NEW YORK – There was a time when Israeli fashion meant one thing to U.S. shoppers: Oo La La Sasson. And though many have tried to stake their style claim on these shores — from the understated minimalism of Nili Lotan and Ronen Chen to the overstated kitsch of Michal Negrin — few have topped the impact of those 1990s designer jeans. That’s not to dismiss the outstanding contributions of Alber Elbaz, creative director of Lanvin, or Elie Tahari. But their fashions reflect a Western sportswear sensibility, which begs the question: Whither Israeli fashion?
As another New York Fashion Week wraps, it’s clear there’s a new wave of Israelis rocking runways with looks as hot as they are haute, chic enough for the Big Apple but with a laid-back vibe that’s distinctly Tel Aviv. Daring in spirit, yet sophisticated in sensibility, this new Israeli style seems tailored to glamazons like new Wonder Woman Gal Gadot.
Call it sabra chic, this fierce, feminine aesthetic already counts Beyonce, Iggy Azalea, Angelina Jolie and Madonna as fans.
Though you may be hard-pressed to find a common thread between the gauzy, intricately beaded evening gowns and cocktail dresses of Idan Cohen – who debuted his Fall 2015 collection at the Lincoln Center Pavilion last Saturday (February 14) – and the python-patchwork, shearling and leather jackets, wool and mink coats, and body-skimming, black-and-white asymmetric dresses Yigal Azrouel showed at a studio in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District the next day – you could say both collections are built on clean, architectural lines that showcase the body and are made of fabrics that are fluid and functional.
Though Azrouel set up shop in New York in the late 1990s and considers himself more American than Israeli, his roots still show. An avid surfer since his youth, he’s rendered ready-to-wear in wetsuit fabrics like neoprene. His sensibility, whether the relaxed pajama-type separates he showed for Spring 2015 or the richly textured, graphic patterning of his Fall 2015 collection, speak to strong women who live a fast-paced life and aren’t afraid to make bold statements. It’s no wonder Madonna recently scooped up one of his combat chic, fur-lined parks, which, like the sabra (native-born Israeli), is tough on the outside but soft on the inside.
Just don’t ask Azrouel to draw a parallel between his aesthetic and his homeland. “I think I’m more guided by New York than Tel Aviv at this point,” he says.
That may be, but one of his main inspirations for fall was the clean, geometry of Bauhaus — the 20th-century German design style that is the essence of Tel Aviv architecture. Coincidence? Perhaps.
The casualness and multicultural fabric of Tel Aviv plays a role in Cohen’s glam evening wear. “All the material I use is super lightweight,” he said backstage after his dazzling show. “It’s all about comfort and ease.”
Indeed, Cohen's jeweled dresses and jumpsuits, as glittery as the night sky, in dazzling hues from sunset pink to midnight blue, seem as breezy as the beach and as diaphanous as the seven veils worn and shorn by Salome. But his lattice-like seaming, draping and dramatic slits make his silhouette closer to old Hollywood than the Holy Land – perfect for the red carpet.
Cohen’s knack for fashioning Oscar dresses can only be underscored by his PR savvy. His marriage to his business partner Elad Borenstein on Valentine’s Day – just moments before his catwalk premiere – seemed an ingenious move, giving him instant buzz with fashion bloggers and gossip columnists, making him somewhat of an icon for pulling off the first gay marriage at the Fashion Week tents, and adding a romantic touch to an already romantic day.
“Gay marriage isn’t recognized in Israel,” he explained. “So we thought, ‘What better occasion?’” That may be. But Cohen, who landed a coveted spot designing fashions for the Israeli version of the American TV reality show “The Real Housewives,” already knows full well the power of a publicity stunt.
Alon Livne, who debuted at New York Fashion Week two years ago, also has reality TV to thank for his global following. Having cut his teeth, training at Alexander McQueen and Roberto Cavalli before going on to win “Project Runway” in Israel, he has developed a “Tron” meets “Blade Runner” aesthetic that’s as informed by pop culture as it is by the masterful skill of his design mentors.
His first collection at the Lincoln Center tents was sexy and dark, with sharp bespoke tailoring and high-contrast colors, and he hasn’t disappointed since. Since that heralded debut, Livne has designed costumes for Beyonce’s “Mrs. Carter Show” world tour, as well as gowns for the red carpet and editorial. His glam, custom creations also earned him gigs with Janelle Monáe and Lady Gaga.
But when he landed on the cover of Cosmo, outfitting Iggy Azalea in one of his athletic, cutout leotards, the Israeli designer really went viral. It also didn’t hurt that Kendall Jenner wore one of his black, high-waist trousers with black bra and mesh overlay in Harper’s Bazaar, showing a different side of the designer – one that was more elegant and relaxed, closer in spirit to Helmut Lang and Helmut Newton’s brand of female empowerment than the superhero trend Livne’s apparently launched thanks his many pop-star fans.
Still, it’s the latter that gets the Twitterverse spinning. Fashion bloggers can’t seem to get enough of Livne’s futuristic Deco-inspired vision, whether in the silver-tipped manicures his models sported at his last show, or the racy, mesh-paneled cutout dresses that celebrities from Miranda Lambert to Tyra Banks have worn on the red carpet.
And in an age when Instagram "likes" and awards-show looks spell fashion success, it seems a new Israeli look has finally arrived.