Israeli Fashion Designer Looks for Cinderella

Omri Goren tries to 'put a little soul' in designs that convey luxury, royalty and a fairy tale image.

In March this year, fashion designer Omri Goren flew to Paris for a meeting that would mark the conclusion of his doctoral studies in communications at the Sorbonne. Over the course of several hours, Goren met with senior lecturers from different French universities to discuss the comprehensive research he conducted over five years into the role of the designer as a cultural mediator. Goren, as a fashion designer, came to the meeting dressed in jeans with a white and blue button-down shirt and a gray-knit Doron Ashkenazi blazer.

"I thought a lot about picking out what to wear for the meeting, because that is exactly what my research deals with," says Goren. "On the one hand, I of course felt the need to honor the position and therefore dress in an officious manner. On the other hand, I didn't want to come costumed in a tailored suit in which I wouldn't feel comfortable. In the end, I decided to stick to a presentable dress code yet stay true to myself."

Receiving an advanced graduate degree from the Sorbonne was a high point for Goren after five years of working intensively on both his academic research as well as managing his own independent label for couture evening dresses in Tel Aviv. Now, Goren confesses that he feels himself at a crossroads and is pondering his future path as a professional fashion designer. In more than one way he feels that he has had his fill of designing bridal dresses, and at the same time he is considering expanding his collections to include other areas of fashion, even laboring over a new line of fashion accessories and jewelry.

In Goren's current collection these thoughts are expressed in the accompanying items he has created for his clothing designs. For example, he has a crescent-shaped piece of jewelry that combines gilded raffia fabric and a silk lining, or a thin cloth belt with delicate porcelain flowers in the center that Goren sculpted himself.

On display in Goren's studio and apartment in central Tel Aviv is an outfit comprising a corset tank top and a long, narrow skirt that he created from an antique tapestry that he found in one of Paris' street markets. This outfit, with its silk lining, was recently flown to New York for a client who rented it for a festive event. "I didn't want to sell it," says Goren. He adds that his client loved the model so much that she was willing to ignore the holes in the fabric in the bottom part of the skirt.

The intimacy of the outfit's delicate handwork, alongside the nostalgic warmth created by the antique fabric, is Goren's way of what he calls "putting a little soul" into the refined evening dresses he creates. Even if it sounds like a bit of a romantic declaration, it fits Goren's work like Cinderella's glass slipper.

Consequently, it isn't surprising to discover in the collection a coverall dress with a luxurious Oriental-style silhouette with black silk fabric with intertwined gold leafing, which generously drapes both sides of the body and reveals the wearer's shoulders and ribs. Another outfit in a similar vein is a long skirt with an abundance of gilded silk that concluded with a wide ribbon, looking like it was taken from the stories of "1,001 Arabian Nights." "There is something very Orientalist in the current collection," says Goren.

"As a designer, the starting point for me is of an abundance of things, a lot of golds and flashy threads," says Goren. "Over the years I tried to refine my work and I took it to softer places, to what is accepted as good, refined and exacting taste. This time I decided to revert back to the starting point and to places that really turn me on as a creator."

Research incubator

These intersections between the reasonable and the extreme, the rational and the emotional, the practical and the academic are the connection points that inspire Goren. In this respect, Goren says, his studio was a research incubator for the past five years.

"Every client who came here participated in the process, and more than once I found myself sitting and writing down things that I heard," says Goren. "There were those who said that my clothes have a certain presence that cannot be ignored but they still aren't loud, and this is an accomplishment since in Israel they still react suspiciously to anything that sparkles."

According to Goren, the reason he became interested in academic research was that he wanted to inspire his day-to-day work as a designer. Not only to become engrossed in a bra line or the shape of the fabric, but also to grant form and expression to emotional aspects that are more abstract forms of design. "At the end of the matter, what interests me is non-verbal media that exists ... through shared codes of dress and references to the traditions of dress," he says.

This issue is complex and slippery. It appears that even after five years of theoretical and practical research there remain some loose ends - for example, with a long dress with blue silk chiffon and an apron that trails from behind like a gown. Goren admits that he thought about Yves St. Laurent's designs in the '70s when he made it. But these were created under the influence of the dress silhouette of Muslim women in Morocco.

It seems these loose ends are exactly the element likely to enrich Goren's work in the future. As of now, the anthology of his images mostly have an aspect of luxury, royalty or fairy tale dress and this kind of sublime reference is likely to become a limitation because of its overly focused perspective.

So it seems that this is the right moment for Goren to expand his point of reference and clear some space for surprises with an earthier outlook. It is intriguing to see how he will carry over the richness and fantastic ingenuity of his handwork and combination of fabrics with an everyday wardrobe. What transformation, for example, will occur with his original fabrics when in the form of a pair of paints with a sober pattern?

Prices: Shirts are NIS 1,200-1,900; skirts are NIS 1,200-2,500; evening dresses are NIS 1,500-3,500; personally fitted evening dresses start from NIS 3,500. Omri Goren, 46 Yona Hanavi St., Tel Aviv.

Gali Eytan