Many of us gravitate towards objects that are bright and sparkly. Creating this magic in one handbag is what Judith Leiber, née Peto, accomplished.
Judith Peto was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1921. Her mother, Helene, from Vienna, was a homemaker and her father, Emil, from Hungary, was a commodities broker. Together with her sister, Eva, the family had a bourgeois lifestyle.
Discovering that their teenaged daughter had a good head for numbers and academics, they sent Judith to London to study chemistry, with the hope that she would acquire a university degree and work in the cosmetics industry. Part of the reason they sent her away to school was a concern about her safety in case of a war. However, the distance from her family proved too difficult for Judith and she soon returned home.
She landed a job at a handbag company and, over the years, her father would bring her an assortment of unique handbags from his many travels around the world, thereby initiating Judith’s collection.
Learning the art of handbag-making from start to finish allowed Judith to become the first woman to join the Hungarian handbag guild; she gained the title of a true craftsman.
Judith and her family escaped and survived the Holocaust due to her father’s large circle of connections. He was fortunate to obtain a Schutzpass, a document that secured the bearer safe passage, giving the family, together with 26 others, access to a house set aside for Swiss citizens, where they could live. They ate what they could, slept on the floor and never left the security of the house.
“People in Budapest and my parents, especially my father, did one thing and then another to keep us safe, or as safe as we could be when everyone wanted to kill us,” Judith told the Jewish Exponent in a 2013 interview.
When Hungary was liberated, the family moved into a basement that was home to 60 survivors. Rebuilding the life they once knew was their goal. During this time, Judith met and fell in love with an American soldier, Gerson Leiber. Against her parents’ wishes, she married him in 1946 and the couple moved to the United States.
The young new immigrant had no intention of staying home and becoming a traditional housewife. With her knowledge and skill in making handbags, she got her first job at Nettie Rosenstein, a fashion designer. Working her way up in the company, she was commissioned to make a handbag to match the inauguration dress of the first lady, Mamie Eisenhower. The bag received high regard and this milestone, after 12 years of hard work, gave her the impetus to start her own brand.
In 1963, she launched her company with her husband and partner by her side, overseeing the business and operational duties. An avid artist himself, a painter, they were an unstoppable duo. In the 7,000-square-foot loft that became their studio, countless creations were brought to life, handbags that epitomized glamour, every piece an original, made with crystals and beads in shapes of animals, fruit and other objects.
A Judith Leiber handbag became a first lady tradition for the inauguration ball. Some A-list Hollywood stars put more thought into their Leiber handbag than their dresses, knowing it would be the focal point of any attire. One handbag could cost anywhere from $3,000 US to $20,000 US.
“That is what people pay for – quality,” Judith told the Exponent.
And quality was what she prided herself on, each bag being made by specialist craftsmen under Judith’s watchful eye in New York.
Her label brought in millions of dollars in sales each year and there was a waiting list for her creations, with women around the world wanting a timeless bag to wear and/or display as part of their home décor.
The company was sold in 1993, with Judith staying on as the head creator. She enjoyed her new life, moving out of New York and settling in East Hampton, N.Y., with her husband, “Gus.”
Over her career, Judith received numerous design awards and had her work exhibited in some of the world’s most renowned museums, including the Smithsonian, the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum, to name only a few.
In addition to being displayed elsewhere, there is the Leiber Collection museum in East Hampton, a project set in motion by Gus.
The Leibers were married for more than 70 years. Their earthly love story endured until 2018, when they died within hours of each other, both of heart attacks.
Ariella Steinis a mother, wife and fashion maven. A Vancouverite, she has lived in both Turkey and Israel for the past 25 years.
Lea Gottlieb at work. (photo from Lea Gottlieb Archive via Design Museum Holon)
Summertime … bathing suit season. As a child, I fondly remember our family trips to Israel. Among all the memories is the treat of a scrumptious falafel before we went off to the Gottex bathing suit factory, where my mother indulged my two sisters and me with the colours and styles from Lea Gottlieb’s latest swimwear collection.
Born Lenke Lea Roth on Sept. 17, 1918, in Sajószentpéter, Hungary, Gottlieb was raised in poverty. Before the Second World War, she worked as a bookkeeper in a company that produced raincoats. There, she fell in love with Armin Gottlieb, the owner’s son; the two married and started a family.
During the Holocaust, Gottlieb’s husband was imprisoned in a labour camp. Gottlieb and their young daughters, Miriam and Judith, went into hiding and were saved by a family who sheltered them in a pit behind their home beneath trees and flowers.
