On a cool spring night in Tel Aviv, Israel, I am chatting with Netta Barzilai amid constant flashes. “Look at me, I’m a beautiful creature / I don’t care about your modern time preachers.” Her musical hit crowned Netta as the reigning queen of the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest, which Israel is hosting right now. Her bold looks made her a rising style icon. Adele, Lizzo, Netta…Today’s stars are shattering fashion industry’s obsession with size zero. This cultural shift was the theme for the latest edition of Fashion Week Tel Aviv and the cause célèbre for the closing after-party. Through incorporation of diverse models of all ages, sizes, ethnicities, and religions, the three day – the largest fashion event in Israel – aimed to highlight “this important change taking place in the world and to legitimize the fact that fashion belongs to everyone,” according to #FashionWeekTelAviv producer Motti Reif.
A space to pay tribute to established international designers and support up-and-coming local brands, Fashion Week Tel Aviv is the epicenter of Israeli fashion industry. Israel is a young country in search of its fashion identity. In raising the question “What is Israeli style?” there was little consensus on the runway or on the streets. However, Israel’s diverse fashion voices make up one unorthodox fashion experience.
Israeli fashion has a long history. The first evening was a tribute to Gideon Oberson and his iconic career spanning over half a century. Sixty models who have worked with the designer throughout the decades walked the show, including Pazit Cohen and Dana Wexler. The milestone collection included looks of bright colors and bold patterns set against subdued and simple ensembles, creating a surprising but harmonious tableau vivant.
A revered Israeli designer Victor Bellaish celebrated strong women in a new world. With exaggerated shoulders and buttoned tea dresses, his collection drew influence from the post-World War II era. Delicate silks and couture elements were juxtaposed with military, sports, and street-style aesthetics fusing gender lines for those who don’t subscribe to customary styles.
Newcomers did not disappoint either. Keeping with the spirit of inclusivity, RETEMA debuted the first plus-size runway show in the seven-year history of Tel Aviv Fashion Week. Channeling mermaids and princesses, 26-year-old designer Rotem Levitan was absolutely unapologetic about advocating for “women who wish to celebrate life and curves”. The young brand’s #fem_bold designs in sizes 42-50 turned the show into a party for freedom to be yourself.
Another young label, Bamoss Square, challenged industry’s standards in menswear. “We don’t want just skinny, fit models. We want them to be versatile because fashion now is very versatile,” said Tal Stern, head designer of Bamoss Square. The memorable collection was produced in just one month after a last-minute clearance to showcase at the platform, an impressive feat.
Understanding the female form came naturally to designer Anya Fleet, daughter of two sculptors. “I was always exposed to a lot of bodies and proportions and femininity,” she said. “I took inspiration from how antique lingerie was flattering the female body, no matter what size.” Seizing the laid-back feeling of weekend mornings, Fleet turns the nonchalance and comfort of pajamas into fashionable streetwear. With lace and silk, her collection is reminiscent of a young Holly Golightly running through the streets of New York: a very welcome moment of levity.
The fashion week can’t exist without a local darling – Alon Livné, whose resume includes working for Roberto Cavalli and Alexander McQueen and appearing on the TV show Project Runway Israel, showcased a black, red, and white collection. With intricate lace detailing, ruffled layering, sheer dresses and voluminous feathered skirts, his looks centred around fine details, each garment its own work of art.
For designer Shahar Avnet, which already counts Beyoncé, Zendaya and Kelly Rowland among its clients, this season was her first solo collection show at Fashion Week Tel Aviv. A spectacle of vibrant color, handmade embroidery and voluminous ruffles, it even featured dancers who broke out into a spirited performance mid-show. Couture legacy runs deep in this part of the world!
Designer Tal Medina is a third generation bridalwear designer. Her grandmother Teres was a couture seamstress and mother Michal run a bridal atelier. Thus, the brand MEDINA is very representative of the Israeli inter-generational culture.
Commerce is an art form in the Mediterranean. Beyond the runway shows, seekers of fashion-forward style could connect with designers in a showroom. Roza Sinaysky, Israeli fashion influencer and journalist, and Viktoria Kanar, the founder of GeekChic Tel Aviv, together broke ground on this increasingly popular way to experience fashion in an interactive way. “The Designer Showroom gathered some of the most unique upcoming and established Israeli designers. We have partnered with a Tel-Aviv based concept store Comme Ill Faut to provide a robust platform for all involved: from streetwear designers to jewerly masters,” said Sinaysky.
An authentic showroom experience allows you to feel the fabrics, examine the detailing, appreciate all the elements that might be missed even from the front row seat. I stopped by several times in between the shows to admire the craftsmanship of Toledano’s handmade leather goods, FANCY hand fans, exotic patterns of luxury scarves by Dikla Lensky and particularly Aner Shavah’s much coveted hats.
Accessories rule the street-style game these days and Israeli designers could teach a masterclass on this. Pop-up showroom visitors had the chance to feel the unique textures of the ecological fabrics used by Sustainable fashion brand BC by Jenny, and explore HOLYLAND, a high-end streetwear brand whose designs have been worn by Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot. Overall, the showroom offers fashion-week goers a way to experience an array of diverse brands in a different way. “As an extention of the fashion week activities, our showroom offered the first-hand experience for the public to explore the diverse Israeli fashion and have a chance to make a purchase supporting the local economy,” said Kanar. The ‘see now, buy now’ movement is clearly making its global rounds.
Fashion graduates of Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art presented a show of their own. With inspirations spanning fashion trends from the 16th to the early 20th century, it was dedicated in support of the Israeli LGBTQ community with a collection slogan: “We’re All Different and We’re All Equal”. Education gives hope for the future of the industry.
Many Israeli fashion designers lament the lack of government support, a far cry from the 1970’s and 80’s when the government actually organized the fashion week. Kanar hopes that given current revitalization of the platform driven by private capital, emerging designers and social media clout, adequate state support will follow. “People can’t just look away. There’s a lot happening around fashion here now. If there will be more attention from abroad, then the ones at home will finally wake up, too!” said Kanar.
However, traditions are important. The Ministry of Economy recently held a competition for the title of “the most known Israeli fashion export”. This honor went to the sandals-makers at Shoresh/Source. For its 30th anniversary, thirty different designers created outfits inspired by the four elements of nature: water, fire, air and earth. Sustainability is at core of the Shoresh vision. In an effort to minimize the amount of waste produced by constantly discarding and buying new shoes, the brand does not bring out newer models each season, but rather focuses on creating durable and functional sandals that stand the test of time. “I think we are telling a compelling story about the love of nature and the care for our workers,” said Yoram “Yoki” Gill, the founder of Source. “We believe in the slogan handmade to last by people who care,” said Gill.
Fashion Week Tel Aviv is putting Israeli style-savvy creative community on the global industry map. While Eurovision did not deliver its signature tourism boost, the most watched music program in the world still shines a bright spotlight on the country. The “Dare to Dream” motto of the song contest applies well to the ambitions and potential of Israel’s fashion designers. And as was the case on that cool spring night, all eyes will be on Madonna. What-who-how will she wear during the Eurovision finale broadcast on Saturday?!