The existential problems of Israeli fashion designers and the challenges that Israeli Fashion Week producer Motty Reif must overcome are at the heart of the documentary series “Sipurei Badim” (“Fabric Stories”), which follows Reif’s tireless efforts to make Fashion Week happen.
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In one key scene, Reif tussles with event sponsor Uri Levy, owner and co-director of the Gindi Investments real estate company, which is to host the event at its new TVL Fashion Mall. Reif is astonished when Levy reveals his main concern: To what extent Fashion Week will help promote the new mall.
“For four years we’ve been arguing about the relevance of Fashion Week to the mall’s success,” says Levy.
“The assumption is that if you invest in Fashion Week, you’re investing in the world of fashion That’s all fine and dandy. But how does that ultimately help you get Castro do 20 percent more business in your place than in some other mall? There will be 22 designers at this event, and only one or two of them might be relevant to the mall in any way,” he laments.
Could this tension between producer and sponsor be the reason why, earlier this month, the following brief statement was widely distributed to the press: “For technical reasons, Gindi TLV Fashion Week has been moved to March 12. Please make a note of the new date, and thanks for your understanding.”
The terse message reinforced a question that has been on the minds of many designers and others in the Israeli fashion world: Just how much does Tel Aviv Fashion Week, financed by a real estate company, really help the small, local fashion industry, if at all?
The event was supposed to be held upon completion of the mall, which is being built in the heart of Tel Aviv and will showcase 300 fashion and retail brands. But completion of the mall has been delayed.
Two sources familiar with the situation say that the fashion shows were postponed, so they could be held in conjunction with the mall’s opening. Officials at the mall insist, however, that the postponement of Fashion Week was due solely to technical reasons.
While some designers were surprised by the postponement, others see it as yet another instance of Gindi Investments’ imperious behavior. One designer says she wonders how the company can boast of its contribution to the Israeli fashion industry when the new mall won’t offer any real platform for independent designers.
“It would be great if that’s what it would really be – a mall for Israeli fashion,” she says. “But from what I know, the only Israeli thing that’s going to be there are chains like Fox and Castro.”
Like many of her colleagues, she won’t be taking part in this year’s event.
Although the event has been in the planning stages for a long time, the final list of participants has yet to be revealed.
Among the familiar names that have confirmed their participation are Gideon and Karen Oberson, Tovale Hasin, Shai Shalom and Idan Laros, as well as the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design and the Gottex bathing suit company, which is celebrating its 60th year in business. Also, designer Galia Lahav will be making her Fashion Week debut.
The rest are mostly new names, some a bit better known than others. Notably absent are Dorin Frankfurt, Dodo Bar Or and the Sample label, which all took part in last year’s event.
Tovale and Gottex will both stage retrospective fashion shows, featuring designs from over the years, but will not present new collections.
Many designers interviewed for this article preferred not to have their name published – some don’t want to hurt Reif, whom they say they like; others admit they are wary of the power he wields.
One designer says this year’s list of participants sounds more like what you’d expect to find on a store directory of a mall than Fashion Week. She noted the absence of key names that would give a wide snapshot of the local industry.
“I’ve looked at the list but hardly any one of the names really intrigues me,” says another designer. “The event doesn’t offer a map of Israeli fashion design. You don’t have the people who set the tone.”
Like many of his cohorts, this designer says he also chose not to take part in this year’s Fashion Week. “At first, there was this aura around it, but in the end, we see that it’s not really going anywhere.”
Major fashion week events around the world are also an opportunity for international buyers to select the merchandise that will be sold in department stores and elsewhere. In Israel, for the last few years, the Israel Export Institute has paid for buyers from Israel and abroad to attend. But people who took part in last year’s Fashion Week complained that the selection of buyers was inappropriate.
“Buyers come but for the most part they’re just scenery,” says the designer. “These people look great, but in reality they don’t do much. By the time they come here they’ve already done all their buying for the season that we’re presenting, and their purchasing budget is all used up. There’s no value to it aside from some added glamor. For them, it’s a nice free vacation.”
A knowledgeable source says that in many cases, even though buyers come, no meetings with designers are set up for them.
“So why bother bringing them? Why should Israeli taxpayers pay for their plane tickets and their hotel rooms by the sea?” he asks, adding that those who were selected to come here weren’t the right type of buyers for the Israeli market model.
“The majority work for big companies. Small-scale Israeli designers have no chance of being able to meet their demands. Why not bring the owners of small boutiques who would be more suited to the business model that’s taken root here?”
Gindi TLV Mall responded: “The exact mix of stores in the mall will only be revealed after the launch event and the press conference. Beyond Fashion Week, we will continue to create a range of events in the fashion mall to strengthen and support Israeli fashion, and fashion in general.”