After the war, the family reunited and tried to rebuild what they had established in the past, moving to Czechoslovakia to start anew. However, staying in Europe, with its continuing antisemitism proved impossible for the Gottliebs and, in 1949, they moved to Israel.
They landed in the country with pretty much nothing but the clothes on their backs and Gottlieb’s gold wedding band. Turning this item into cash, as well as borrowing some money, she purchased a sewing machine and enough fabric to start making raincoats. It didn’t take long for Gottlieb to understand that a line of raincoats in a place that has mostly sunshine would not make for a fruitful future – rather, bathing suits would prove a more promising venture. Merging her name, Gottlieb, with the word textile, Gottex came into being.
Gottlieb’s Hungarian cultural roots remained evident. She maintained her distinct accent and served Hungarian cuisine in her showrooms. She celebrated her survival by incorporating flower motifs into her signature designs, and, with her choice of colours, she expressed her love of her new home, Israel – aqua for the Mediterranean, yellow for the dessert, pink for Jerusalem stone and greens, the Galilee. From swimwear came a line of trousers, caftans and tunics, as Gottlieb wanted her creations to be worn at the beach or by the poolside, for a drink at the bar and on the dance floor.
During the peak of Gottlieb’s career, her work was admired by many leading ladies. Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Grace, Nancy Kissinger and Brooke Shields were among her many fans. A friendship formed with one special client, the late Princess Diana, who was given private showings in Buckingham Palace each season.
Gottlieb and her daughter Judith were the design team, based in Israel, while her husband oversaw the financial side and daughter Miriam ran the showroom in New York. Together, the family built a global fashion house and Gottex became the top swimsuit line in the United States, with the most sought-after models walking in their shows and being featured on the cover pages of international fashion magazines.
Gottlieb’s achievements included numerous fashion awards, earned both in Israel and elsewhere. A highlight of her career occurred at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre, in Israel. There, Gottlieb was part of an honourary exhibition, called My Homeland, which acknowledged Holocaust survivors’ essential role in contributing to Israel through cultural, economic and national security development.
In 1995, the loss of Gottlieb’s husband, the financial pillar of the company, was a devastating blow. She was forced to sell Gottex in 1997. As part of the sale, she had to sign a non-compete agreement, which prohibited her from designing for eight years. And more loss was to come. In her daughter Judith’s final days of battling cancer, in 2003, she apparently implored her mother to continue with her passion of design and start again. But, even when the company did come up for sale, Gottlieb couldn’t afford to buy it back. “I lost the two most important things in my life, my daughter Judith and my life’s work,” said Gottlieb after her daughter’s death.
But, at 85 years old, Gottlieb managed to reinvent her career. With the support of a design team, she launched a new line of swimwear under her own label, Lea Gottlieb. The industry had become much more competitive since she created Gottex and, relatively soon after she had restarted, Gottlieb closed production and retired.
Gottlieb passed away in 2012, at the age of 94. She left behind a legacy in her beloved homeland, as well as in the eyes of veteran and aspiring designers around the world.
Ariella Steinis a mother, wife and fashion maven. A Vancouverite, she has lived in both Turkey and Israel for the past 25 years.
The writer at the bone marrow transplant ward at Ichilov Hospital in Israel. (photo from Ariella Stein)
Fashion is one of my many passions, as regular readers of the Jewish Independent will know by now. So, when I turned 50 this year, a milestone birthday, I decided to pursue a longtime dream – to create a fashion tract for bone marrow transplant survivors.
When I was 17 years old, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. At the time, I was in Grade 12, studying in Israel. My parents’ first reaction was for me to return to Vancouver, where they felt I should start my treatments. There was no time to waste, as it was at an aggressive stage. However, after much persuasion, I convinced my parents that I should stay in Israel. As part of the deal I made with them, I was to head back to Vancouver upon graduation and resume the next cycle of treatments.
I started chemotherapy. I had the most loving care from the staff at Tel Hashomer Hospital. I was on the road to recovery when I returned home.
After a few more bouts with chemo and some courses in radiation, however, we were given the devastating news that I had to undergo an autologous bone marrow transplant. The procedure had to start immediately. I lost the little hair I had left in just one day, couldn’t hold down any food or drink, and was separated from any ounce of humanity because I had no immunity. But I was getting better, thanks to the staff and doctors at the British Columbia Cancer Agency.
