Gulf designer opens Israel Fashion Week in major soft power moment
Fashion is often a powerful metaphor for change in a society, rarely more so than in Tel Aviv on Sunday night, where Mona Almansouri became the first ever designer from the Gulf to show in Israel Fashion Week.
Underlining how important the event meant, Israel’s First Lady Michal Herzog and two cabinet ministers sat front row in a gala evening show before 800 guests. Climaxed by Almansouri’s opulent, couture worthy display of grand Gulf fashion and wedding dresses.
The show comes one week after Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met the foreign affairs ministers of Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco and the UAE along with American Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, in Negev, southern Israel - an unprecedented meeting and an almost unimaginable occurrence a few years ago.
Clearly deeply moved, Almansouri received a standing ovation after her show, taking her bow with Israeli singer Miri Mesika and Motty Reif, founder and driving force behind the Tel Aviv runway season. Finishing the show with six brides and bridesmaids in clouds of pink tulle and acres of white crepe, each finished with remarkable headgear constructed of intertwined real orchids.
“I’d like to thank Mona Almansouri for coming to Tel Aviv, and to wish people of all faiths Ramadan Karim, Happy Passover and Happy Easter,” said Herzog, a lawyer and colonel in the Israel Army, in one of several pre-show speeches.
This season invited in some 40 foreign editors, stylists and influencers to the four-day season, which features 20 runway shows, and a joint presentation by students of Shenkar, the country’s leading fashion school and the alma mater of Alber Elbaz.
“This is a moment of great potential change for our country. And we would like nothing more than for visiting journalists tell to the world our desire to live at peace with our neighbors,” Yoel Razvozov, who was born in Russia on a stop on the Trans-Siberian railway but is now Israel’s Minister of Tourism, told Fashion Network.
Tel Aviv has been the scene of several recent bloody attacks and a half a dozen submachine-wielding soldiers guarded the entrance to the gala show. But the citizens of this port city seem almost giddy about the possibilities of change. That was very much the mood as Kornit Fashion Week – the season is named after its main sponsor, the advanced technology printer specialist Kornit – opened in the morning in a converted dockside hanger with a show by Dror Kontento.
Dror Kontento: Brides and beefcakes
Due to the huge number of elegant Bauhaus apartment buildings in Tel Aviv it has been dubbed the White City, a UNESCO-protected world heritage site, and there was plenty of white in this rather architectural collection.
Dror showed '80s power-shoulder boleros that morphed into crepe trains; one-sleeve crystal leotards finished with wrap skirts; pagoda-shoulder polka-dot blouses and some great peplum leather minis. His main fabrics – crepe and satin overprinted courtesy of Kornit with crystal patterns and then finished with Swarovski crystals.
Statuesque and rather polished, the collection was marred by the formulaic footwear, but aided by a great soundtrack, led by DJ Weiss’ My Sister sample.
In our era of inclusivity, this show featured several male brides, and lots of beefcake men in gym-style corsetry. Plus the collection ended with a black bride, even if many of the cast looked like Russian émigré models. It also included two local veteran runway stars, Nurit Gordon and Rachel Doron, an Armani veteran. Gordon marching out first like a brilliant grand dame who acted as if she owned the runway.
“I like to use the same fabrics, styles and touches for men and women,” explained an emotional Kontento, who needed over 40 minutes to exit the runway, so many were the compliments of his fans.
Staged inside a custom-built space in Tel Aviv Port Area, the audience certainly didn’t lack enthusiasm, applauding the opening look and giving Kontento a standing ovation at his finale. Amid chaotic scenes, several camera crews invaded the runway to capture Dror’s bow.
The season’s principal sponsor is Kornit, an Israeli-American international manufacturing company noted for its highly advanced industrial printers. And every printed look in Dror’s show was all the better for the Kornit connection.
Seven Seventy: Shalom Samurai
The day’s best show was Seven Seventy, street chic with a metaverse twist. Think Shalom Samurai, as designer Shmulik Ben Shoshan mashed up posh-punk shorts; athletic graphics and Japanese fashion warrior proportions in a great display.
Cheered on by an audience, who greeted a series of local actors and influencers with roars of applause. Their lived-in looks mirroring the lived-in dusters, and perforated elongated cardigans. Opening with cyber punks in matelassé coats and warrior gals in puffer vests that ended at the knee; alternated with dystopian babes in frayed and paint-splattered micro minis and jean jackets - many looks anchored with wellington boots.
Boomed on by a great funk and jive soundtrack featuring Middle Sky Boom & Eliezer, this collection riffed on plenty of Western European street ideas, but on its own terms. Shmulik, an Orthodox Jew dad of four, took his bow with son Jonatan in hand, winning the largest applause of the opening day. Though little known internationally, after this powerful debut show expect to hear lots more about Seven Seventy.
Teva Naot: Footloose and fancy free
Inclusivity at the maximum, at least when it comes to age at Teva Naot, where a half-dozen models were post-60 gray-haired ladies. Again, many of them in white – ranging from layered lace dresses and layered satin gowns to a John Lennon Abbey Road three-piece pantsuit on an elegant sexagenarian and a red-headed dude looking like a cross between a pale cardinal and a faded rabbi. His look topped by a white Hasidic hat.
Then again, seeing as Teva Naot is a shoe label, the clothes were there mainly to accessories the footwear. The shoes themselves were a mix of Birkenstock-style wooden sandals – in rust and silver – or blood-red centurion lace-ups that had admirable commercial appeal.
Worn on a cast of multiple shapes and sizes and also including Merit Grinberg, a former Miss Israel. Even if the star of the show, again, was Gordon, a junior Iris Apfel in a scrunched-up bottle-green gown.
Plenty of drama on the soundtrack, led by Fright Night! by Yann Capone and Trap Paganini by Codec. In a show where the best looks for the gals were the dipped-dyed chiffon bridal gown finished in violet; or Keith Haring-worthy white men’s suits printed with Imperial Roman streaks.
Sabina Musayev: Charm but little concision
A highly erratic series by Sabina Musayev. Her floral dresses had certainly plenty of charm, made into elegant micro petal prints and rouched into plissé cocktails that all worked well. However, her metallic layered frocks and Grecian halter neck looks had less than flattering proportions.
Shahar Avnet: The day’s best single look
A great opening and a fine finale by Shahar Avnet, who leapt to fame internationally after being commissioned by Beyoncé to design a diaphanous red tulle dress for the legendary singer.
Her show, one of five catwalk displays on Sunday by Israeli designers, was also hyper inclusive, with all sorts of body shapes, albeit leading to a couple of odd moments. At times in Israel, it feels like each model has brought along a score of friends and family to cheer their individual passages, never more so than at Avnet, where nearly every look was applauded.
Avnet’s opening passage was the best single look of the day, a bustier sprinkled with crystals meeting a frayed bubble skirt, that would look at home in Paris couture. However, halfway through it turned into a beach party with models gyrating on a series of runway platforms, very much a case of a designer still trying to work out what she stands for.
Avnet’s blend of cascading tulle; stretch satin and rouched crepe can be confusing, but when it works it can be truly sublime. Like her two final brides – one in elegantly expansive folds of black tulle and one in a beautiful white satin pinafore – felt like a moment of grace.
A fine fashion finale staged in the White City.
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