Fashionistas With a Point to Make

Fashion gurus Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine traveled Israel for their makeover program, but the result is about sociology as much as it is about clothes

Amid hangers draped with clothes, a pair of gorgeous shoes and a table laden with sparkling jewelry is a woman whose shrieks make the soundman wince. A bit coarse looking, she is wearing a black-and-white shoulder-bearing sweater, sneakers and a jean skirt that could pass for a belt. She is not fazed by the fashion statement she is making, but rather by Trinny Woodall's desire to style her hair, whose split ends reach her backside.

Woodall, a slim, well-dressed Briton who is 1.8 meters tall, appears to be about to lapse into violence. This is the last day of shooting for "Trinny and Susannah Dress Israel," to be broadcast tonight at 9 P.M. on Channel 10, and it appears no one has the time or patience to appease the participant. After the scene, she tears out of the room. Woodall shakes her head in relief, and the next victim enters with a smile.

Susannah Constantine, Trinny Woodall
Guy Keren

For 16 years, Woodall, 46, and Susannah Constantine, 48, have been making an international career out of their personalities and fashion knowledge. The two write a style column for the Daily Telegraph, and in 2002, the BBC began broadcasting their program, "What not to wear," which lasted five seasons. Afterward they shot two seasons of the program, "Trinny and Susannah undress," in which they tried out fashion trends on themselves. They also released a book, launched a clothing and lingerie line, and presented a style corner on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Unlike the kindly-aunt image cultivated by other figures in the genre, such as the American Tim Gunn, these two have barbed tongues and a threatening and charming tendency to tell the whole truth about their victims (and themselves ), then and there. They avoid vulgarity only because they seem to lack malice, or at least because they are judgmental first and foremost about themselves.

And so, for example, a second after being introduced, they mention the wrinkles on the interviewer's face and say something about Botox, which they both like very much. It's hard not to wonder how this bluntness jibes with similar traits attributed to Israelis.

"Israeli women are very forthcoming, upfront, but they're actually not rude," Constantine says while smoking in the yard of the television studio where they were recording in Holon.

"That's what I was expecting ... I thought they would be more aggressive, having done military service, the historical and political nature of this country," she says. "We have had a few women who have fought us but generally speaking all these women have been so ready and so willing to move forward and we have had a lot of tears, a lot of emotion, and a lot of very vulnerable women, which I think viewers who watch this show will find very surprising."

Woodall adds, "Susannah and I always say what needs to be said, but an Israeli woman can hear it sooner perhaps, because she's used to talking directly. English women not so much, or Dutch or Swedish women."

The set is noisy. Constantine is responsible for the men, and Woodall for the women. Each section is full of beautiful clothes and dressing rooms, a make-up corner and a hair salon where hair is colored and cut assembly-line style. A professional-looking runway is in the back, where participants walk in mincing steps after a day of dramatic changes in clothing and appearance.

Woodall and Constantine, who spent several weeks in Israel, get a sparkle in their eyes when they speak about their experiences here. They visited the north, the desert, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Kibbutz Ein Gedi. The show's emphasis is on their impressions of Israeli society and not necessarily fashion.

But film editor John Koniak noted that while "they usually do niche programs, which suit clothes to [women's] bodies, ... we are interested in the cultural aspect, how they experience Israel. We are concerned with fashion as a window into the people who live here, and their lives - a reflection of people through their experiences. There are many different kinds of people here: Arabs, Ethiopians, Russians, people who live in farming communities, religious people and secular ones. Each one of them tells his or her story. This abundance doesn't allow either of them to operate on automatic pilot."

And what did you learn from this trip?

"I learned that women in Tel Aviv tend to wear black, gray or blue, hardly wear dresses or skirts. In outlying areas, which are sometimes looked down on, women invest a lot more in their appearance: nail polish, hairdos, make-up. They do many 'feminine' things that spoke to Trinny and Susannah.

"Women outside the big cities celebrate their femininity more, sometimes in a horrible way. But when we walked around the streets, it was pleasanter. In Tel Aviv they looked all day for a woman in a dress and couldn't find one."

Dresses on the kibbutz

Woodall and Constantine were born to very wealthy families. Before they met in 1994, Woodall worked in marketing for a decade and battled an alcohol addiction. In 1999 she married the musician John Allikof, and their daughter was born in 2003. The two separated in 2009.

Constantine, who worked in New York with Giorgio Armani and in London with John Galliano, was well-known in Britain even before she launched her television career. In the 1980s she appeared regularly in the gossip columns thanks to her partner for eight years, Princess Margaret's son David. Now she is married to a Danish businessman; they have three children and a large country house in Sussex.

Of the two, Constantine is considered the emotional, softer one, and tends to moderate her responses based on the people she meets. Woodall is tough, sharp-tongued and likely to seem impatient. Both, it must be said, tend to generously share facts about their lives, faults and weaknesses.

Woodall and Constantine arrived in Israel after a similar project in Australia. Constantine says with her customary forthrightness that did not want to come to Israel at all; she was tired after Australia and wanted to spend time with her three children. She is glad she made the effort, she says, because the experience was an extremely different one for her. "I can't wait to return with my family," she says.

How would you characterize the way women dress in Israel?

Woodall: "It's quite difficult to put them as a collective. I think it's much easier in other countries, where it's the same for America or wherever, and whether you live in a town or in the countryside makes a big difference, but that isn't the case here. What does apply here, which applies everywhere, is the stage a woman's at in her life."

Constantine says she thinks women are the same "in a positive sense," that all women want to look their best, "and everyone wants the same things."

Asked to identify the stages in women's lives, Woodall says, "Embarking on her first career, having had children, when the children are young and maybe she's stopped working and she's lost her sense of identity, or she's put everything else first and she's last. Then there's the woman who is divorced and she's lost all her self-confidence, she's lost her sense of sexuality, you find a lot of women [like that]. Then you have women who reach menopause and they lose their sense of being a woman."

They underwent a unique Israeli experience during their visit to a kibbutz, they say. "My ex-husband grew up on a kibbutz and his family did too until they returned to north London," Woodall says.

Woodall says the crew interrupted a public sing-along of kibbutz old-timers and heard surprising things from them.

"They were maybe 60 or 70 and had come perhaps in the 1950s. It was about building a community and has nothing to do with being an individual and nothing to do with what you wore, this had never been in their lives," she says, looking amazed.

"And I said, have any of you ever worn a dress? And they sort of mumbled. I said, do you ever feel maybe on Shabbat you'd want to wear a dress? 'It's irrelevant.' So I turned to this quite old man, he was about 70, 'Would you like to see these women in a dress?' and it took him forever, and he said 'I really would,' and I said, 'But do you ever tell them that?' and he said, 'It would be nice to see their legs.' You don't see that anywhere else in the world. That only happens in Israel."

It appears that all those involved in the production share the feeling that this show was more than a program about makeovers. Director Gabi Biblowitz says he would like his young daughters to see it.

"We filmed a scene in which they show one of the participants a magazine in which the photos were Photoshopped. I have two girls and this is relevant to me. They became used to seeing unrealistic models from an early age, so they don't feel good about themselves. Women of all types and sizes who took part in the program were strengthened against this phenomenon."