New Israeli Designers Ride Growing Male Fashion Wave

Meet Noa Katorza and Lotem Azari, whose new line of men’s clothing is warm and pleasant, the kind Israelis should like.

A year and a half ago Noa Katorza, 31, and Lotem Azari, 30, completed their studies at the Shenkar School of Engineering and Design and immediately started working. Together with another friend they created a collection for women that was influenced by the social protest movement, and sewn from remnants of fabric left over from their period of studies, reasonably priced and successfully sold near Rothschild Boulevard in a restaurant parking lot. Since then the protest has evaporated, while Katorza and Azari have turned to their real passion: men’s fashion.

They are joining the contemporary wave of fashion designers for men, which include Mauricio, Adam Gefen and the Muslin brothers ‏(who design for women too‏), alongside more veteran designers such as Yosef, Dorin Frankfurt and Shai Shalom, who displayed a men’s collection at Fashion Week last month. And this week, after they won a competition organized by veteran men’s designer Doron Ashkenazi ‏(together with Gefen, Galit Koll Aginsky and Amit Maimon‏), a selection of their items will be sold in his store.

“The women’s market is very crowded,” says Azari, “whereas the selection offered to men is smaller, mainly for men who are looking for something different, less commercial. That fact, along with our love for men’s fashion, led us to design the first collection.”

The collection, displayed this past summer, tried to present a fashion alternative for young men and was inspired by Charlie Chaplin. Katorza and Azari showed clothes with somewhat casual cuts, a Chaplinesque interpretation of classical items in black and white that expanded to a palette of more summery and cheerful colors. There was something a little hesitant about the first collection, which scattered in many directions, but there were also strong items, mainly those characterized by clear graphic elements, and looked like they were made by a confident hand. The fact that their clothes look light and filled with humor helped the two women become popular with a small clientele, and they started to sell their clothes at private sales, gradually revealing their line to the local audience.

“At first the reactions were mixed,” says Katorza. “There are men who are frightened by red stitching, while others think that it’s not sufficiently daring. We learned that it’s a good idea to be minimalistic in order to get the most out of men’s fashion, to find the place where changes and small details make the difference, whether it’s in the stitching or even in the buttons.”

Inspired by the sea

The brand’s second collection is more limited and compressed than the first. It includes hand-dyed knits, long T-shirts, cardigans, chino pants, colored nylon coats and inspiration from fishing and the sea, mainly huge net knits, combinations of leather and jersey with coarse stitching or hand-sewing on the knits. The collection has a play of layers of various textures and fabrics, transparencies and emphasized stitches, the look of hand-sewing and rinsing that make the collection warmer, more personal and pleasant, far from the tailored look of familiar men’s fashion and closer to the pleasant, relaxed look that Israeli men prefer.

The brand’s yellow nylon coat signifies an interesting and exciting direction: The classic sailor’s coat here receives a delicate and interesting interpretation with a white zipper, hood, covered buttons and large pockets, and it looks like a classical Israeli winter item, whose strong yellow color adds to its beauty. Another classic item, a bronze-colored cardigan knitted more coarsely and with a shawl collar and wooden buttons, also looks like an up-to-date version of men’s classics, a grandfather’s coat that has undergone a more modern adaptation and is comfortable, comforting and fashionable without broadcasting short-lived trendiness.

The collection also includes cardigans and shirts in loose cuts that were dyed by hand and combined with leather in various colors. In some of the shirts and cardigans, small, cheerful details attest to attention and original thinking, as well as an attempt to formulate a different, if not especially daring fashion for the local clientele: woolen hems in various colors from the sleeves, stitching in a variety of colors, zigzag sewing or a diagonal ribbon on the row of buttons − for example in a purple cardigan, to which pieces of leather were added to the shoulders and a blue diagonal ribbon added to the row of buttons differentiated it from the inventory in the fashion stores.

The brand’s attempts to find a unique cool also gave rise to items that deviate from the new interpretations of male classics. A long T-shirt, for example, is being offered in an interesting version with cotton in the front and back ‏(in different colors‏) and hand-knitted fabric on the sides. Special mention should be made of the brand’s selection of pants, some of them in a classic chino cut with a stitch that makes the cut look more precise, others in the style of training wear − long underwear in dyed fabrics in beige, khaki green and black with a more casual, charming look.

On the one hand, there’s a question of whether the Israel male is ready for somewhat different fashion, even if it is relaxed and pleasant. On the other hand, even the local clientele seems to have matured and expanded, and knowledgeable young men won’t hesitate to walk in the city streets in a yellow coat.

The flourishing of men’s fashion the world over seems to be filtering down to Israel too. Along with the young brands of Adam Gefen and the Muslin brothers, for example, there seems to be hope that the local clientele will gladly adopt contemporary Israeli fashion that’s taking its first steps in a difficult period with a large number of brands.

“Many people tell us that our clothes aren’t suitable for Israel,” says Katorza, “but we would like Israeli men to dress this way. We want to change the way men’s fashion is seen here, to preserve the classic styles with touches of daring.”

Studio One and Daniel Bar-On
Studio One and Daniel Bar-On