Adieu to an Accessory Ace

The final collection of Daniella Lehavi, who died this month, is her ultimate one. Admirers recall a meticulous designer who transformed the accessory field in Israel.

About a month ago, leather designer Daniella Lehavi mustered the strength, after an absence of several months due to medical treatments that she had undergone, to go to one of her Tel Aviv stores to get a look at a collection of purses and shoes that she had worked on and hadn’t seen fully on display.

“She called me and told me how excited she was to see the whole collection in the store,“ Lehavi’s son Uri, who is CEO of his mother’s company, recalled. “Even though you can imagine how it would look based on the individual sketches and samples, when it’s put in the store, you see how all the pieces come together as one story. In retrospect this was the conclusion of her life’s project, the furthest from what she could have thought about when she started to work more than 20 years ago. There was something whole about it, with more harmony and cohesion than any other collection that she had worked on.“

Daniella Lehavi was named accessory designer of the year in the framework of this year’s Holon fashion week, before falling ill. Her winter collection reflects a synopsis of her design signature as well as a new high point in which all of the elements of the design process came together into a complete collection. There are animal-like textures, the integration of color and shape, reflecting not just everything that Lehavi had ever worked with, including the materials, the love of leather and functionality, but also the fashion aspects and new aesthetic elements.

“Her latest collection reflects the path that she took since she established the brand,” her son said. “Over these years, she underwent a learning process, going from an industrial designer, a field that she studied at Bezalel [Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem], to a fashion designer and, as designers and people from the industry noted in the course of their condolence visits [after her death], she transformed the accessory field in this country. ”

Until the 1990s handbag design was a weak link on the local scene. Manufacturers copied from exhibitions abroad, and there were no designers that worked with local sewing operations. “Daniella would go to all kinds of places to have them stitch the purses that she had designed,” her son recounted. “She was an independent woman who took the field by storm. She thought she might have made a mistake in studying industrial design so she registered to study fashion at Shenkar [College of Engineering and Design] but only lasted a month there. She understood that design is design is design and studied design on her own how to make purses,” he said.

She got a job working at the MIF fashion chain, where she met Noa Bar-Lev Davidor, who was the head designer there. “I met her when she was an assistant to a public relations person,” Bar-Lev recalled, “and I remember that she told me that she had come to work to learn how to make dress patterns, because Bezalel had not taught her that. The company closed, but we continued to be good friends and she began making purses and accessories on her own. While I was working at another company and didn’t find purses and belts for photo shoots, I asked her to design a few items especially for me. They were a big success and fashion models stood in line afterwards to buy them.”

At the first store that Lehavi opened in 2001, she featured handbag lines but at the same time, she also began to design shoes. “As with everything else, Daniella learned everything from scratch. She went to Italy to look for a shoe tree factory. She sat and studied the subject and together with the people there designed for special shoe tree designs for the brand,” her son said. When her first store opened, she also drew up working guidelines that the brand adheres to until this day — clean lines, reduced to minimal detail, harmony among the elements and finishes reflected in the placement of pockets, the stitching, the buckles and other aspects.

Lehavi’s attention to material and types of leather is repeatedly mentioned in articles about her brand and her handbags. “When she became ill, I went to a show featuring raw materials,” her son said, “and she told me that she envied me a lot. These places were always a source of inspiration for her. When she made shoes, for example, she researched everything from the beginning. She knew not only how they stretch the shoe or shoe tree but also what the laces were made of and how the leather was manufactured. In the factory, she had the qualities of a studio workshop director, someone whoreally understand the material."

In 2011, Daniella Lehavi met the designer Nivi Barker and together they launched a handbag line combining canvas and leather. When Daniella Lehavi became ill several months ago, Barker began working at the company studio. “She was open and flexible, and that surprised me," said Barker. "Usually people who work for so many years become possessive of their work, but with her it became a dialogue of encouragement with a lot of insights. I learned from her to deal first of all with practicalities. She was always looking for real convenience. She would walk around with each purse, inspect it and only then decide whether it should be put into production. ”

The last thing that Lehavi worked on was a collection of silk scarves that will be in the stores shortly. “As with everything that she did, with this too it was important to her to understand how and where everything was made,” her son said. “She went to Calcutta, India, where silk scarves are made. As always, she had to know how they spin the silk, how they sew the scarves and how they dye them. ”

“She used to stay late into the night at a sewing machine," recalls Uri Lehavi "and insist on a particular detail, and it was only after everyone else had left that she would solve most of the problem. And then another bestseller would be born.”

Assaf Eini
Tomer Appelbaum
Tomer Appelbaum