Iconic Israeli Fashion Brand Reinvents Itself

After 30 years, Ata returns with a new collection of fashion for the people. Regardless of nostalgia, the clothes are simply beautiful.

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A poster for an Ata fashion show in the 1950s.
Credit: Central Zionist Archive
Ruth Perl Baharir
Ruth Perl Baharir
Ruth Perl Baharir
Ruth Perl Baharir

Thirty years after the Ata textile company went out of business, the iconic Israeli brand is trying to make a comeback and restart exactly where it left off. A visit to the company’s new store, which opened Tuesday morning on Allenby Street in Tel Aviv, shows that tradition has set the tone for the new brand – in all aspects, from the store’s aesthetics to the attention to detail such as tags with graphic designs taken from past eras.

Businessman and restaurateur Shahar Segal decided to buy the brand and revive it during a visit to an exhibit on Ata at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv a few years ago. “Suddenly a burst of action came out,” said Segal when he launched Ata’s summer 2016 collection, designed by Yael Shenberger. “I don’t know why, maybe it was the right thing to do.”

The clothes are divided into two groups: The first includes exact replicas of classic designs from the Ata archives, such as the old Shabbat shirts and khaki pants. The second group has items based on the brand’s design values, in a modern interpretation. The old lines have been made more modern, and more functional too. For example, Segal says the pockets have been redesigned to hold an iPhone.

“Almost all the items were measured on bicycles, because in the end these are items people will wear when they ride, work and have an iPhone,” said Shenberger.

Ata was founded in 1934 by Erich Moller, who was from a family of Jewish industrialists and made aliyah from Czechoslovakia. The name came from nearby Kfar Ata, which today is Kiryat Ata just northeast of Haifa. Ata was awarded symbolic meaning when Noble Prize laureate writer Shmuel Yosef Agnon declared Ata was the Hebrew acronym for “Textiles from our Land” (Ariga Totzeret Artzenu). In the 1980s, after decades of being the largest textile plant of its kind in Israel, Ata closed down, and a residential neighborhood was built on the site of its factory.

Over 30 years later, Segal and Shenberger’s new project may be the right thing at the right time. The reborn Ata has entered an empty space in the local fashion market. While Israelis rush to adopt and then quickly tire of trends, over the short history of heterogeneous Israeli society and fashion, almost no common foundation and identification has existed in Israeli design.

The clothes from Ata in the old days overcame the problem because they were worn by all ethnic groups – as part of the austerity plans in the early days after the founding of the state, every Israeli family received ration cards to be used at the chain’s stores. But in addition, the simplicity of Ata’s clothes responded to the almost sole value that has defined the Israeli dress code: Don’t overdo it. “Don’t be tempted by ostentation,” as Segal puts it.

In the case of Ata’s recent reincarnation, we can ignore this philosophizing and make do with a look at the clothes – detached from any cultural, historical or nostalgic connection. They are simply beautiful, and they work. Even if you have never heard of Ata.

More happy news: It won’t cost much more. Today’s pricing is very reasonable. The most expensive item – a sort of tailored, sort of thrown-on jacket – costs 580 shekels ($154). Segal says the company has tried very hard to keep prices in the accessible range, even if in the future they will be forced to manufacture outside of Israel. Given the state of the fashion business in Israel, it is quite possible that “Textiles from our Land” will soon be “Made in China.”

Prices: From 80 to 580 shekels.

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