The distance between the trendy boutiques of Tel Aviv’s hip Sheinkin Street and Memphis, Tennessee will be reduced to a fashion runway next week. In a unique effort to promote Israeli products in the U.S., some of Israel’s top fashion designers will present their stylistic wares to eager American women.

The Memphis Jewish Federation is presenting the fashion show featuring the fall/winter 2003 collections of eight Israeli fashion designers as part of their bi-annual Women’s Recognition Luncheon, which will honor outstanding women volunteers from 15 Jewish organizations, agencies, schools, and synagogues in the community.

The designers include such established and up-and-coming names as Kedem Sasson, Ronen Chen, Sigal Dekel, Rina Zinn, Eliane Stoleru, Ginza, and Roni Rabl. The Gottex swimwear line will also be included in the show.

“It was important for us to showcase Israeli designers who have an economic base in Israel,” said Rhonda Saslawsky, volunteer chairperson for the event. “Most of the 500 women who will attend this show have never been exposed to Israeli fashion, and this will be a fantastic way to introduce the designers and their unique designs to our community.”

Local retail buyers with upscale women’s apparel stores have been invited to attend the show, meet the designers who will be present, and generate interest in carrying these lines in their stores. In addition, women from the audience and the Memphis community will have an opportunity to place orders at the show and purchase the clothing for fall delivery.

“It is indeed a very positive event and we hope many other Federations will follow suit and promote the Israeli fashion industry, said Geri Patterson, the Federation’s Director of Education and Israel Programs. “We have found that this event has created enormous good will in our community. Moreover, the fashions themselves are of the highest quality and stand head-to-head with any other designer line carried in our upscale ladies’ boutiques. Israel is well known for its great technological savvy but should also be recognized as a home for innovative textiles and fashion design,” she added.

According to designer Ronen Chen’s marketing manager Michal Chitayat, a show like the one in Memphis has never been attempted before. “It’s a first of its kind for us. There have been a few other contacts over the last few months, but Rhonda came to see us in New York and spoke to us about the desire to promote Israeli fashion in the U.S.,” said Chitayat.

The most recent statistics available from Israel’s Ministry of Industry and Trade state that Israel annually exports some $545 million of textiles and apparels to the U.S. Gottex is the swimsuit brand that put Israel on the map of high fashion. The genius of Lea Gottlieb, who founded the company with her husband and became its chief designer, was to complement swimsuits with matching tops, pareos and skirts, creating fashionable beach outfits. But today, other Israeli designers like Chen and Dekel are taking the lead in presenting original and international designs.

Chen, one of Israel’s most successful designers, said from his Tel Aviv studio, that while he was excited to be participating in an event promoting Israeli fashion, it was difficult to pin down what exactly Israeli fashion is.

“There isn’t one particular style that you immediately understand is ‘Israeli’. In the 70s, there was, it was very ethnic and deserty. Now it’s very modern,” he said.

Chen has been a professional designer for over 10 years, and is one of the first designers to reach outside of Israel. Ronen graduated from the Shenkar School of Design in 1990. Setting out to design his own label of women’s clothing at affordable prices, he opened his own boutique and studio in Sheinkin Street, the most fashionable street in Tel Aviv.

“There used to be something called Israeli fashion,” added Chitayat. “Having come from the Diaspora (Hong Kong), it took me a while to switch into the fashion here. There’s something very feminine to old school Israeli fashion. If I had to characterize one thing – I’d say it’s typified by loose, flowing flowery fabric combination – maybe taken from the language of the desert. However, this doesn’t characterize younger designers. There’s lots of innovative styles out there that aren’t necessarily Israeli by definition. It’s primarily characterized by a clean, minimalist approach – if anything it takes from the language of Japan.”

Sigal Dekel, whose Dekel’s Fashion House Ltd. Was established in 1999, argued that there is a very identifiable Israel fashion.

“This fashion is influenced like in other countries, by the world trends, but also feeds a lot from the very complex Israeli political and cultural environment. The East-West-Old-New-Religious-Nonreligious factors are influencing every aspect of Art.”

Dekel , also a graduate of Shenkar School of Design, owns a fleet of chain stores in Tel Aviv, and her line of clothes are also sold through scores of shops and boutiques throughout Israel.

Today, Chen’s studio is in South Tel Aviv, he owns four retail stores in the Tel Aviv area and sells wholesale to 70 stores throughout the country. And he feels its time for Israel’s fashion expertise to explode in the U.S. market.

“Israel’s better known for high tech, where it already has a name. But there’s beautiful things going on in culture and art here, especially for a young country. We have a lot to offer. Chen said. “Israel in the news usually means the bad side. We definitely should show our creative side.”

Dekel concurred. “You rarely here about it in any other than political issues. The only subject that we got famous for was the hi-tech which we are excellent in. The exposure of Israeli fashion is definitely another “side” of Israel. In Israel you can find one of the best schools for Fashion Design in Shenkar which produces very talented graduates.The main problem is the small, tight market in Israel which offers a very limited opportunities. Only a few designers succeed in breaking out to international markets,” she said.

Neither Chen nor Dekel feel that fashions from across the globe present any obstacle to style-minded Americans.

“I think that Israeli fashion is appealing in America, not only because it’s ‘Israeli.’ I see the fashions here and I think we’re doing good work. When we have a showing in New York, I know from the reactions that there is something unique here that speaks to American women,” said Chen’s manager Chitayat.

“It’s an international style, in which everyone can find something they like,” Chen added.

Dekel said that he appreciates the American interest in his designs, and hopes that this show will open up new U.S. markets.

“I?ve been selling to the American market for the last 3 years, I know that the customers appreciate my work. Many of the stores buy my products repeatedly, and tell me that their customers are my groupies and wait each season for my merchandise to arrive. The southern U.S. is a geographical area that has been exposed very little to my work, and this doubles my pleasure in participating in the show.”