Israel's master of the minimal
Leading Israeli designer Ronen Chen held the official opening for his first London shop. We took a look inside.
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Purple draped dress, £120
In Israel he is the doyen of graphic shapes, monochrome and drape, with 12 minimalist shops from Rehovot to Haifa, via Tel Aviv (two), Jerusalem (two), Ranaana and Herzliya.
Last Thursday he formally inaugurated his first London shop in New Quebec Street with a bash for a coterie of fashion and media chums; high-flying Israeli ex-pats; and a handful of celebs, including Kristina Rihanoff from Strictly Come Dancing, Avshalom Gur, former head of design at Ossie Clark and Israel’s high-octane celebrity model Hofit Golan.
Inside the compact London shop, just a few minutes’ walk from Oxford Street, his autumn collection nestles within a striking grey interior, dotted with big mirrors. It comprises soft knits, neatly cut little tops, shawl-collar jackets, draped, mini and tulip skirts of various lengths, and a handful of wearable after-six frocks, all done in monochromes spiked with occasional splashes of colour, and is rapidly finding a following among a fashion savvy London clientele who appreciate his wearability, low price points and clever incentives.
“It is the realisation of a dream to have a shop in London,” says Chen, in buoyant mood when we meet at the shop. A graduate of Israel’s talent hothouse, Shenkar College (alumni include Lanvin design director Alber Elbaz), Chen worked for a year following graduation with Israel’s then number-one couturier Gideon Oberson — who is known in the UK for his swimwear, although in Israel he is famed for couture evening and daywear — and then for a mass-market line he declines to name.
“When I set up on my own, I wanted to do a collection that was between couture and mass-market,” says Chen.
He wanted it to be affordable, but with his distinctive style undiluted by the need to sell in huge volume, he explains. He describes his method of designing as “evolution not revolution”, working in tones of beige, grey, black, cream and white each season, spiked with seasonal “statement” colours (turquoise, purple and paprika for autumn 09) that allow his clients to add to pieces they already own.
“I love the drape and softness of winter fabrics and textures — soft wool cloth, knits and jersey. For me, the story begins with fabric. I love draping with big collars and wide sleeves and clean, graphic lines and shapes, like squares and triangles,” he says.
The shapes and the different ways in which pieces can be put together make them equally wearable — albeit in different ways — for women of 25 or 60, though he describes his core clientele as 35-45.
A majority of the merchandise on sale in London is the same as in Israel, he says. Women like similar shapes, but there are subtle differences, he concedes, relating to the light here — which affects how colours look — and the lifestyle.
“In Israel, people wear the same often informal pieces from morning till late evening. Here, women are more likely to change f into something more dressy for an evening out. But there are differences everywhere — even in the USA, between what we sell in New York (Saks, Blooming-dales and Lord & Taylor are regular stockists), and what we sell in LA, where the climate and the light are so different.”