There is a special energy walking around the streets of Tel Aviv, the city that has come to be recognized as Israel’s fashion capital. Stylish residents, young and old, tend to breeze about in light garments that can easily go from office to beach, to an evening out or even to a celebration. Understated makeup, natural hair and comfortable footwear often complement the easy-going look.
However, uncomplicated style does not translate to unsophisticated clothes when it comes to Tel Aviv’s fashion industry, home to some of the best design talent in the world. Many of Israel’s top fashion brands simply embrace their Mediterranean roots by creating clothes that are practical and durable, just like their Israeli muses.
From the designers of Israel’s oldest fashion house to newer labels by recent graduates of Shenkar College of Engineering and Design, Israeli fashion designers seem to agree that the penchant for comfort and functionality remains at the core of Israeli ready-to-wear fashion.
“I think it’s really important to the Israeli crowd to dress very comfortably,” says Sharon Tal, head designer of Maskit, the newly revived historic fashion label. “That’s the challenge –to design comfortable clothes that will still be very elegant and beautiful.”
A hot fashion climate
The climate of Israel is easiest to blame for the no-fuss style popular among Israelis. As a country whose landscape consists of 60 percent desert, Israel experiences warm weather most of the year.
“I think weather really affects everything about design and culture here, especially in Tel Aviv,” says Noy Goz, one-third of the design team at TRES. “It’s not only in fashion; you can feel it even in the restaurants and food here. Everything is very much about nonchalance and sense of ease.”
Though TRES started out making evening wear, a casual collection of cotton t-shirts introduced during TLV Fashion Week in 2017 quickly became a bestseller.
TRES’ collection uses a lot of light, machine-washable materials such as linen, cotton and denim, mostly imported from Japan and Italy. Linen dresses and button-up tops are staples at the brand’s Tel Aviv shop, along with wrap dresses and skirts that can be worn in different ways to flatter various body types.
Linen is a classic Israeli fabric because of its ability to stay cool in the heat. “It suits the vibe of the Israeli style, a bit wrinkly but still fashionable,” Goz tells ISRAEL21c.
Tamar Levit of Tel Aviv’s Muslin Brothers says her team also tries to keep clothes easy and breathable by working with natural materials.
The contemporary brand, which takes its name from the lightweight cotton fabric, uses various cottons in different weights and mixes in more unexpected, high-tech fabrics imported from Japan, Levit tells ISRAEL21c.
“Everything [in Tel Aviv] is so improvised. You can see it when you walk in the street,” says Levit, who founded the label in 2011 with fellow Shenkar graduate Yaen Levi. “You’ll see an AC unit dripping and another neighbor will put their plant underneath it. We always try to find these kinds of spontaneous moments and interpret them into fashion.”
The result is a collection infused with a bit of humor whose oversized, unisex fits challenge gender norms and allow plenty of breathing room during the country’s hottest months.
Shaping fashion in Israel
It is not only Israel’s climate that drives designers toward one-size-fits-all, laid-back styles. The lack of textile industry in Israel can be extremely limiting for young designers who cannot afford to import expensive fabrics, says Tal. She worked in London as head of embroidery for Alexander McQueen before reviving Maskit.
“One-size clothing is easier to stitch, it’s easier to design, and it’s easier for stores to sell,” she tells ISRAEL21c. “It’s kind of like which came first – the chicken or the egg? When people don’t have any choice, they make use of the fabric they have, the people they can work with, and the stores they can sell in.”
When Maskit was founded in 1954, the melting pot of Israeli culture inspired many of the collection’s techniques and silhouettes such as the desert cloak, Bedouin-style tunics and traditional embroideries.
The iconic desert coat, one of the original Maskit designs, is still one of the brand’s bestsellers, with its adjustable fit appealing to both Israeli and international customers.
Though fashion in Tel Aviv may be more informal than in other metropolitan cities like New York, Tal and Goz see an increased interest in dressier international trends. However, says Goz, “Israeli style will never be very tailored or uptight, it’s not in the roots of being Israeli.”
As Tel Aviv celebrates its sixth Fashion Week, the enthusiasm and talent of local designers continue to push Israeli fashion into the global spotlight. The event kicks off today at the historic Hatahana Compound in Tel Aviv and will run until March 13.
Among the designers and brands showcasing their collections are Alon Livne, Shenkar’s Fashion Design Department, Victor Bellaish, jewelry designer Maya Geller , Holyland Civilians, Dror Contento, Dorin Frankfurt and others. There will also be several shows that highlight up and coming design talent, a curated pop-up shop and fashion tech event.