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Russian Countryside and Chess Boards Inspire New Collections

Nostalgia for eastern Europe is evident in Maria Berman's well-researched outfits, while Frau Blau's designs are all about graphics and playful patterns.

Maria Berman has made use of a range of fabrics, from various cottons to quilt and linen and recycled polyester, to assemble a winter collection in which nature meets the city and then returns to a Russian country dacha, complete with flowers, bushes, thickets and flickering light.

“I started work on the collection with the materials. I wanted to see the connections between the materials and where all this was taking me,” Berman recounted in her small studio off Tel Aviv’s Allenby Street.

As with her prior collections, the persistent research over the tailoring, textures and playful construction in the clothes that Berman designs is evident this time too. In photos of the collection, a model is dressed in clothing that plays with the nature around it. Yet it also looks out of place, like a flash of urbanism amid the cacophony of nature. Many items in the collection reflect the extensive thought that she has devoted to them, as well as Berman’s desire to create unique clothing whose sophistication doesn’t overshadow its beauty.

The incessant research that Berman invests in her tailoring is apparent in a large number of items, particularly where the composition and character of the fabric are visible. Her jackets also reflect considerable thought that ultimately results in garments that are out of the ordinary, including a peplum woven jacket and another dramatically styled jacket with a collar that looks like an untied bow tie, giving the collection depth.

The clothing reflecting Berman’s return to the Russian country dacha and nostalgia for eastern Europe are also beautiful, such as a dress with concealed buttons and short sleeves. But even Berman’s take on the more Western-style garments, such as loose-fitting T-shirts with oversized front pockets, is a reflection of an approach that not only demonstrates an effort to probe new styles but also to give them new life thanks to the use of unconventional materials.

One would have expected that the weight of some of the items in Berman’s collection would cause the garments to tear under their own mass, but the beautiful photos in the natural setting reveal the playful possibilities that Berman offers and the interesting qualities of well-structured garments translated into fashion that can be worn. It works well in the collection and it looks good both for those on the way to their dacha and those who find themselves in a noisy passageway off Allenby Street in Tel Aviv.

Prices: Woven and knit shirts: 300-600 shekels. Dresses: 600-900 shekels. Skirts: 470-600 shekels. Pants: 400-700 shekels. Sweatshirts: 450-800 shekels. Jackets and coats: 700-1,300 shekels. Available at Maria Berman’s studio, Tel.: 054-7504345, and other select retail stores.

Frau Blau: Check looking for mate

The antithesis of Maria Berman’s unceasing research into tailoring and fabric are Philip Blau and Helena Blaunstein, the husband and wife designer team behind the Frau Blau brand. At the presentation of their new collection, they declared that they had stopped inventing new tailoring lines. If they’ve found the perfect cardigan, they will just replace the outer layer in the future, they said.

In their case, as those familiar with the brand know, the outer layer is the print. And if the pair busies themselves with surface issues, the subject of their inspiration for this winter, the game of chess, is a fitting metaphor, with the play of graphics and attention to special patterns at the expense of reinventing each item.

Undoubtedly the couple did research on the graphic aspects of chess and used the familiar black and white as a departure point to research winter textures in wool, tweed and houndstooth -- printing on surprising materials such as wood and interwoven leather.

It’s notable that Frau Blau’s patterns are not simply manneristic play. Their choice of locations on the clothing adds contoured depth and effect. These patterns don’t always manage to get beyond being a graphic amusement, and a look at the entire collection sometimes prompts a sense of déjà vu. In addition, I’m not sure Frau Blau distilled those perfect tailoring designs. So there is always room for additional variation and experimentation with regard to structure and depth. When that really does come together in the couple’s patterns, maybe they'll achieve an artistic checkmate.

Prices: Dresses: 1,000-2,400 shekels. Pants: 500-1,000 shekels. Shirts: 400-770 shekels. Sets and jackets: 350-860 shekels. Shawls and scarves: 200-450 shekels. Available at Frau Blau, 8 Hahashmal Street, Tel Aviv and through Internet retailers.

Michael Fisch