A Real Fashion Designer, or Just Another Wannabe?

The Israeli actor and self-described fashion icon Dodo Bar Or recently launched a new collection, but will it go the way of the, well, you know...

Guy Kushi and Yariv Fine

It’s been a month since the launch of the partnership between Dorit “Dodo” Bar Or and the popular midrange Israeli clothing chain Golf & Co. In the area set aside for the designer’s collection in Golf’s flagship store – in Tel Aviv’s Azrieli Mall – there’s a sense of the calm after the storm. Some of the shelves are bare, while on others there is a jumble of shirts, swimwear, pants and shoes – the aftermath of what one saleswoman describes as a mass assault on the department.

The true picture, though, is more complex. If the disorganization attests to the orgy of consumption that took place in the store that weekend, it is notable that significant quantities of the collection’s anchor pieces remain on the hangers: caftan-style dresses; long white dresses trimmed with embroidered red flowers; and, of course, the black galabiyot trimmed with gold embroidered vines and arabesques, that owe an aesthetic debt to the robes of the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas party.

When Bar Or first showed her galabiyot, they were a stroke of brilliance; a mix of cheeky humor and the ability to find beauty in places that fashion doesn’t generally even glance at. After she opened her exclusive boutique in Tel Aviv’s trendy Neveh Tzedek neighborhood, the pieces inspired by the great rabbi’s wardrobe began to appear on the bodies of her fellow celebrities and became the signature representatives of her work. So why did they remain on the store hangers? And does it only seem as if, like their neighbors the black scarves with coins on the fringe, they have faded in the spotlight that Bar Or bathes in, the currency becoming all too worn?

The limelight has certainly been a leading player in building Bar Or’s identity as a fashion designer. In her first venture into the field, the actor founded an independent label that became a byword among celebrities and her small circle of acquaintances. To eliminate any doubt, she gave it the patronizing name “Pas Pour Toi” (French for “Not for you”). It suited her fiery temper as the star of gossip columns and an actor who does not give a, well, you get the idea. Of equal importance, however, was the allusion to the French language and, more precisely, to Paris – the international capital of high fashion.

Gleaning influences

Over time, the use of French – which was central to the label’s identification with haute couture on the symbolic level – also turned out to be quite fundamental on the practical level. From her first show, and to an even greater extent in the ones that followed, Bar Or did not hesitate to glean “influences” or “inspirations” in a rather raw, direct form from prominent designers working in Paris: for example, Gothic and tribal elements from Riccardo Tisci’s work for Givenchy; sharply tailored leather pieces that were reminiscent of Phoebe Philo at Céline; and narrow rock ’n’ roll-style silhouettes that recalled Hedi Slimane for Saint Laurent. All of these made clear that Bar Or could just have easily called her label Pas de Moi (“Not mine”). In other words, it’s from Paris and that’s what is important.

Bar Or tried initially to adopt the star-designer model created by Kanye West. As a celebrity with good taste, she felt this symbolic capital gave her the right to find something appropriate and charming in a designer’s work, and pass it on. But at some point, she attempted to adopt a rarer model – that of Victoria Beckham, who underwent an enormous transformation to become an original and respected haute-couture designer on the international stage. To this end, Bar Or gave up the snarky label name and put her nickname, Dodo, front and center. The idea was to reinforce her identification with the fashion enterprise, which today includes a battery of advisers and designers.

But has she truly made peace with the transition? Now, in the wake of the collection launch, it’s easier to see that she’s more a talented entertainer who is active on a number of fronts than a real designer.

The collection contains more than a few successful pieces, mainly in the area of accessories – such as a black leather bag with tassels that is selling very well. But why haven’t the embroidered caftans and galabiyot that are so closely associated with Bar Or the designer, and bear her personal touch, had the same level of demand? Take a closer look, and the reason is clear: their quality. While the tops are linen or rayon, most of the galabiyot and other dresses in her Golf collection are made from rather cheap polyester in a matte or glossy finish, of the type that few women can imagine wearing in the Israeli spring, much less the dog days of summer.

It is surprising, and perhaps disappointing, to discover that a person who chose uncompromising quality as one of the foundations of her work is now cutting corners, ignoring the cheap material from which the dress is made and, thus, disclosing that appearance has taken priority over quality and comfort. True, in an era in which clothes are evaluated above all by how they look on Instagram, it is not unusual. But for a designer who considers the added value of her work to be a sign of quality, it is particularly unfortunate.