From Tantura to St. Tropez

Back in the 1930s, the sea and beach fashions in Tel Aviv would not have embarrassed any coastal city in the world.

Back in the 1930s, the sea and beach fashions in Tel Aviv would not have embarrassed any coastal city in the world, writes Ayala Raz in her book "Halifot Ha'itim" ("Changing Styles: 100 Years of Fashion in Eretz Israel").

The snapshots from years gone by show women wearing short-sleeved shirts and bell-bottoms, buttoned or laced to the shirts. The white, sailor-suit version of this beach outfit was particularly popular.

In the 1960s, Leah Gottlieb brought glamour to pools and beaches, with the Gottex brand. She created collections for having fun at luxury vacation spots: from long, embroidered skirts, loose pants and small corsets to tunics and kaftans. The stitching was meticulous, the prints magnificent and varied.

"I wanted to create a whole world that would focus on bathing suits - one that women could wear from the pool to the bar and then to a restaurant or cocktail party," Gottlieb once told the magazine Dessous International.

Indeed, beach and vacation wear looks more beautiful than ever today. "Today people do not wear old, worn-out clothing to the beach, because the sea has become a place for being well-dressed," says designer Gideon Oberson. "There are some wonderful vacation spots, at amazing prices, and there you can see real beach fashion."

One of these places is South Beach, Florida, where Oberson was when we spoke. Sitting on the beach and watching what was happening, he provided a colorful report.

"For years I have been working with more than just bathing suits," said Oberson. "Beach clothes are no less important. White pants and sailor-style T-shirts used to be the beach look. In the past two years the dress has conquered the world and the beaches. These dresses remind me of the dresses I made at Niba 15 years ago, made from a polyester-Lycra blend that clung to the body. It is actually a T-shirt with all sorts of necklines."

The short T-shirt dress, said Oberson, can be worn anywhere by both girls and women: on the beach with rubber sandals adorned with sparkling Swarovski crystals (the American girls go for comfort) or in the evening at clubs and trendy restaurants. "The women just add diamond earrings and high heels, grab a small purse and they're all set," he said.

The dress that Oberson describes is the ideal traveling outfit. It does not take up much room, needs no ironing and is multipurpose. It's better not to take a lot of clothing on vacation anyway, as you ultimately never wear it all.

"It looks great in a hotel lobby," says Oberson, "on the beach or at a restaurant. Eighty percent of the women here do not change out of their little dresses, but rather just add the right accessories."

For the past few seasons the swim suit and beachwear collections that bear Oberson's name have included Lycra dresses that match the bathing suits. This year he has added cotton shorts and shirts with tie waists, mesh dresses that can be worn over a bathing suit, to a poolside restaurant, and tankini bathing suits, whose upper half is like a T-shirt that can be worn over pants (Gideon Oberson, 36 Gordon Street, Tel Aviv. Beachwear collection prices: NIS 360-748; vacation wear: from NIS 2,000.)

"The Gottex woman," says Oberson, "does not go near the water, so [for that collection] I make a lot of kaftans suitable for five-o'clock cocktails." The prints are pure Gottex, that is, big, magnificent, with lots of colors.

"The Gottex woman," smiles Oberson, "is a kind of Versace [figure], but not a rich bitch - just rich." (The designs are available at factory chain stores, Hamashbir Lazarchan stores and Benogea Laguf outlets. Prices: NIS 300-2,000).

The glamorous look is also shared by the beachwear designed by Roberto Cavalli, Missoni and Dolce and Gabbana, some of which are sold at Amor (74 Heh B'Iyar Street, Tel Aviv), alongside matching bathing suits, as well as the beach and swimwear by Christian Dior, sold this season at Enigma (34 Heh B'Iyar Street, Tel Aviv).

The mini-collection by Tali Sabag, for Tali's, is also good for the woman who wants to be seen at the beach. Sabag recently launched a small line of vacation wear that includes galabias and long, loose, sexy, empire-cut dresses, wide beach pants and silk or chiffon pareos by Pucci and Roberto Cavalli and quality knit fabrics imported from Italy.

"My clothes have no special designation," says Sabag, "and can be worn anywhere: to the beach, to a romantic dinner, to a beach party, or on a yacht." (Tali's, 8 Ahad Ha'am Street, Tel Aviv. Prices: NIS 195-3,450)

Giorgio Armani apparently thought he was on a yacht when he designed a more classic and solid beachwear line that includes shorts in white or red-white-and-blue stripes. These go well with all sorts of colorful T-shirts and thin knits for chilly nights on deck. (Emporio Armani, 72 Heh B'Iyar Street, Tel Aviv. Prices: NIS 553-1533).

The beachwear designed by Mirit Singer Rodrig for Closet is a recent small collection that is completely different. Singer Rodrig brought back local fabrics from a visit to Sri Lanka a few years ago: checks and plaids in a host of colors. The fabrics are neither perfectly woven nor finely finished. She used some of them, in shades of sky blue, for a line of shirts last season, while others (with large green, pink and yellow checks) lay in her studio until she decided what to do with them this season.

Each fabric was used for a different item of beachwear, and together they form a stylish look that is also suitable for a restaurant visit in the evening. Try a combination of embroidered linen pants or a cooler dress with abundant fabric for cocktails around the pool. This dress was designed freehand around the mannequin, with no seams and a broad belt with a large, impressive wooden buckle. A short cooler dress, pareo skirt and matching bra, long wraparound tops that can be worn over a bathing suit or with embroidered linen shorts, for a dressier look. The pants will also look good with a vest with meticulously quilted sleeves, typical of Singer Rodrig's work (Closet, 12 Harakevet Street, Tel Aviv. Prices: NIS 390-1,600).

For anyone who wants the nonchalant look, but done with high quality, Shanti, fashions designed by Tal Angel and Ariel Doron for Bikale, are just the thing. This season there is a new, refreshing linen collection, featuring wide pants that can be worn with a bathing suit, a lovely variety of cotton dresses, galabias and silk slips. These also fold easily into a suitcase and will look good on local or far away beaches or on a yacht (Bikale, 2 Chelouche Street, Neve Tzedek, Tel Aviv. Prices: NIS 140-650).