Putting Israeli Couture on the Map: Tel Aviv Fashion Week Is Coming

Franca Sozzani, editor-in-chief of Italian-language Vogue, and other names in world industry are due to sample the Israeli wares starting on Monday

In just one more week, dozens of designers, exuberant fashionistas, local models and distinguished guests from around the world will descend on Tel Aviv for the third annual Gindi Tel Aviv Fashion Week. Last week the event started off with some concerns, primarily because another fashion week was being held elsewhere at the same time, but the apprehensions were quickly extinguished, replaced by near-total satisfaction. Aside from some fundamental questions, like who is fashion week for, or what is its purpose, last year’s event became one of the most stirring in the otherwise humdrum Israeli fashion world.

Over a year has gone by. The questions have still yet to be answered, the whole event was postponed once already, designers are set to display collections meant for different seasons, without any kind of comprehensive theme – but regardless, talks with participants and organizers attest to high expectations. The eventful week will begin Monday with a collection called “Once,” by Tamara Salem.

The general optimism surrounding the event has been bolstered by the arrival of Franca Sozzani, editor-in-chief of the Italian-language Vogue. Representatives from fashion’s Missoni family are also set to arrive. Journalists and other media personalities will participate as well, even though Tel Aviv fashion week comes right after two intense months of fashion weeks taking place across Europe, and as Women’s Fashion Week in Paris is set to begin just as the festivities in Tel Aviv wind down.

“Fashion week was started three years ago in order to bolster the Israeli fashion world. Our target audience isn’t just Israelis, we’re also facing outward,” says Motty Reif, producer of the event. “The security situation around the time of the first fashion week, which took place around the time of Operation Pillar of Defense, made it so that only a few journalists and buyers came out. But we joined together for the second one – the manufacturers and the exporters and others – in order to take care of all the problems that could arise in marketing and exporting from Israel. As far as we’re concerned, we’ve started on a long path, a journey that will go on for years.”

Collapsing balconies

Despite the excitement, there are many concerns — due to the postponement, the fact that the collections are not meant for the same season, and because the connection with the real estate firm Gindi Holdings is problematic since a balcony recently collapsed at one of its new buildings. A year after the whole Israeli fashion world stood on a giant balcony at Gindi’s facility overlooking the site where the event was held last year, it seems that this year’s expectations – and doubts – are as great as ever.

In contrast with the first Fashion week, which was important solely for its existence, this time, organizers are trying to bring in buyers and create a strong base for local designers. Amir Hayek, director general of the National Manufacturers Association of Israel, has become a partner in the initiative, and is trying to foster closer cooperation between Israeli designers and the Textile and Fashion Industries association. “We see local designers as a means to breathe new life into the design industry in Israel, which is almost nonexistent at this point. As far as I’m concerned, they should be treated like startups. Together with the exports institution, we want to learn the needs of designers, and help bring in buyers,” said Hayek.

Hayek is joined by Asa Sarel, who runs an office that connects Israeli designers and producers to markets abroad, and is responsible for bringing foreign buyers to the events next week. “We’re not looking for a one-time sale. We want to create a real relationship between Israeli designers and foreign buyers. Israel’s advantages are its good trade relations with Europe and America, and also that here, there isn’t a need for a minimum purchase, and most producers here can deal with that. But this is a long process,” says Sarel. He also notes that the owners of Tsum, an Eastern European department store chain, were invited to the Tel Aviv fashion week, along with the buyer for Caesar Entertaiment, the chain of casino stores in Las Vegas,

Gindi fashion week 2013. Photo by Avi Waldman

The mix of designers putting their collections on display this year has changed quite a bit. Instead of an even mix of well-known and lesser-known designers, this year’s participants are big names, or well-known brands, some of whom did not participate last year, like Ronen Chen, Daniella Lehavi, comme il faut, Yaron Minkowsky and Maskit. Other designers, including Alon Livne, Yosef Peretz, Efrat Kalig, were left off the list. A few new exhibitions from some younger, unknown designers have been added as well, including Yoav Rish, Maoz Dahan, Natalie Dadon and Nastya Lisansky. “I chose to put a wide variety of the design world on display,” says Reif, “each with their own style, together they make up the language of Israeli fashion.”

The composition of the designers’ list isn’t the only change this year, but perhaps it actually stems from a different change: This year, in contrast with the first fashion week, designers were required to pay 35,000 shekels ($10,000) to participate. Industry sources say that this sum, which covers space rental, makeup and hairstyling, is only part of the expenses faced by designers, which include production costs, lighting video clips, and other costs that come with events of this nature. “Without Gindi, it couldn’t have been done,” says Reif. “An exhibition of this size costs a million shekels, and the fee required of designers is relatively small, and is meant to cover some of the expenses.”

Designer Dorit Bar-Or show in 2013. Photo by Avi Waldman

Still a new idea

This cost hasn’t deterred Ronen Chen. “Fashion weeks throughout the world are very important,” he says. “Designers put things on display months in advance, buyers place orders, and based on that the designers know what to produce and how much, and we begin to get a picture of what the industry will look like over the coming year, for better or for worse. In Israel, fashion week is still a new idea. You can say that at this point it’s still about image, meant to advance designers and create buzz about the general idea of ‘Israeli fashion’ — in Israel, but especially around the world, in hopes that more and more buyers will come. Myself, I’ve got two stores in London, and about 400 sales points around the world and an online store for the U.S. market, but I would still be glad to make ties with foreign buyers who are supposed to come.”

He adds that in Tel Aviv there are many talented fashion designers, and there should be something to bring them together. “I don’t expect, of course, that we’ll be like the New York or Paris fashion week, but there are some excellent lesser fashion weeks, like in Stockholm, Istanbul, or Copenhagen,” says Chen. “That’s what we should aspire to be like. Look what happened to the movie and television industries. Producers got together, money is flowing, and suddenly we became a powerhouse. Israel fashion can get there, too.”

Other designers are optimistic as well, including Hagar Alembik, who participated in the first fashion week, which, despite the low number of buyers who came out for it, sparked her opening to the foreign market. “My expectations are low, but fashion week really helps designers, and is a celebration for all fashion lovers in Israel,” says Alembik. “A week like this opens doors and brings about an optimistic feeling in the industry. During the first fashion week, buyers chose some items from my collection and made orders, and others started regularly exporting abroad. Since then, exports to the United States have only increased.”

“It’s an event that fosters growth,” says Raziela Gershon, who also had an exhibition at last year’s fashion week. “Israeli fashion is in need of a showcase that will help it get on the map, and fashion week is just that showcase. After I participated last year, I can say that it really helped sales, it created a lot of buzz, and it will be interesting to see if it happens again this time. From my point of view, the market here is flooded with foreign brands, and not just cheap ones. Israeli fashion should get more attention. There is another issue here, and that has to do with the current socioeconomic climate here. We should be grateful, as everything is gray and depressing, and this celebration for designers, journalists and fashionistas creates some hope and, at least for a week or two, does away with this gray cloud hovering above our heads.”

Ronen Farach, a young designer whose wares will be on display for the first time at fashion week, shares in the hopes of other designers. “The Israeli design scene suffers from bad PR, and a slew of talkbackers complain about the price of clothing, without seeing the talent, the process, the difficulties or the costs of production,” says Farach. “Even fashion journalists bow down to the fashion giants that imitate cheap foreign trends, instead of talking about Israeli fashions. That’s why an event like this is important.”

Avi Waldman
AP
David Bachar