The fifth edition of Gindi Tel Aviv Fashion Week wrapped last week in Israel. The highly anticipated event shone the spotlight on Israeli fashion with established and up-and-coming designers alike showcasing their Spring and Summer 2017 collections to over 18,000 attendees (500 of them foreign), 100 press and 25 international buyers. Although Israel has had a tough time establishing itself as a force to be reckoned with on the international fashion scene, this 4 day event highlighted Israeli’s difficult and storied history with fashion and its resilience and resurgence which has lead to this country claiming it’s rightful spot as a leader in the fashion world.
Israel’s challenges on the fashion scene can’t be traced to one culprit. In some ways, Israeli fashion has had a tough road to go since its inception. The difficulty in taking a design from sketch to retail has been hindered by the manufacturing process. Israel has no textile factories, so fabrics are imported, and Israeli’s aren’t traditionally trained in tailoring, thus most production is outsourced. But overcoming challenges seems weaved into Israelis’ DNA, and some fashion houses have not only survived but thrived and many have become the go-to designers of tastemakers and style icons worldwide.
The iconic Israeli swimwear brand Gottex has had had undeniable staying power. So it was fitting that Gottex celebrated their 60th anniversary by opening Fashion Week with a retrospective of their colorful and vibrant pieces that have been worn by style mavens such as Jackie O and Grace Kelly. Gottex featured models from campaigns over its 60 year history, aged 17 to 70 who strutted the catwalk in new and vintage pieces, some designed by its founder Lea Gottleib. The looks from the Spring/Summer ‘17 collection helmed by Israeli born Karen Gasner stayed true to Gottex’s signature look: vibrant colors, sexy yet understated swimwear and flowy coverups, underscored why Gottex has consistently ranked as one of the stylish and most famous swimsuit brands worldwide.
Then there’s Galia Lahav! What can I say about my girlfriend in my head that hasn’t already been said? Let’s start with the fact that Lahav, a Russian born Jewish designer has been officially recognized by the French Federation for Haute Couture. Let me throw in that my “BFF” was the first Israeli designer to have her couture collection premiere at Paris Fashion Week earlier this year. But I’m not alone in my adoration of Lahav, she’s a celebrity favorite as well. Style icons such as Beyonce´ (who wore several of Lahav’s gowns for her Mrs. Carter tour and on various red carpets), Jennifer Lopez and Mary J. Blige have all come to SLAY in Lahav couture.
Her signature sewn lace appliqués and intricately beaded details, each hand stitched by seamstresses in Lahav’s Tel Aviv factory are representative of traditional Israeli craftsmanship. But Lahav juxtaposes the traditional: her Spring ‘17 collection featured bold metallic colors, plunging necklines and backlines, and slits up to HERE! Her designs brought down the house at Tel Aviv Fashion Week, and her show was widely acclaimed as one of the best on the catwalk last week. Lahav’s 30 year staying power as a designer has not gone unnoticed. She has 4 flagship stores, including 2 in the United States (Los Angeles and New York) and her designs are available worldwide at over 40 retailers worldwide. This divorcee wants to get remarried so (among other things) I can walk down the aisle in one of her designs. #GOALS!
For every ongoing success, there’s the struggle story. That crown would belong to Maskit, Israeli’s first internationally acclaimed fashion house founded in 1954 by Ruth Dayan, the wife of Israeli general and Defense Minister Moeshe Dayan, who was instrumental in negotiating the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.
Ruth was an early pioneer for women’s rights, employing immigrant seamstresses to stitch pieces locally and hired Israeli women who crafted her signature designs using Jewish customs (think tallit embroidery) seamlessly in her luxury women’s wear pieces.
Although Maskit’s gained worldwide recognition, the fashion house went bankrupt in 1994 despite collaborations with international fashion giants Yves Saint Laurent and Givenchy.
Enter Sharon Tal, an Israeli designer and honors graduate of Tel Aviv’s Shenkar College of Engineering and Design, which consistently ranks in the top 15 design schools in the world. Tal, who was living in London at the time working as head of embroidery for Alexander McQueen (after designing for Lanvin) sought to return home to Israel to raise her expanding family. After a year and a half of research, Tal has resurrected Maskit under the watchful eye of its now 100 year old founder, Ruth. To say Maskit is back would be an understatement; Sharon Tal did not come to play with y’all. After 3 years of presenting designs, Maskit has risen like a Phoenix from the ashes and reclaimed its spot as a top Israeli design house. Maskit’s collection, featuring timeless staples including the Egg Coat (which I purchased after she asked me to “model” it in her showroom during our interview), Desert Coat and Piano Dress are once again sold at top retailers such as Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and luxury boutiques worldwide, and her designs killed it on the runway!
Not every Israeli designer is attempting to assimilate to a western sense of style to achieve success. Chana Marelus stays true to her Orthodox Jewish roots while designing couture looks for women. According to the 2010 census, Orthodox and ultra Orthodox Jews comprise 20% of the Israeli population and Marelus dispels the notion that Orthodox clothes are frumpy and devoid of fashion. Although the shoulders of all her designs are covered, and she doesn’t show a lot of skin, I found her designs tasteful and dare I say, even cute! She often decorates and/or covers the décolletage with sheer fabrics, uses sheer bodices to give the illusion of skin, and applies tasteful embroidery to accentuate and show off the femininity of her designs. Mareulus saw a need for fly Israeli couture that would resonate with her demographic while staying true to her beliefs and she nailed it. It’s clear to me why Marelus is a favorite with Israeli women and has an international audience.
But you don’t always need a runway to make waves and influence the fashion world. Israelis proved to be trendsetters when their government passed legislation to ban “skinny models” in 2102. The law, the first of its kind, prevents models with a BMI below 18.5 from walking the runway or appearing in print ads and mandated that any digitally altered photographs have a disclosure in the ad. For that reason alone, Israel’s mark on fashion needs to be commended. Not just paying lip service, Tel Aviv Fashion Week had big girls, shorter girls, thicker girls than I’ve ever seen on a runway and the models were more representative of women who could actually wear the designs. This is something that the rest of the fashion world should emulate.
And lastly, I’ll say this: I always have my eye on BLACK! Israel is a country that didn’t have a lot of folks who looked like me; I saw very few African Americans, and only a handful of African descent. And for a country that has a documented and difficult history with Black Hebrews, Ethiopian Jews, and other people of African descent, you wouldn’t be able to tell from the runway. Nearly every designer had at least one person of color modeling, and many designers had several of us strutting the runway. Although those numbers don’t seem staggering, “we” comprise a very small fraction of the population and Tel Aviv Fashion Week didn’t have 120 models to a show, so proportionately we were rather well represented. Bravo!
I went to Tel Aviv with very little expectations in terms of fashion and left blown away. While their politics may be controversial, the fashion and Israel’s hospitality to this little Brown girl were not.