T-shirts for tourists are a genre that Israeli designers virtually ignore, despite their great commercial, creative and comic potential. There are countless ugly shirts decorated, for example, with a picture of a bomb and the words “Visit Israel or Israel visits you”; the word Jew as part of the Nike slogan; or perhaps just a red shirt with the Coca Cola logo in Hebrew. But now there are new, locally designed alternatives.
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TRES is the brand name of local designers Noa Gur, Noy Goz and Dafna Pillosof; it’s been highly visible lately on the streets of Tel Aviv and on Facebook. The white shirt with an image of a palm tree at sunset and the inscription “Le Club Tel Aviv” is reminiscent of tourists’ souvenir shirts. It appeared at the most recent Fashion Week in Tel Aviv, combined with wide white tailored pants, capturing a stylized vacation atmosphere, seemingly on the Riviera but totally here – which characterized the entire TRES collection. At the end of the show, fashion photographer Merav Ben Loulou wanted to wear the shirt to an event she was attending that evening, posted a picture on Instagram that aroused unprecedented hype, and from there things spun out of control.
The shirt was actually designed and created only for the show; the designers weren’t planning to put it into production. But it quickly took on a life of its own, became a cult item on the feed and created a waiting list of determined men and women. Within two weeks they produced several hundred copies by popular request, and since then it has become an undisputed best seller on the brand’s online store.
“Not a day goes by when it isn’t purchased, and we’re selling a total of hundreds of shirts a month. It’s bizarre,” says Gur. “Every day someone comes who saw someone in the city and wants one too. Most of those wearing it are Tel Avivians, but quite a number of tourists are buying it too. They walk around the city and see it on a waitress at Haminzar bar or on a hostess at the Hanoi Restaurant, or they stop people in the street who are wearing the T-shirt and ask them what the club is and where you can buy a shirt. Many of them are French, and it’s a challenge for them to find it on the internet, for example, but now it’s already the first result on Google when you look for ‘le club tel aviv.’ The buzz has done its job.
“In our country people like to be identified with Tel Aviv in particular, because it doesn’t reflect what’s happening on the news broadcasts,” says Gur, trying to explain what makes a touristy shirt a hit. “Our collection was about a fictitious local resort. A location in the spirit of escapism and fantasy. The shirt started out as a joke about Club Med and their embarrassing shirts. We had an argument among ourselves as to whether Tel Avivians would even want to walk around with a shirt that says ‘Tel Aviv.’ You would think it’s very uncool, but in the end the hype began with the fashion industry people, so that Club Tel Aviv was at first a kind of exclusive club that people wanted to belong to.”
The shirt is sold exclusively on the website or in the TRES studio shop (Ahad Ha’am 58, Tel Aviv), in versions for men and women, in dark blue, light gray or white. Despite its popularity it is maintaining an affordable price of 150 shekels, and that makes it a kind of modest, pretty souvenir from a far more trendy collection.
From its location in Jaffa, the Gelada Studio for illustration and design (8 Segula St.) fantasizes about journeys to far-flung places and galaxies. Gelada designed the official shirt of the Jerusalem Film Festival, emblazoned with a lion’s head, symbol of the city, and the word Jeruz.
“It was our attempt to communicate with the subject of Jerusalem in an Israeli-Jewish-establishment manner, but with a wink to the world of skaters,” explains studio head Yaron Mendelovici.
In the past, together with designer Chen Maccabi, he created a series of shirts called “972+ Revisited,” which he says “revisits dusty sites from our childhood and invents a glorious past with bling, which sometimes never existed.” For example, one of the shirts in the series is devoted to the casino in Hamat Gader and shows a greedy alligator atop a pile of poker chips.
Since it was established in 2009, the studio has been a kind of travel agency and fictitious airline that invites its customers on an intercontinental journey via shirts, postcards, bags and all kinds of other original merchandise: Prices: 90-150 shekels, in the studio shop in the Noga district, near the Jaffa flea market, or on the Etsy website.
The new series of tourist shirts by designer Noa Curiel includes five models that are souvenirs of a visit to Greece. The T-shirts sport original illustrations by Curiel, which she embroiders on a home sewing machine. There is a Greek urn with flowers, a picture of the Acropolis and statues of Venus, Athena and Theseus, with humorous slogans such as “You’ve got a friend on Mount Olympus.” Some slogans are in Greek. Curiel chose to photograph the shirts on a model in her studio, and then used Photoshop to add the picture to typical tourism pictures from around Greece.
Curiel, 30, a graduate of industrial design studies at the Holon Institute of Technology, is the daughter of Ran Curiel, a former Israeli ambassador to Greece. As a child, she spent five years in Athens, during the formative years from 9 and 14, and then didn’t return for 15 years. Last year she traveled with her partner to visit the home of the ambassador in Athens, was flooded with memories, and returned with a towel illustrated with a Greek flag as a souvenir.
“I’d always felt disdain for the commercial junk for tourists when I traveled abroad. It really annoyed me, and I didn’t understand who bought it , but over time I changed my attitude completely. I was in St. Petersburg and although I didn’t come back with a shirt, I looked for souvenirs from the place, the kind that I felt would represent me. Anything can be a souvenir. People need something that will tell them it happened, to hold onto, not only to brag that they went somewhere.”
Since her mother’s death about five years ago, the past and a preoccupation with memory and items that represent it have become recurrent motifs in Curiel’s work. “Throughout my years of study I always wore all the jewelry she had given me at the same time, like amulets, and I was surprised to discover that it really relaxes me to touch them when I’m under pressure, like a kind of ritual.”
She also inherited the art of hand embroidery from her mother. Earlier this month she launched another series of shirts, this time in partnership with Born From Rock jewelry. The collection is called Field Day and draws images from the Land of Israel. “It’s about the flora, the rocks and the fauna that came from this territory,” she explains. “We stayed away from patriotic images, but not out of a desire to express a political opinion. Actually, we’re trying to stay away from that. At first we wanted to do slogans in Hebrew, Arabic and English, until we realized how pretentious that is. After all, none of us speaks Arabic.” The shirts are priced at 150 shekels at noacuriel.bigcartel.com