Israel Fashion Week: two opposing generations, one great fashion college, Shenkar
Tel Aviv, a high-tech capital as well as a beachside city that recalls elements of Miami, Jersey shore and Munich, is caught between two generations as its fashion community works hard to gain recognition on the international scene.
Half its designers very clearly look to Europe, especially London and Paris, creating sophisticated evening wear and grandiose event clothes. The rest concentrate on the local scene, and riff on American luxury streetwear.
Tel Aviv is physically divided too. A beautiful extended district along the coast, with its treasured Bauhaus apartment buildings, built by architects from Germany who imported and subtly tweaked the entre-deux-guerres style. Inland, a couple of miles east, is a booming district of techy cyber buildings, swish apartment towers and finely built museums, theatres and concert halls that recall Lincoln Center. Which in part reflects the rapidly changing capital, where the early European emigrant style has been replaced by a more casual American sportswear approach.
A blend of the two could be seen in a great joint show by students from Shenkar, Israel’s leading design college and the alma mater of Alber Elbaz. Staged inside Hanger 11, the nerve center of the four-day Israel Fashion Week, the audience of 800 treated the show like a triumph. Scores of models did vogueing duets, and then posed along the catwalk, as some 15 young designers danced along the runway after the display of cyber punk dandies, deconstruction fantasy; goth rebellion; and bedraggled survivor chic.
The applause was deafening. And rightly so, because quite frankly this show was just as creative as the February graduate show in London of students at Central St Martins, widely regarded as the finest fashion college on the planet.
However, in Israel, the division is in style is not always generational lines, as two young emerging designers showed on Monday.
Rotem: Wuthering Heights in Haifa
Rotem by Rotem Shaul was a display of historicist fashion, where cool governesses met prairie school teachers. Shaul can drape with the best of them, and his ruffle calico gowns and gothic shirts were pretty divine. He is also an accomplished tailor, whose blazers and jackets had real grace. For grander moments where a lady needs a little arty edge, Rotem is an ideal destination.
Genish: You shall not be silenced
The source of Aharon Genish’s inspiration is very dark: child abuse in ultra-Orthodox families, like the one in which he grew up. But the result is clothes of considerable taste, ruffled and rippling gowns and nightdresses; finished with ties, fabric shards and immense bows. Ceremonial chic rouched and gathered with great aplomb, as an individual designer responded to personal suffering with grace. And in case you didn't get the message, the soundtrack was Leonard Cohen singing You Want It Darker.
Kesh: Car crash beachwear
A classic Alfa Romeo 1750 salon car on the catwalk, after a fender-bender or two, set the stage for Kesh, a pop-orientated seaside collection that managed to have a few moments. This Tel Aviv-based brand was founded in 2018 by Keshet Shapiro, an Israeli South African, though manufactured in Latvia. Shapiro’s obsession with extreme sports and hip hop led to dessert impressionist print tops for guys and mini dresses for gals; logo deep-pocket shorts and pop monster image shirts. Like many Israeli brands, Kesh has an easy-to-use e-commerce business.
Though the most comfortable T-shirts to wear in Israel came from Torso, a pure online e-commerce player whose locally manufactured organic cotton feel as comfortable as air.
Weksler: Refugees from a bankrupt nightclub
Everything upside down and full of holes at Weksler, whose cast looked like they had just made it out of a bombed-out nightclub. Dudes wearing pullovers as underwear; or gals in T-shirt dresses with prints of hand grenades. All stitched together in shards of contrasting fabrics. The guys wearing sewn-up patchwork face masks, as if The Thing out of Pulp Fiction had got a pass to go to a rave party.
In a word, if you are looking for a nice neat suit to wear to your nephew’s bar mitzvah, Israel Fashion Week is not the right destination.
What you can get are brash and bold new visions, especially at Shenkar. Located inland a few miles, the college is a ramshackle group buildings, though blessed with a high-tech interior.
At its center, one finds the Michal and Avraham Kadar Medialab, an advanced experimental fashion research center, with state of the art technology. The ingenious award-winning retro-fit architecture was designed by Geotectura, building the media lab almost suspended within a 90-year-old building. Students get to experiment with hyper modern 3D digital printers from Stratus, the Israeli firm that leads the industry. A recent collaboration with MIT also launched with a games incubator for students of both schools.
Michal Kadar, a graduate of Shenkar, also happens to be a brilliant jewelry designer. Her cool modernist designs and flexible fine jewelry for her brand Cadar are inspired by Levantine flora and plants and retail in Bergdorf Goodman.
Shenkar students can also avail of high-performance printing courtesy of Kornit, the fashion season’s main sponsor, whose advanced machines have won the techy printer maker over 1,300 international clients. That ability to customize prints was well in evidence in the Shenkar student show.
Those who look to Paris showed sculpted crepe pantsuits with indented ribs; oversized gala evening trench-coats overprinted with abstract peonies. Other students referenced Bedouin culture, with dessert hoods and shrouds worn with beachcomber jeans. Some created Mark Rothko-hued jungle prints seen in safari shorts, T-shirts and dusters. There was even a Yamamoto-worthy revamp of the classic Hasidic suit, but made with dhoti pants and reinforced sleeves.
A rival contrasting trend riffed on Asian avant-garde or Anglo-Saxon ideas. Like a martyr gal whose leather torso-shaped corset and back extensions recalled Craig Green; or a patchwork grandfather striped djellaba/shirts. There was also a hyper-deconstructed assemblage of chopped up pleated kilt topped by a double jacket on one side and a blood red tunic on the other – Sacai for the Levantine.
Since Elbaz’ tragic death from Covid last spring, there has been an unspoken search for a new talent to champion Israeli fashion. Shenkar is inevitably where most people believe he or she will emerge. Though whether it will be another Alber, or perhaps an Israeli version of Virgil Abloh remains to be seen.
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