Blue (And White) Steel: Men’s Fashion Is Taking Off in Israel

A new generation of Israeli men’s apparel designers aims for a global market in the Internet age.

Cecile Bortoletti

They’re not yet known to a wide audience and don’t have their own stores, but in the past year, a fresh wave of young designers of men’s fashion has arisen, marking a new direction in Israeli fashion that’s worth noting. It’s a new generation, following the founding generation of men’s fashion designers: Doron Ashkenazi, Izak and David Sasson.

New designers like Hed Mayner, Elisha Abargel and Ariel Bassan are already selling their wares online and at one-off sales, and some are looking to expand their clientele abroad. Meanwhile, men’s fashion is taking off all over, with popular men’s departments at local chains like Castro, Renuar, Golf and Yossi Katzav’s Sketch label, now featured in four stores.

“Given today’s social climate, the revolution in men’s fashion seems obvious,” says Asaf of the “Tel Aviv Street Vibe” fashion blog. “In the last few years Israeli culture has become more heterogenic, complex, crude and overt. This poses a challenge for designers: They need to integrate this with the sophistication and minimalist precision that have been dominant in fashion lately, and in men’s fashion in particular.”

Asaf also says that local consumer habits have changed. “There’s a greater openness now. There’s greater exposure to different styles of dressing, whether through the media or the social networks, via Instagram and selfies.”

“It’s connected to the new wave that’s occurring in men’s fashion worldwide,” agrees designer Hed Mayner. “We’re a generation that’s open to everything that’s happening, to all that’s going on outside. Men are looking for other ways to express themselves, and so you have designers all over the world offering oversize cuts or mesh clothing, for example, and men want it – even in Israel, though it’s still on a very small scale here.”

He asserts that the new generation of designers, himself included, is striving to be more original than its predecessors. “This generation doesn’t just want to copy acclaimed European designers. It wants to create original local fashion. Culturally, there’s something here that enables the creation of something new. The visual references to which we’re exposed, the culture and traditions, including religious attire – the tailored clothes of the ultra-Orthodox, Muslim garb – even army uniforms, there is so much to work with here, and it hasn’t really been done yet. But for fashion to really develop here, stores will have to take a chance on new designers and people will have to have the guts to buy from local designers.”

Mayner began working in the field a year ago, after graduating from the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design. He is currently showing his second collection, clothes that put a contemporary twist on traditional tailoring. The collection combines key items in the male wardrobe – military-style coats, jackets with double zippers, raincoats and button-down shirts – with new fabrics and unusual silhouettes, and is earning him a reputation among local fashion lovers.

Eliran Nargassi completed his fashion studies at the Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art in 2012, and became a local pioneer in creating men’s fashion that is far from the mainstream. His clothes draw inspiration from the world of sports, but they also give a new interpretation to tailored clothes as they play with volume and geometry, and even incorporate local landscapes.

Nargassi sells his clothes on his website and in a shop on his website called Etsy. He is known for being very active in social media.

“I don’t sell in stores because I don’t want to get involved in consignment,” he says. “All promotion is done via the Internet, which helps me reach the international press, which has taken an interest in my clothes and is making the label known all over the world. I have customers in America, Europe, Australia and other places. I can sell anywhere that the Israel Postal Service reaches.

“It’s not easy to make a living here as an Israeli designer of men’s fashion, so you have to reach out to the world. There isn’t enough interest here yet, and the audience isn’t large enough to sustain the label. I also took another risky step – my last collection isn’t for the last fall/winter season but for next winter, in order to try to close the gaps with what’s happening abroad. That’s where I’m aiming – less individual purchasing and more purchasing by professional buyers. I’m constantly having to explain to people here that this is for the coming season, and it’s not easy.”

Nargassi admits that he doesn’t make mainstream fashion. “I think that if you want to make your voice heard, you have to be different. There’s no room for designers who do mainstream fashion – that’s what the big commercial fashion companies are for, they do it best.”

Ariel Bassan started his label this year, after returning from New York, where he studied fashion at the Parsons School of Design. He is currently presenting his first collection, which is for sale on his website and at periodic sales events. The collection contains minimalist clothes influenced by architecture, design, monochromatic games and clean lines, in conjunction with original prints. It is a worthy addition to the new wave of men’s fashion design.

“I sense a new interest in men’s fashion,” he says. “There’s a greater openness to fashion that’s interesting and a bit bolder.”

The new designers are offering a new kind of fashion for the Israeli man. While drawing inspiration from different sources, all are trying to find their unique voice amid the sea of popular, mass-market fashions. And they are also relying on new marketing methods: None has a store of his own. Most are active in social media and are trying to attract both a local and international clientele. And while their efforts may not signal a fashion revolution, one can only hope that they’ll ultimately be able to win over a wide audience.