Four women sharing the name Leah (or a variant thereof ) were the starting point for Dorin Frankfurt's work on her collection for autumn-winter 2011-2012. "Four times Leah, four women, four axes of time," says the press release.
The first is Leah Abushedid, who at the start of the 20th century was the object of the desperate love of Itamar Ben- Avi, eventually becoming his wife. The second is the designer's grandmother, Leah Beit Ely (Untermann ), a founder of an embroidery project for immigrant women from Persia. The third is the poet Lea Goldberg and the fourth is the heroine of the "Star Wars" series of films, Princess Leia.
Four models in wide-brimmed wool hats, and with stern facial expressions, strode around at the event that launched the collection in Tel Aviv last week. Frankfurt has a simple explanation for the oversize hats and serious faces: "Israel is the Wild West, a place in the making."
She says she stole the poetic name for the new collection - "My Leah, My Goddess" - from the love poems Ben-Avi, the son of Eliezer Ben Yehuda, wrote to the teenage Abushedid, and published in his newspaper- hinting at the drama that took place between the two (her parents wanted her to marry someone else, a Sephardi Jew, and refused to give her hand to the Ashkenazi Ben-Avi until he threatened suicide).
Frankfurt notes, however, that she also was inspired by stormy events that are happening here and now, although the current social protest erupted only after she had completed work on the collection. "There is a lot of drama in the place where we live," she says. "For some reason we pretty much try to sweep it aside, but in fact it is an important part of the magic of this place."
She describes her creative work on the collection as an associative sequence of thoughts, and the choice of three of the four women who inspired her as a way of "directing attention to women who were among the founders of this country - not all of them were male members of Mapai." Each of them represents a "plot" rich in meanings that could nurture an entire collection. Nevertheless, she believes they share certain characteristics.
"Three of these women are very connected to the place, even though they lived in different periods and in different places. All of them were strong in their faith and in their way of life and thought that their role was to change the world. However, there was something quiet and introverted about them, a kind of melancholy elegance dictated by the conditions of the place, the heat, the humidity and the events of the day," the designer asserts.
Frankfurt chose to film the video that accompanies the collection in Kiryat Hamelakha, the south Tel Aviv neighborhood whose narrow streets are home to workshops and artists' studios - and to her own studio and factory.
"Melancholy elegance" is a suitable description for the wardrobe Frankfurt has put together. When the collection borrows elements of strict tailoring from the masculine wardrobe, in order to produce a mysterious and strong femininity, and uses black or interweaves romantic elements of period dress - especially when it is seen against the backdrop of sooty buildings in south Tel Aviv - it has a kind of gloomy glamour and charm.
Frankfurt can point to the unique principles of each of the women she chose, and which shaped the various designs in the collection: the strict lines, the emphasized shoulders and the need to maintain order are without a doubt Goldberg's. From Abushedid, the "good girl" in the lot, she borrowed a soft and melancholy trait that is absolutely contrary to decoration. As for Beit Ely, says Frankfurt, "My grandmother was the most subversive of them. As a woman living on the border between the secular world and the religious world, her defiance was manifested in her liking for trousers, high-heeled shoes, red lipstick and big hats. Of course this was a quiet defiance."
The spirit of Princess Leia, though she herself was not exactly a resident of the Middle East, served to lend a futuristic tone to several items in the collection.
It is possible to detect the influences Frankfurt enumerates in the collection, and in some cases it is possible to identify clearly their traces in the items on show, but at the end of the day the collection can be divided into two main parts. The first consists of familiar items from the designer's wardrobe, which have appeared in more or less similar versions in her other recent collections. Among these are white-buttoned shirts in textured seersucker, shapely denim dresses and short jackets from a fabric resembling astrakhan fur (a pelt with a fleshy, channeled texture from curly-haired lamb from the Astrakhan oblast of Russia ). The second part contains items that enrich Frankfurt's design language.
An elegant skirt suit she has designed of beige cotton and polyester jacquard is one of the best-looking additions. The top is designed as a long shirt with sleeves cut off at an angle, which widens a bit at the hip and has angled slits that burst outwards on its back. By way of contrast, a loose and airy viscose knit in a shade of yellowish khaki has a relaxed feel that derives its power from its usefulness. Two round buttons at the sides of the collarbone make it possible to fasten it in a way that allows for waves of cloth over the chest. Similar to it are capri pants of Lycra blend taffeta with a metallic sheen, in shades of pink-purple, olive, black and midnight blue; harem pants with a markedly dropped crotch from fine plisse in black; and a long stone-colored coat of waterproofed cotton. Frankfurt relates that the coat was inspired by the motoring coats that were worn in the past for riding in open cars. Today, she says, it will be worn for the drama it creates.
A tailored shirt of viscose georgette in a deep shade of pink, with a ribbon tied at the collar and slightly puffed, cuffed sleeves was also created in the sprit of the past. However, even though this is a style that has been produced countless times by designers and fashion chains, it is well and very precisely formulated - in the choice of the material, the particular color and the cut. A pale pink fleece vest in a square cut looks odd at first glance.
"I took the pattern of a classical shepherd's vest, including the round buttons, and I made it of fleece," she explains. It is also available in olive green. Another item she borrowed from days gone by is a soft and pleasant viscose shawl with a woolly texture designed like the fur stoles from the beginning of the 20th century. She has replaced the beaded strips that used to hang from them with dangling ribbons of elastic black fabric.
Not all the items she has designed relate to the past: A tank-top dress of black plisse, in the center of which is silvery brocade oblong in a hammered texture and with a strip of black chiffon at the neckline, is of a modern-futuristic character. A wrap-around dress of rich gray gabardine in viscose with a bit of Lycra, fastened with a strip at the waist, combines past and future by means of the large, flat collar ending in a hood lined with silvery viscose on the back. A dress with a wide silhouette, black on top and dirty white below, is also made of a combination of viscose and polyester in a hairy and curly texture that is pleasant to the touch.
When these clothes are shown soon in the designer's stores, will her clients be aware of the stories behind the clothes? Frankfurt says she designs this way in order to maintain her personal interest in the work process.
"Of course it is important to me that everyone around me be partner to this, from the workers in the studio to the sales staff. In all the shops there is a page of explanation about the collection and the saleswomen are able to explain it to anyone who asks. Naturally, not everyone takes an interest," she explains.
We ask if it possible to identify a new principle in the work of the designer, who is concerned with perpetuating the memory of local pillars of culture as part of her attempt to create fashion in the spirit of the place.
"I don't know," says Frankfurt. "I never think in such an organized way."
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