A photo of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset plenum waving his hand in the air, which was taken about a week ago by Haaretz photographer Emil Salman, looks at first glance like one of many. But another look at the lining of the dark blue jacket reveals the small label bearing the brand name Ermenegildo Zegna. That was a moment when anyone familiar with the fashion world couldn’t help but stop and wonder: ‘So, the Israeli prime minister wears Zegna?” After all, anyone who chooses this Italian luxury brand, whose suit prices range from 9,000-25,000 shekels (about $2,350-$6,500), usually wants to be fashionable, has a desire to look like someone who understands the zeitgeist but also adopts a traditional dress code.
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The veteran luxury Italian fashion house acquired its reputation thanks to the high-quality tailored suits it produces, which represent a successful combination of elegance, conservatism and up-to-date fashion. Among men, Zegna is a code name for luxury originating in top-flight hand tailoring. The suits are worn by businessmen, lawyers and politicians, and in the United States the brand is especially successful, and for over two decades has been the most popular among the economic and political leadership. But the No. 1 promotional model for the Italian brand is probably none other than U.S. President Barack Obama.
Obama is the knight of practical elegance, who also knows exactly when to charmingly fasten a button, and who even at the most difficult moment, and maybe especially then, doesn’t forget the importance attributed to his outward appearance. He is aware of being an example in a culture than links outwards signs of success with moral and religious propriety.
Netanyahu, on the other hand, looks nondescript in most of his official photos. His outward appearance is quite uniform and lacks any personal imprint. His hair remains the same shade, combed in the same direction, his makeup doesn’t change. Although his suits range from black to very dark blue, it always seems as though they’re the same suit. And the same is true of his ties: Almost all of them are light blue, with miniscule changes in design. Although Netanyahu has adopted American customs and lifestyle, when it comes to clothes it’s a different story. The rigid silhouette of his jacket, which reflects the rigidity of his behavior and his dogmatic thinking, the pronounced shoulders that convey aggressiveness, the way in which the suit sits on his body, which implies that refinement and elegance are not the bon ton for someone who creates an atmosphere of panic and a constant sense of danger.
The contrast between the two leaders is striking, I was reminded by Israeli menswear designer Doron Ashkenazi. In the encounter between the two at Ben-Gurion International Airport in 2013 during Obama’s visit to Israel, both were photographed with their jacket off, holding it in one hand behind their backs in a symbolic gesture of tossing off the official protocol for events of this kind. “When Obama placed his light jacket on his shoulder, Bibi tried to do the same in order to please him, but in his case it looked somewhat as though he was carrying a heavy and clumsy army jacket,” says Ashkenazi.
Photo: Avi Ohayon / GPO
In that photo everything looks similar, until you look closely. It’s the similarity between the small details, like the black leather belt with the silver buckle and the black shoes, that emphasizes the slight differences: the types of fabric of the pants and the shirt, their cut, the design of the shoes, the specific type of tie, and perhaps above all – their compatibility with the body of the wearer. While Obama effortlessly displays compatibility, on Bibi it doesn’t work.
Does the luxury suit by Zegna symbolize a change in Netanyahu’s awareness of fashion and image? A nuance with which we are not familiar? In fact, and just because it is so rare, the quality label that could be glimpsed for a moment from the sleeve reminded us how much the outward appearance of Israeli politicians – including Netanyahu – parallels the overall lack of charm of our national politics. And how the attempt to adopt external dress codes remains so foreign to our culture, so artificial, emphasizing that aesthetics and refinement in their profound sense are not characteristic of Israeli society in general, and its politics in particular. Even when he wears Zegna, Netanyahu somehow looks nondescript, as usual.