Sitting over coffee in Tel Aviv’s newest “it” café, Herzl 16, Galit Reismann, a fashion content expert and curator, enthuses over her leather handbag with metalwork made by Doraya. She also caresses her Tooshaaya eco-friendly scarf, made of soft bamboo and recycled cotton.
She’s not just a happy customer wearing local threads, she’s also a walking encyclopaedia of Israeli fashion.
“The Israeli fashion scene is a collection of independent ideas, free of laws, order and history, cut off from rigid cultural rules,” says Reismann.
Israel’s fashion scene lacks a real heritage because the country is so young, so it’s constantly reinventing itself.
“Israeli contemporary design in fashion is a cultural and social mirror of Israel at 70,” she says.
Designers come from across Israel’s ethnic mix. They draw inspiration from their own history and traditions, combining them with the realities and needs of the modern world.
The Maskit luxury clothing brand is one of the most iconic names in Israeli fashion. Founded in 1954 by Ruth Dayan, wife of politician and military leader Moshe Dayan, it became famous for contemporary pieces with traditional embroidery techniques from Hungarian, Yemenite, Bulgarian, Bedouin, Palestinian, Druze, Lebanese and Jewish artisans.
The company closed its doors in 1994 but reopened 10 years later under new head designers Sharon and Nir Tal. They maintain the tradition of including Israeli influences in their designs, merging traditional colours, fabrics and patterns to reflect the country’s cultural diversity.
The company says the climate and history of Tel Aviv, as well as the 72 cultures that help it flourish, can all be felt in its creations.
Israel’s fashion scene has produced a number of other internationally recognised names. Danit Peleg specialises in 3D printing, and creations from her home studio in Tel Aviv have travelled far. The audience at the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Paralympics in Rio was wowed by American snowboarder Amy Purdy dancing in Peleg’s 3D printed dress. The designer made the dress custom-fitted to Purdy’s measurements.
There is also Galia Lahav, known for her haute couture bridal and evening dresses; Alon Livné known for his couture line loved by celebrities such as Lady Gaga, Naomi Campbell and Beyoncé; Alber Elbaz, the former creative director of Lanvin in Paris; and Kobi Levi, famous for his eccentric footwear usually strapped to Lady Gaga’s feet and seen in galleries around the world.
Finding Maskit and these other big brands isn’t difficult. But locating the smaller contemporary ones can be trickier without inside information. These new creatives are usually tucked away in their workshops and design studios, often semi-hidden at the ends of alleys or behind closed doors, in all neighbourhoods of Tel Aviv and Jaffa.
That’s where Galit Reismann comes in. She came up with the idea of giving Israelis and foreign visitors tailor-made tours of the new and upcoming designers in Tel Aviv’s growing fashion scene. In 2012, after years as a fashion agent representing prominent Israeli designers to the US market, she launched TLVstyle, a boutique travel outfit that offers fashion tours, special events and lectures.
The Creative Tourism website calls her “the expert who can take you behind the scenes of Israel’s most creative fashion talents”. Its reviewer adds: “Whether your requirements are classic or edgy, feminine or masculine, Galit curates unique tours that introduce visitors to the design scene, providing insights into Israeli society and personal encounters with exceptional talent.”
Local designers have plenty of obstacles to navigate on their way to success. Israel is far away from the global business and fashion markets, meaning access to fabrics is limited, as are opportunities for internships at big fashion houses.
“If you want to survive in Israel in fashion, you need to do something different,” says Reismann. “Most young designers are staying in Israel and don’t have the big fashion houses to work at, so they need to be individual and really find their own voices. That creates the variety of styles.”
And boy, is there a variety of styles.
The studio of Elisha Abargel is in the trendy Neve Tzedek neighbourhood of Tel Aviv. He gets around the limited fabric options in Israel by first creating design motifs by hand and then using technology to digitally create the fabric. His digitally printed materials are produced in “hot vibrant colours inspired by the energy of Tel Aviv, its colours, the sun and the blue skies and sea of the Mediterranean”.
On the same street is Hannah, a womenswear brand that mixes contemporary tailoring, minimalistic lines and innovative techniques to create clean, high-quality dress shirts, trousers and jackets.
Nir Goeta and Rotem Mitz-Goeta, a married couple, set up shop in 2014. Goeta is a third-generation tailor who meshes his menswear techniques with his wife’s womenswear skills.
On Dizengoff Street, Gili Rozin Tamam and Adi Gal, together known as MeDusa, sculpt a compound of industrial plastic to create their signature style of bags, purses, and clutches. Designer Eden Saadon works from her home, using a 3D pen to create delicate, hand-made lace items.
And at Tooshaaya, in Jaffa, where Galit Reismann bought her scarf, a mother-daughter team create handwoven luxury natural garments that are incredibly soft, are vegan-friendly and have antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Nearly all the new fashion designers today are graduates of the Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art, ranked sixth best fashion school by Business of Fashion, the highly regarded global portal for fashion news and analysis.
So, even with a limited textile cache, Israeli designers are continually pumping out designs that win acclaim. Says Reismann: “In the past five to 10 years the young designers coming out of Shenkar and other institutions are reinvigorating the field. The market is small but the inspiration is huge — and this is Israeli style.”