During the horrifying three-month stay in my isolated hospital room I was, paradoxically, injected with the poisonous chemo cocktail expected to cure me and the benevolent rays of light and love of my family. The support made me stronger and gave me courage. I had so much to look forward to. My two older sisters had countless discussions on having children for me if I couldn’t conceive, my father tried to grant me not just one star but the whole galaxy, my mother never left my side and my then-boyfriend-now-husband showered me with tenderness. The love in my room spread throughout the ward. Through the tears, we remembered to laugh and dream.
When it was time to go home, I was nervous about leaving my protected environment but full of excitement to start my new life. All I wanted was to feel and look healthy again. I bade farewell to my dull uniform of pajamas and welcomed my new outfit, especially chosen for me. On the door, it was waiting for me, as if knowing how I was craving to look like a girl again. I fondly remember stepping out in my blue leather mini skirt, black cashmere sweater and black knee-high boots, handpicked with care by my mom, a true fashionista. I looked fabulous and felt euphoric on the 10-minute ride home, the only place I was headed for the time being.
Fast forward some 30 years, and I am the mother of two miraculous children, Daniel and Natalie, who bring me the greatest happiness and naches, spoken like a true Yiddishe Mame. I am grateful every day for my blessed life. There have been bumps along my journey, of course. I have often wondered if other women had the transformational experience I did leaving the ward. I knew the day would come for me to help other survivors in my own way. Splitting my time between Israel and Canada, I chose to initiate a fashion project in Israel.
I reached out to the head of the bone marrow transplant unit in Ichilov Hospital (Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Centre) and, to my astonishment, within minutes was told they were on board. My dream was becoming a reality.
My mission is to offer patients, upon their release, an outfit of their wishes to raise their spirit, as my mother’s fashion choices had raised mine. I wrote letters to as many clothing stores as I could, looking to find sponsors, hoping they would donate new outfits to recipients. I received a few replies saying nice idea, good luck; some never replied. But some did reply with open hearts, willing to contribute to the project.
Getting started has been challenging, one step forward and a few back. Frustrating as it is, I understand that it will take time but, among the obstacles, I will not give up. As the writer Paulo Coelho said, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.” I have named my project Lalas Wings. Lala is a nickname, dubbed by my niece and nephew 35 years ago.
I was taught to dream big by my mentor, my father, Karl Stein. Hopefully, by sharing my dream, I can make a significant contribution to many bone marrow transplant patients, starting in Israel and eventually reaching hospitals in more and more places. My experience leads me to believe that the seemingly externally focused gift of clothing is part of a perfect beginning to the complex healing process.
If anyone has any questions about Lalas Wings, I can be reached by email at [email protected].
Ariella Stein is a mother, wife and fashion maven. A Vancouverite, she has lived in both Turkey and Israel for the past 25 years.
This necklace uses snap fasteners instead of clasps [see below]. (photo from Deborah Rubin Fields)
Diane von Furstenberg is attributed with saying: “Jewelry is like the perfect spice – it always complements what’s already there.” Some of us would say that’s all well and good, until you have to ask for help in closing a necklace.
Maybe you can release the spring, which opens the lobster clasp’s arm, but you can’t hold it long enough to actually close the clasp. Or perhaps your hands just can’t negotiate the T into a toggle clasp’s circle. Whatever your exact manoeuvrability problem, one thing is sure, putting on jewelry can be a frustrating experience. And the frustration seems to increase with age.
In The Journals of Gerontology, academics Eli Carmeli, associate professor at Haifa University, the late Hagar Patish and Prof. Raymond Coleman of the Technion state, “Hand function decreases with age in both men and women, especially after the age of 65 years. Deterioration in hand function … is, to a large degree, secondary to age-related degenerative changes in the musculoskeletal, vascular and nervous systems.
“Prehension is defined as the act of seizing or grasping. Aging hands and fingers are especially prone to osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. It is clear that common tasks involving precision dexterity, two-hand coordination, such as are needed to thread needles, open buttons on clothing or fine-grip tasks, as in holding a pen or cutlery, become increasingly difficult with aging. This is also true with regard to simple handgrip tasks requiring strength, such as opening bottles. The difficulty of performing such tasks may be in part due to declining vision.”
So what are the different kinds of jewelry clasps or closures and how easy are they to use? Today, eight clasps are usually added to necklaces.
