From Velvet to Vuitton: Israeli Designer Brings Style to Prayer Shawl Bags

An Israeli designer has brought an untraditional approach to traditional synagogue accessories, offering fashionistas a chance to stand out in shul.

Think of designer accessories and its likely to be shoes, scarves and handbags that come to mind. But one Israeli designer believes that Jewish religious accessories also deserve to be crafted with flair, fine fabrics and personal style.

Amanda Kramer, a traditional Jewish mother of six with untraditional ideas in design, has produced tallits (prayer shawls) from Louis Vuitton jeans, fringes from Fendi and siddurs (prayer books) covered in Gucci fabric. Her line, Amanda K., is a panoply of Jewish religious accessories, with an unusual emphasis on items for men.

"Why is it that a woman can change her handbags to express her individuality, but a man, who is expected to dress nicely for synagogue, will have the same tefillin (phylactery) bag everyone else has?" asks Kramer, 36, who lives in Givat Shmuel, a town near Tel Aviv.

"The religious world is traditional and staid, but the time has come to make it fashion-conscious."

After completing high school in Belgium, Kramer immigrated to Israel and studied art at Emunah College of Arts and Technology in Jerusalem.

She says her products have been inspired by personal need.

After she married, for instance, she couldnt find any head covering for religiously observant women that she liked, so she designed and stitched together several for herself. Why not sew a head covering from unique fabrics? she wondered and soon other women began asking to buy her creations.

It was a request from her father – Kramer comes from a national religious family – that spawned her mens line . Typically, men attend synagogue with almost identical accessories; the blue velvet tallit case being a classic one.

"My father didn't want to look like everyone else," says Kramer. "He asked me to sew him some accessories made from unique and colorful fabrics, and was enthusiastic when I used Burberry fabrics. My brother walks around with a tallit made from Louis Vuitton jeans."

What began with a trickle of requests from friends and family soon became a torrent of orders, as word about the unique accessories spread in synagogue.

"My brother-in-law took a tallit bag that I designed to synagogue in Bnei Brak. Everyone wanted one and later they came to the studio. Now that entire synagogue is full of my products, she says.

Phylacteries for fashionistas

A year ago, a well-known American Jewish singer came to Kramer's studio and commissioned several items. "He has unique songs and unique clothes, so his accessories also needed to be like that," she says. "A lot of people who come here are like that -- fashionistas."

They are also prepared to pay for these designer accessories. Ordinarily a set that includes a tallit bag and a tefillin bag would cost about NIS 150 in stores. An Amanda K. tallit bag with special stitchwork sells for NIS 280; an accompanying tefillin bag will set you back another NIS 150 -- not including the cost of embroidering the name of the owner (a traditional practice). When using designer fabrics, these prices can double.

Before launching her business, Kramer surveyed the market for personalized prayer accessories. "I checked and at Gucci they don't design coverings for siddurs. Judaica isn't a top priority for these designers."

Kramer also identified a need for accessories for observant women. "Women walk to synagogue with a small plastic bag in which they place their siddur, so I designed a fitting bag made from beautiful fabric. I also made a bag appropriate for a bat mitzvah girl's siddur, in more childlike colors. If it's possible to wrap a siddur in a Gucci fabric it transforms the product into something that isn't just in demand but also pretty and interesting."

Her product line also includes challah covers and other Judaica, and accessories for babies – these, too, inspired by personal need. When she strolled around with a baby carriage she designed with unusual fabrics, other mothers expressed interest in them. "Now, I have an order for a baby carriage made entirely from Louis Vuitton fabric, outside and in."

With the increase in orders, Kramer has stopped making the products herself. Instead she hired four employees to sew and embroider, enabling her to focus solely on design.

Currently, most of the firm's clients are in Israel, Belgium, Great Britain, Switzerland and the United States. Kramer hopes to increase foreign sales and expand her market to include a broader range of customers, who are not necessarily Jewish.

Designer Amanda Kramer, a traditional Jew with an untraditional approach
Eyal Toueg
A worshiper wearing a traditional prayer shawl
Eyal Toueg