May 6, 2007, Updated September 19, 2012

Israeli model Nivit Bash works with staff from Maxim magazine during a shoot at a Tel Aviv train station. (Photo: Benji Lovitt)They may not be household names yet like Naomi Campbell or Tyra Banks, but a bevy of Israeli models are steadily making their way to magazine covers, fashion runways, and highway billboards worldwide.

Open Sports Illustrated’s coveted swimsuit edition and you’ll see Bar Refaeli’s beautiful bikini-clad body on more than one page. Flip through a past issue of French Elle and you may spot Mor Katzir or Esti Ginzburg on the cover. Beersheva beauty Adi Neumann has appeared in campaigns for Calvin Klein and Israel’s first Ethiopian-Israeli model Esti Mamo has graced big name glossies like Vogue and W. And let’s not forget Haifa-born Moran Atias who has achieved celebrity status among Italy’s elite with cover and runway modeling in Milan that has led to a career in television and film.

And what may be the big breakout, due to a successful campaign launched by Israel’s New York Consulate, best selling American men’s magazine Maxim recently sent over a full staff to shoot seven sexy Israeli stunners for an upcoming issue.

That gorgeous Israeli girls have always been known to make men drool with their exotic, natural looks is no secret. But now, it seems as if the modeling and fashion world has finally taken it to heart.

Betty Rockaway, owner of the country’s first modeling agency Image Models, and credited for introducing the modeling business to Israel, says the world had better watch out.

“Israeli girls are the most beautiful girls in the world,” says Rockaway, with great national pride. “They are unbelievable in their mixtures. The same beauty you can only find in Brazil and the US.”

“I started my agency 22 years ago and exported models like Shiraz Tal and Shirley Bouganim, who did the biggest campaigns,” Rockaway told ISRAEL21c. “Now [the models and the campaigns] have more than doubled.”

That’s not surprising, considering since Rockaway opened her doors, at least eight top modeling agencies have been launched in Tel Aviv alone like the leading Image agency, which handles some of the country’s top models.

Atias, now working with Italian film director Argento in modern horror movie La Terza Madre (The Third Mother), feels that Israeli models are more in demand now and the fashion world has opened its eyes to the exotic beauty of Israelis.

“Hopefully it is becoming a trend because the fashion industry is so small in Israel and it’s good to have beautiful faces that are recognized, even if the names are not. We have a lot of models working abroad,” she told ISRAEL21c.

According to Guy Mirom, a producer at fashion and publicity photographer Ron Kedmi’s studio in Tel Aviv, Israeli models are now being chosen not only because they’re beautiful, but also because they’re Israeli.

“Every shoot done in Israel is also making Israel more famous out there,” Mirom says, citing the Maxim magazine shoot in Israel where models were profiled not simply based on good looks but also because of interesting backgrounds in the army.

With all the ‘exposure’, it’s only natural that some models like Refaeli have become celebrities themselves, landing in countless magazines and newspapers due to her high-profile relationship with Hollywood film star Leonardo DiCaprio. But according to Daniel Harel, private manager for big-time Israeli beauties like Keren Michaeli and Anat Elgarisi from Image, not enough models are making the effort to put themselves out there globally.

“The girls that are working outside are doing very well. They are good representatives, but there are not a lot of them because they don’t like to go abroad,” he said.

Harel believes the trick is to make them the faces for strong, mainstream campaigns for American brands like Banana Republic and Tommy Hilfiger. “This is the only way to make them international,” he said.

One fringe benefit due to the success Israeli models have seen in the world arena has been in helping to create a broader image for Israel, usually seen in international media only through the news headlines. Refaeli was asked by then tourism minister Yitzhak Herzog to represent Israel at the 2006 opening ceremony for the Israeli booth at the World Travel Market fair held in London. Atias also uses her star power to endorse her mother country at ever opportunity.

“Models are a great point of attraction and I think if Bar or I are used to promote the value of Israel in England or Italy or wherever, then I think that’s a positive note. It definitely brings attention to Israel in a positive way,” she said. “It’s a beautiful mix.”

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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