The lobster clasp and spring ring clasp have a spring-loaded mechanism. Both operate by fitting one end into the opened spring side, then releasing the spring mechanism to shut.
The fishhook clasp is so named because part of the closure resembles the hook used in fishing: one end is a metal hook, while the other is an oval-shaped case. The hook slides into and locks inside the case.
Somewhat similar in shape to the fishhook, the S hook works by sliding the S-shaped hook onto a ring at the other end.
In a toggle bar clasp, one end is a long bar or T shape and the other is an open shape, usually a circle. The bar slips through the centre of the shape and locks in place.
The barrel clasp is so named because, when closed, it looks like a barrel. This clasp consists of two metal pieces, one on each end of the necklace, which close by screwing together. Likewise, in the slide-lock clasp, one tube slides inside the other and locks in place.
Finally, both ends of a magnet clasp contain magnets, which attract each another and snap together, locking the piece of jewelry in place. While not always particularly attractive, the newer magnet closures can actually look quite pleasing.
While all these clasps are relatively secure, if you have dexterity issues, six of the eight might be difficult to manipulate. So, if you’d like to continue wearing certain pieces of jewelry, to what clasps should you switch? For people with handgrip problems, two necklace closures are usually recommended: the slide-lock and the magnet clasps.
Israeli Keren Doron, who has designed and produced gold necklaces, however, is skeptical about a magnet clasp staying closed when the necklace is really heavy. She also warns that it is possible to damage a necklace when switching its existing clasp. There are many ways to do so, although it depends on the different kinds of jewelry. For example, Doron said not all necklaces with stones can withstand the heat of burner re-soldering.
Occupational therapists at Jerusalem’s Shaare Tzedek Hospital suggest that people with dexterity problems switch to necklaces that are long enough to simply slip over the head.
If you enjoy wearing costume jewelry, a new Israeli company offers another solution. Snaps (snaps.co.il) makes attractive necklaces and earrings that completely do away with clasps. Instead, designers Lilach Bar Noy and Inbar Ariav glue snap fasteners to the back of their pendants (using either a single or double set of snaps) and to each end of the necklace chain. Without having to apply much pressure, the male and female parts of the snap attach.
Wearing pierced earrings may also be a problem for people with hand issues. One solution is to wear omega-back earrings with a hinged back that simply flips closed; there are no tiny posts or backs to manipulate.
Neta ben Bassatt’s fashion jewelry addresses the problem of closures in a different manner. As a student at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, she won a prize for her coat pins designed especially for people who have visual impairments. Her wood and brass pins may be used with heavier clothes, such as cotton, wool, linen, etc. Two of her pins have a kind of clasp that can fasten best to a shirt collar or the lapel of a suit, where it is easier to get to the other side of the fabric. Her other designs feature a long, open needle pin, which can be attached anywhere on the fabric. Importantly, the wearer does not need to touch the pin itself, thus eliminating the chance of sticking oneself.
Is jewelry important? The answer depends on whom you ask. One thing is clear: jewelry has been around a long time. As early as Chapter 24 of the Book of Genesis, Abraham’s chief servant (Eliezer) is giving jewelry to Rebecca’s family. And, with people living longer, more and more adaptability and accessibility issues will arise, so we are likely to be talking about jewelry for a long time to come.
Deborah Rubin Fieldsis an Israel-based features writer. She is also the author of Take a Peek Inside: A Child’s Guide to Radiology Exams, published in English, Hebrew and Arabic.
Gaby Aghion started the fashion line Chloé in 1952. (photo from Chloé Archive)
Antisemitism was increasing in Egypt in 1945. Among the 80,000 Jews forced to leave their homes was Gabrielle (Gaby) Hanoka. Her birth name may not be recognizable to most, but the fashion house she created – Chloé – unquestionably is.
The youngest of seven children, born in 1921 in Alexandria, Egypt, Hanoka derived her distinct combination of business and creative style from her parents. Her father was an affluent cigarette manufacturer and her mother’s passion for fashion resulted in demanding copies sewn of all the latest Parisian couture. Hanoka was given a French education and, with that, embraced an ample affection for everything French.
Fittingly, Hanoka, together with Raymond Aghion, her elementary school sweetheart and subsequent husband, moved to Paris, making it home, with their son Philippe, until her passing at 93 in 2014. Befriending the upper stratum of European artists, such as Picasso and French poet Paul Éluard, earned them popularity within the art scene. Coming from a prosperous family enabled Aghion the luxury of opening a modern art gallery. The couple evolved into avid art collectors over the years.
