The Tel Aviv Boutique Where Locals Learn From Tourists How to Shop

The Brunch drew a foreign clientele, but nowlocals are starting to cotton to its Nordic style.

Shahar Atwan
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Shahar Atwan

There's artificial grass, two wicker chairs, a white fence climbed by plastic ivy next to it a pair of watering cans. This is the Tel Aviv store The Brunch, which opened in spring 2007, and is reminiscent of a patio. It even has a little seesaw, swinging from the ceiling, which is covered with plastic leaves. The store's owners, Ohad Seruya, 26, and Emily Shinar, 24, envisioned a meeting place that is pleasant to sit in, chat and experience fashion - "coming to brunch," as they put it. Four years later, the new boutique that opened on the northern end of Ben Yehuda Street, is also designed using light colors, but the style is much more polished and now calls to mind the lobby of a boutique hotel.

Racks of clothes inside the store. “The first year, not a single Israeli customer came into the store,” said Ohad Seruya, one of the owners.Credit: Noa Yafeh

The late breakfast may have transferred to more posh surroundings, but the pleasant atmosphere remains. "I really like tall hangers for clothes. It gives them a good stage and they look more posh," says Seruya, who is responsible for the boutique's design. He chose the clothes hangers with the rounded lines, the white platforms placed beneath them and the wall with the rounded rectangular '70s-style niches displaying accessories. "We wanted to maintain the warm atmosphere. Not to be eye-popping or flashy," he explains.

The impression they want to give visitors is one of leisure. "Soon there will also be a sofa and a coffee machine here, and we will serve cookies to customers and their escorts."

Sparking reactions on the street

The boutique pleasantly coordinates the polished furnishings, the exposed brick wall and the soft lighting. Soon, they will set up fitting rooms and curtains in shades of cream and black to be hung in a semicircle. Yet the surroundings are not the only things that feel ready. The menu is now more polished. "When we just opened the store, we used to order all the things we liked without giving any thought to the entire collection and the connection between the items comprising it," admits Seruya. "Over time, we realized that good buying is meant to make up a single, coherent collection."

The fall clothing now on display at the boutique looks more put together both in terms of the range of colors and the textures (silk, thin and soft leathers, cashmere knits and more ), and the kinds of items it contains: a cashmere and silk tunic not uniformly tie-dyed alongside comfortable, matching slacks with square back pockets; elastic brown suede slacks with diagonal cuts on the legs; or soft lambskin short pants in bottle green with a cotton knit belt at the waist. All of these are by Vadum.

"It's impossible to import basic items that will be too much like what they make at Zara or H & M, despite the obvious differences in the quality of the clothing," explains Seruya. He shows a lamb's wool vest painted gray-ink blue and a rabbit fur vest cut irregularly, both by the Danish manufacturer. When they opened the first store, he says, they did not have the necessary skill to put together such a collection. Besides, they were focused on a more important goal: teaching the local clientele to appreciate silk clothes.

"At first, people really didn't understand what the difference was between silk and polyester and we are charging so much for clothes sold at a boutique," he says. "During the first year, not a single Israeli customer came into the store. You could see it on the phone list of our customers, all the numbers were foreign."

The store on Ben Yehuda Street in Tel Aviv.Credit: Noa Yafeh

Things changed gradually, and the local crowd learned to love the restrained Nordic style and design. Then he declared that their vision was to "introduce Israeli women to another kind of chic, clean and classic; to dress people in my style, to explain to them that this is simply the nicest." Now with the boutique window displaying a black lamb's wool vest and a silk dress in smoky shades of gray, it is hard to say that the items are simple. But Seruya and Shinar's intentions have also changed.

"I want the women who wear our clothes to prompt reactions on the street; that women approach them and ask them where they bought them," Seruya says now.

He is not referring to the immediate flash of twinkling sequins, for example, but to clothes that emphasize basic values such as fine materials, some of them in innovative designs that spark interest, sophisticated cuts and quality stitching. "In the end, that is what attracts customers. They know that here they can find unusual designs, and they are willing to invest the necessary sums in them."

Deep pockets

In more than one respect, The Brunch, is a success story that its owners can be proud of. Apart from the move to the new and stylized location that can attest to the boutique's commercial success, their main achievement has been in their determination to effect change on the street. Like a good designer, a boutique manager's success is measured among other things by his ability to shape the clientele's taste. In this respect, Seruya and Shinar have contributed quite a bit to the deepening of a refreshing aesthetic in the local fashion scene. Seruya, energetic and ambitious, does not make do with importing. He recently designed a collection of silk clothes with Gili Azoulay of Juliet. The joint brand is simply called J/O. "At the moment, it's a just a taste, but the line will continue to expand next season," he says.

It is indeed a scattered collection that appears to have been intended primarily to complement the items imported from abroad. For example, a long and full silk skirt in graduated shades of pink, cream and brown, a silk blouse in pistachio tones with soft vertical pleats in front or a wide silk skirt in shades of coffee with two deep pockets on the sides. They are meant to go well with the Vadum silk shirts or the sophisticated knits offered by Bob & Forrest, but have a hard time going solo. More complex styles, such as a short silk overall with blue and white checks or black silk overalls with waves of fabric at the cleavage, reveal a heaviness in shaping the styles and the quality of the stitching needs some improvement.

Prices: shirts: NIS 350-2,000; slacks: NIS 650-1,400; knits: NIS 500-2,500; skirts and dresses: NIS 350-3,000; jackets: NIS 4,000-5,000; belts and bags: NIS 370-2,400. The Brunch, 104 Ben Yehuda Street, Tel Aviv.