The Arty Semite

Israeli Fashionistas in Under 500 Years

By Benjamin Ivry

  • Print
  • Share Share
courtesy of zivgilkazenstein.com:

Internationally recognized stars of Israeli clothing design such as Ronen Chen, Kedem Sasson, Yigal Azrouel, and Ziv Gil Kazenstein have won applause on the runways of the world’s fashion capitals. Yet decades ago, during the ferment and danger of Israel’s early days as a nation, what the pioneering generation should wear might have seemed a relatively trivial problem.

Not so, explains cultural historian Anat Helman, lecturer at Hebrew University and author of last year’s “Young Tel Aviv: A Tale of Two Cities” from Brandeis University Press. In the spring, Helman’s “A Coat of Many Colors: Dress Culture in the Young State of Israel” appeared from Academic Studies Press. In it, Helman explains that even by the time the kova tembel or “tembel hat” was codified as kibbutznik gear via the beloved 1950s cartoon character Srulik who became a national symbol, some Israelis had set their eyes on higher fashion achievements.

Part of the motivation was to transcend severe rationings of everything, including fabrics, which inspired an Israeli newspaper cartoonist in 1950 to depict Shakespeare’s Othello and Desdemona squabbling about whether they possessed sufficient “points” to acquire a handkerchief. By 1955, one newspaper praised Czech-born Lola Beer Ebner whose fashion designing agitates the “hearts of more Israeli women than the names of [then-popular screen idols] Gary Cooper or Robert Taylor.” Beer Ebner, honored with an exhibit at Tel Aviv’s Czech Center in 2010, was inspired by Parisian styles for her own light, airy creations.

Beer Ebner was no optimist about Israeli fashion, estimating that it would take “at least five hundred years” to develop a uniquely Israeli fashion. Others were more sanguine, including a rival fashion house, Maskit, founded by Ruth Dayan, the first wife of General Moshe Dayan. Maskit’s chief designer, Fini Leitersdorf, was honored with “Maskit: A Local Fabric,” a 2003 exhibit at Tel Aviv’s Eretz Israel Museum of which a lavish catalog remains as valuable documentation.

Leitersdorf stated her goals, as quoted by Helman: to combine “Sabra simplicity, Eastern colorfulness, and Western sewing techniques.” A useful complement to Helman’s historical reflections is the lavishly illustrated book by Nurit Bat-Yaar, Israel Fashion Art 1948-2008 out last year from Resling Publishers, Tel Aviv. Former longtime fashion editor of the Yedioth Aharonot daily, Bat-Yaar, like Helman, would seem to contradict Henry D. Thoreau’s maxim, “We should distrust any enterprise that requires new clothes,” at least insofar as the state of Israel is concerned.

Watch Nurit Bat-Yaar interviewed last year on Israeli TV about her book, Israel Fashion Art 1948-2008.

And here.*


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Ronen Chen, Robert Taylor, Lola Beer Ebner, Kedem Sasson, Fini Leitersdorf, Gary Cooper, Ruth Dayan, Yigal Azrouel, Ziv Gil Kazenstein

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.