier, Braverman seemed to forget that he was no longer on the campaign trail, and after listing his date of birth, continued to establish his credentials: His father had arrived from Poland in 1936. His mother came from Lithuania two years later. Most of his family on both sides perished in the Holocaust. Braverman grew up in Ramat Gan in a Labor-oriented family, but counts people of all political stripes among his friends. He had a close relationship with Yitzhak Rabin, and he was also very close to Ariel Sharon, who invited him to join Kadima. Braverman, who preferred to remain loyal to his political heritage, declined. He had come to politics, he said, for reasons of Zionism. "I left everything not for honors," he noted in a reference to his prestigious status at BGU. In fact, his young son had asked him why he had gone into politics, telling him that it was the most dishonorable profession. Lamenting the fact that McDonald will be leaving Israel at the end of July to return to the British Foreign Office, where he will be in charge of the Iraqi desk, Braverman said that when it comes to civil service, Israel could certainly take a note out of the British book. British civil servants are the best in the world, he declared. McDonald recalled that when he had first met Braverman, the latter had asked him to be an ambassador for Beersheba, but as far as McDonald is concerned, Braverman is doing a fine job in that area without any help from his friends. As a parting gift, IBCA chair Brenda Katten presented McDonald with a book she said was not yet available in Israel - Man in the Shadows, by former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy, who is scheduled to be the IBCA guest speaker on July 11. McDonald, who will no doubt receive a number of parting gifts before he goes, was highly appreciative of this one. Braverman is also due to receive a gift - albeit not a book. He is one of eight people who have been selected to receive a special citation during the upcoming Annual General Meeting of the Board of Governors of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, to mark the 100th anniversary of David Ben-Gurion's aliya. Since Braverman regards Ben-Gurion as the greatest of all Israeli leaders, the citation will have extremely significant meaning for him. BY THE way, Braverman is not the only Knesset member born in 1948. Those MKs who can unite their personal destinies with those of the state by virtue of being born in the same year include: Meir Sheetrit, Natan Sharansky, Shaul Mofaz, Ronnie Bar-On, Yossi Beilin and Ya'acov Litzman. Not quite across the political spectrum - but almost. Sheetrit, Braverman and Sharansky, were all born in January in three different countries and adhere to three different parties. What's more, they were born within a 10-day period. ISRAELIS ARE notorious for not being exactly dressed for the occasion, a factor that stands out most glaringly in the synagogue or the concert hall, where the choice of attire on the part of some people is so totally inappropriate. While jeans and open-necked shirts have been par for the course at opera and ballet recitals for some years now, see-through and cropped garments at the synagogue are still a comparative novelty, though not at all unusual, even in orthodox congregations where some of the young - and even not so young women - sport hipster pants or skirts and bare midriffs. Likewise, many visitors to Beit Hanassi come in totally casual clothes that are not a suitable choice, given the fact that the president, his director-general, his political adviser and even his chief of maintenance always wear suits and ties. Thus it was a pleasant surprise to see that when the large South African IUA-Keren Hayesod mission visited Beit Hanassi on Sunday, as the first stop in its fact-finding tour of Israel, almost everyone was undeniably dressed for the occasion. The men wore suits, and the women wore smart dresses, elegant suits or romantic skirts. The only two women who came in pants were Israelis. It may be old-fashioned, but it was simultaneously a breath of fresh air to see that this kind of respect for the fact that they were in the official residence of the president of Israel still exists. President Moshe Katsav was still ensconced in an earlier meeting with Major-General Yosef Mishlav, the Coordinator of Government activities in the Territories, and was late in joining his South African guests. To pass the time, his political adviser, Avi Granot, and his adviser on Diaspora affairs, Akiva Tor, explained the works of art gracing the walls. Though impressed by the Castel, the Shatz and the Blum, what really appealed to the South African IUA group was a Salvador Dali painting of worshipers at the Western Wall. Urged on by Joyce Sacks, the wife of mission chairman Moti Sacks, one of the participants, Jeff Miller photographed the Dali and then posed to be photographed alongside it. The general interest in the art was such that Beit Hanassi staff might do well whenever the president is delayed to give guided tours of the art at Beit Hanassi to small groups, to add yet another facet to their Beit Hanassi experience. P.S Last year Keren Hayesod brought 85 missions comprising some 2500 people to Israel. The forecast for this year is 93 missions.