Top Israeli at Fashion TV Avoids Politics While Heading the Runways

Alona Fischbein wants to break out of the television screen to build shopping centers and hotels throughout the world

Alona Fischbein has devoted the past several months to meetings in Dubai and other Arab countries to promote the international fashion channel, FTV. No worries: She did not promote the same channel that is broadcast in the West, which does not hold back when it comes to female nudity. FTV has created a dedicated channel for Muslim countries, where displaying women’s bodies is forbidden. Still, it has turned out to be a hit in Arab countries.

Former textile mogul Michel Adam Lisowski is the owner of FTV, but the one who travels between countries and is marketing it is Fischbein, a former Israeli and Lisowski’s cousin, who is a partner in the business and a member of its board. These days, she concentrates on expanding FTV’s successful brand.

FTV, which was established in 1997, employed at first a single camera crew that filmed fashion shows from Paris, but very quickly began to film shows in other cities as well. The channel formed strong relationships with the large fashion houses and soon started broadcasting their must-see fashion shows 24 hours a day.

Today, FTV has roughly 400 million viewers all over the world, of whom 80 million live in Arab countries. In addition to the main channel, FTV has about 10 other dedicated channels for various countries, among them Dubai and India. These channels are operated by 120 employees, most of whom work from Vienna and others from Paris. Fischbein travels from one country to another, closing deals with local entrepreneurs and spreading her brand’s activity. She says that FTV has already begun its next project, which includes breaking out of the television screen to build shopping centers and hotels throughout the world under the brand name.

Disney and Power Rangers T-shirts

She was born in Israel in 1949 and grew up in Tel Aviv. Her parents sent her to high school in the United Kingdom, but she had to come back to Israel when she was 18 after her father died to run his warehouse business. She studied architecture, married a Jewish man from Sweden who worked in real estate and finance, and eventually moved to Sweden.

At a meeting in New York 40 years ago she met Avi Nakash, one of the owners of the Jordache fashion company. “At the time, I didn’t understand what it meant to be in the textile business,” she says. “But I decided to buy inventory and went to a show in Stockholm. I sold four full containers. When I telephoned Nakash and told him, he didn’t believe me. He said, ‘You’re crazy. How did you do it?’”

Fischbein expanded her business to Hong Kong, continuing in the field of franchises of fashion brands that were well-known all over Europe. Then came an offer to collaborate with her cousin, who was also in the textile business and owned a large factory in Thailand. “We worked together for more than 15 years,” she says, “and it was an extraordinary success. It made us a lot of money. We had the T-shirt franchise for brands such as Disney and Power Rangers.”

But then the Thai market began to change. The factory moved to China, and its 4,000 workers unionized. As a result, Lisowski closed his textile enterprise.

She never believed that she would be in the television business one day, but quickly found herself on flights all over the world, marketing the first fashion channel. Before that, the only fashion programs were on the large television networks. “Our channel was all fashion, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” she says. “It was a brilliant idea, but you still need a lot of people around you to develop it. As early as the first year, we were broadcasting in about 20 countries.”

Competing with Sheldon Adelson

FTV’s main revenue comes from the cable and satellite companies, which carry the channel on their platforms. FTV also earns revenue from advertising and from marketing content. The company has already begun its next stage − issuing franchises that allow franchisees to use the brand name. It started with fashion lines, bars, a fashion center and even a vodka brand. But now Fischbein is devoting most of her time to large projects that will carry the brand name.

“Over the past year we established four hotels under the brand name. We’ve already signed a contract for a fifth hotel, and we’re on the way to signing for three more,” Fischbein says. In Dubai, she signed a contract to build a 70-story hotel that will include a mall and a fashion school.

This past year, her company also began building casinos under the brand name. One casino has already been built in Cambodia, and talks are under way for building another in Macau, making Fischbein and Lisowski competitors of the Jewish casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson.

“We are not going in as partners except for the cafe we own in Vienna,” Fischbein says. Instead, FTV earns revenue from franchisee’s first payment for using the brand name. Once the business has been established, FTV receives only a small percentage as royalties. “At some stage, the revenue from the franchises may exceed that from the channel itself,” she says.

In Israel, where the international channel has been broadcast for about 15 years, a Tel Aviv bar has been operating (under the name Fashion Bar), and FTV’s drinks (vodka, water and energy drinks) are sold here.

Fischbein has made some attempts to get some more projects off the ground, but none of them have gotten under way so far. “As part of the brand’s expansion in the world and in light of FTV’s special commitment to the Israeli audience, more projects are in the pipeline in Israel for 2014,” says Omri Batz, CEO of Talit Communications, which represents FTV in Israel. At the same time, Fischbein is trying to promote local designers on FTV. “I try very hard to promote local fashion,” she says. “We have covered many Israeli designers, including new ones.”

She feels at home among the many Jews who work in the international fashion market, including the owners of brands such as Yves Saint Laurent and Chanel. “Most of the designers in the market are not Jewish, but there are many Jews among the investors,” she says.

Doesn’t that cause problems when you go to meetings in Arab countries?

“We do not talk about politics − not even when we’re in Qatar or Abu Dhabi. We talk about how beautiful the fashion world is, about sports and lifestyle. Nobody cares about politics.”

Reuters
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