The small studio of Hilla Toledano, located on the fringe of the Nahalat Binyamin pedestrian mall in Tel Aviv, reminds you of the small Tel Aviv workshops of yore. Hiding amid the bags on glorious display is her bag maker, Adolf, who has been working in the space for more than 20 years and with whom she teamed up a year ago.
The proximity of the manufacturing to the display shelves helps explain the magic behind Toledano’s successful brand, which proves that matching handmade production with high-quality materials and a watchful eye can create bags (and accessories) whose prices can reach 2,500 shekels ($634).
Toledano is part of the scene of young and independent designers who create bags in Israel with a high-quality finish, develop unique uses for leather and have their own original and professional signatures.
Hilla Toledano. Photo by Kit Glassman
“It’s a matter of stubbornness,” says Toledano, explaining how she managed to turn her small brand into a successful business. “I believe in my way, in the materials I work with, in local manufacturing, and in a lack of compromise over quality – from the imported leather from Italy through unique metalwork that I find all around the world.” Her bags are offered in small series, handmade, without machines, boasting small and unique details.
There’s nothing revolutionary about Toledano’s bags. There are no bags in new and surprising shapes; just a selection of bags with classic lines. It is a collection of bags whose added value is connected to the selection of quality leather, the colorfulness and unique accessorization – with a modern look that is precise and exacting.
Her latest collection, Rebel Heart, includes leather with pretty green camouflage textures, suede, and stiff and shiny leathers such as those found on Dr. Martens boots (which Toledano says the leather manufacturers call “Nazi leather”), for bags with classic shapes – such as bucket bags upon which she attaches gold-plated studs; cylinder bags with a thin strap that makes one think of ammunition pouches; and winning backpacks from stiff leather, giving them an especially elegant look.
It’s hammer time
Alongside Toledano, there are other fresh new designers such as Idan Yosefov and Ya’ara Ohayon, who are behind the Martella brand (Martella means “Hit it with a hammer” in Italian, apparently), and who create new interpretations for high-quality leather bags. Yosefov studied at the Avni Institute of Art and Design in Tel Aviv. He received a scholarship after graduating and went to study in Florence, where he mastered the art of making leather bags using traditional methods.
The couple import their leather from Italy, Turkey and Argentina, and make unique and elegant bags – ones that at first glance seem simple, but which, upon closer inspection, reveal more complex design and planning, whether in terms of the versatility of carrying them or their internal arrangements.
“These are bags for people who love design and appreciate high quality,” say the couple about the collection, whose prices range from 900 shekels to 2,600 shekels. They are sold online and in the showroom of Eli-yahu Madar on Rothschild Boulevard.
Their first collection includes dozens of models. You can see the precision in the form and sophistication – even if it is sometimes too much – in the bags’ construction. Even so, it is hard not to be impressed by the luxurious leather, the proper use of accessories such as gold-plated zippers and clasps that give the bags an elegant look – as well as the manner in which the thoughtfulness of how the bags are carried and used receive not just special attention but become an integral part of the entire collection’s design.
Another couple is behind the KN Leather Goods brand: designer Katerina Nevler and business developer David Yadid, who established it a year ago. Nevler is a graduate in fashion design from Shenkar School of Engineering and Design, Ramat Gan. She graduated in 2013 and worked in China, where she specialized in accessories. As opposed to Toledano and Martella, who import the leather themselves, KN relies more on working the leather – in particular, what Nevler calls “tattooing the leather,” a technique where the leather is embossed, a process she does herself.
The KN collection includes 18 bags, ranging from 300 shekels to 1,600 shekels. It includes mostly unisex bags such as large backpacks, but also cylinder bags for evening wear. They are influenced by Egyptian calligraphy and geometric shapes with tribal inspiration, which are embossed on the bags. In addition, despite the classic shapes, it is possible to distinguish the use of rock ’n’ roll elements such as metal-carrying chains, a mix of studs and screws, and a series of bags from imitation leather fabrics – or from wool, for the vegan community.