Israeli Fashion Retailer Torn Between Daring Spirit and Need to Please the Masses

Castro's spring-summer 2013 collection was presented on two parallel runways that rarely crossed: One represented what the executives want the public to think of them, and the other included what the management thought the public would actually buy.

Using mirrors to magnifying beauty is not a foreign concept in the fashion industry, and Castro's spring-summer 2013 fashion show at the beginning of the week reflected this practice. Tiered mirrors at the ends of the runway reflected the image of the models as they passed, as well as the Castro logo, which was hung from the ceiling. In addition, those seated in the first rows of the audience could also see themselves in the mirror. The four hosts for the event were models Gal Gadot and Jonathan Wagman, who have worked together for some time, and last season's newcomers Liraz Dror and Arik Mor. When the four strutted onto the stage side-by-side, the mirrors also reflected Castro's message: that come every new season, the brand is there to breathe new life into the fashion industry.

This year's show organizers joined forces with an outside creative team and Professor Dudu Mezah, chairman of the screen-based arts department at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. Mezah handled the stage design while designer and DJ Marcelo Burlon was responsible for the soundtrack. The pair had a major role to play in bringing Castro's fashion vision to the runway. Castro's choice of an anonymous teenage couple as models of Israeli beauty alongside a broad range of varied professional models also enriched the event's creative horizon and contributed to its success.

An advance visit to the Castro fashion showroom, however, presented an entirely different picture. For example, a pair of tight-fitting women's jeans there featured a form-fitting elastic knit in the pants' upper regions. The designers who presented the sample showed pride in their creation. This was a practical item of clothing that would meet the needs of a considerable number of women in Israel. At the fashion show, however, these pants never even made it onto the runway, where organizers seemed to prefer highlighting more elegant pieces instead.

The Castro collection was essentially presented on two parallel runways that rarely intersected. One collection represented what the retailer's executives want the public to think of when they hear the word "Castro." The other collection included what Castro management thought the public would actually buy. The gap between these two reflected the difference between image and reality. At the end of the day, or in this case at the end of the event, it was a yawning, frustrating gap, because it didn't allow the audience to get a true glimpse of the Castro spring collection that ultimately ends up at the stores.

Judging by what went down the runway, the spring collection will be altogether not bad; in some cases it will even creatively adapt current trends to local tastes. The women's collection reflected three separate styles, each of which related to a different contemporary fashion trend: black-and-white geometric shapes; digital floral patterns; and crisp tailoring informed by a strict minimalist code. These aesthetics were easily discernible and certainly encouraged the audience to snap pictures of the models on their smartphones and post them on Facebook following the show – with tags such as Chanel, Sixties, mini, geometric, black and white, or space fashion. But what came across was the difficulty that Castro executives must have had in deciding whether to be a daring brand, capable of shaping public taste, or a brand that simply satisfies the prevailing tastes of the masses.

An educated guess? They wanted to have it both ways – as evidenced by the second group of clothing on the runway. It featured an advanced technical approach and brash digital patterns. The blouses, dresses and skirts on display were awash with intense, hyper-realistic floral patterns, but the result, as seen in the showroom, already looked amazingly primitive. On the runway, they outdid themselves by adorning the clothing with colored sequins. Perhaps someone felt dissatisfied with the original result and thought that a little bit of sparkle would save the day. One way or another, the result was a display of poor taste and a lack of focus.

The men's collection, on the other hand, proved to be a different story. A colleague, with some justification, said it looked to her like a completely different brand. She wasn’t suggesting that it was entirely divorced from the women's collection, but rather that it was immeasurably better than the women's clothing. The opening shot of the spring collection for men featured pink-silver metallic Bermuda shorts and a pinkish knit shirt, along with pale crisp cotton suits vaguely reminiscent of Eastern religious attire, and denim featuring camouflage patterns with a moderate twist. On the whole, the men's collection was an appealing cohesive line that was bold and contemporary, but still had something to offer those looking for a more conservative yet comfortable look.

Yet even the men's collection, which looked so outstanding on the runway, fell a bit flat in the showroom preview. There we got a glimpse of patterned T-shirts, the outcome of a collaboration with Disney for its new animated film "Oz the Great and Powerful," due out in the spring. This cinematic fantasy seems to suit one of the central aspects of the men's collection – artificial digitally created nature. But when viewed with Castro's other options for shirts and pants in light pastel shades, the T-shirts, which even feature the movie's logo, brought to mind a Disney souvenir shop.

The last round of clothes in the show, for men and women, featured various shades of white, cream and champagne, and helped end the event on a restrained note, even though the pieces included complex forms, sheer fabrics and metal finishing and tailoring that demand precision. The delicate process involved in assembling these clothes left a favorable impression, but also raised questions about whether they would be mass-produced.

Just before the event came to a close, a final strut down the catwalk completed the picture: The presenters once again walked down the runway together, appearing for a moment like a dusty old family photo come to life. More than that, it looked archaic, and despite the affinity to clothes from a previous era, it's not clear that was the look the organizers were going for. The idea of even having such hosts is outdated, particularly when the other models do a better job than they do.

When the long line of models took a final lap on the runway, happily snapping pictures of the audience and each other with their smartphones, Castro's two disparate approaches finally merged: The old guard and the new guard, those with one foot in the past who fear charging ahead too quickly and those eager to embrace technological progress. Every season, the gap between these approaches and the continuous fluctuation between formulating a unique vision and seeking to please the masses creates confusion for Castro. One possible solution would be for the brand to market its more daring designs with a separate line, as is common among international brands.

Available at Castro stores.

Prices: Women's: blouses: NIS 40-260; pants: NIS 90-360; jackets and coats: NIS 200-500; skirts and dresses: NIS 100-400.

Men's: shirts: 40-200; pants: NIS 170-300; jackets: NIS 200-700

Avi Valdman