Living a comfortable lifestyle was not enough for Gabrielle Aghion. In 1952, she resolved to flourish. “I’ve got to work … it’s not enough to eat lunch,” she is said to have informed her husband. Fashion was her choice.
She named Chloé after a friend who believed she lacked allure. Turning an extra room in her apartment into an atelier, she created six dresses, which set her success in motion. The styles corresponded with her socialist and free-spirited values, embodying youth and femininity using the finest fabrics. She wanted her designs to be accessible to regular people, without compromising on quality, coining the term prêt-à-porter, ready-to-wear.
Wanting to focus strictly on design, she partnered with Jacques Lenoir, who steered Chloé into a label. From 1956, Chloé’s fashion collection was shown twice a year at the grand Café de Flor on the Boulevard Saint Germain. These events became a fashion highlight for Parisian women. Aghion not only demonstrated an eye for fashion, but she also had a great sense for talent. In 1966, she hired the aspiring Karl Lagerfeld, who remained head designer until the mid-1980s. (Lagerfeld passed away just last month, at age 85.)
Chloé became the choice of some of the world’s most fashionable and beautiful women – Brigitte Bardot, Grace Kelly and Jackie Kennedy, to name a few. The first flagship boutique opened in 1971, followed by hundreds more worldwide. In 1975, Chloé perfume was launched, and also became an ongoing success.
In 1985, Aghion sold her company to the Richemont group. She remained active throughout the years, never missing a fashion show. The spirited Aghion continued to express her opinions before each collection and head designers took her insights into consideration.
A year before her passing, Aghion was awarded the highest merit in France, the Legion of Honour, for her contribution to the country’s fashion industry. Recollecting her starting point, she said, “The world was opening up before my eyes and I believed I could do anything. I felt I had wings.”
Her flight continues to shape the next generations of fashion enthusiasts.
Ariella Stein is a mother, wife and fashion maven. A Vancouverite, she has lived in both Turkey and Israel for the past 25 years.
Isaac Mizrahi’s cabaret show, which is at the Rio Theatre on March 18, is a preview of his new book I.M.: A Memoir. (photo by Britt Kubat)
Celebrated fashion icon Isaac Mizrahi is bringing his multiple talents to Vancouver. On March 18 at the Rio Theatre, he will be performing his cabaret show I & Me, accompanied by the Ben Waltzer Jazz Quartet.
Mizrahi’s North American tour is timed with the release of his new book, I.M.: A Memoir (Flatiron Books). The show, which includes poignant stories and fun songs, covers anecdotes about his life, his mother, what it was like growing up in an Orthodox Jewish Syrian community in Brooklyn, the challenge of being gay, and rising to the top of the fashion world. “It’s done with a lot of humour,” he told the Independent. “I hope it’s compelling, amusing and resonates with the audience.”
The songs, he explained, go along with the story. “I chose songs that can dramatize the story,” said Mizrahi, who has performed with Waltzer in clubs for more than 20 years. “My opening number is ‘I feel Pretty’ and, believe it or not, I am not singing it with irony.”
Mizrahi also delivers his own rendition of Cole Porter’s “You’re the Top.”
The first time Mizrahi showed off his talents in front of a crowd was in elementary school, when he started doing impressions for his peers.
“When I was about 7 years old, I went to see Funny Girl with my family and was so inspired by [Barbra] Streisand I started imitating her. Then I impersonated Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli,” recalled Mizrahi, who attended yeshivah from kindergarten through eighth grade. “I would do these female impressions inappropriately in places like the lobby of shul!”
But it was designing clothes for the rich and famous that made Mizrahi a household name. When he entered High School of Performing Arts in New York City, he had planned on going into show business. However, by the time he was a junior, he switched gears and found a better way to express himself. “I realized all my friends were gorgeous, thin, blond and movie-star types, and I was fat and I didn’t have that self-image,” he said. “So, I re-thought my career and decided to work in the fashion industry. It enriched me so much, and gave my life a different kind of story and platform.”
His interest in the world of fashion didn’t come from out of the blue. His father was a children’s clothing manufacturer and Mizrahi, who was obsessed with reading fashion magazines, had sewing machines at his disposal. “I started to make puppets and sew clothes for them,” said Mizrahi, who added that he liked doodling sketches of outfits in the margins of his Hebrew books. “By the time I was 10, I had this big puppet theatre in the garage and I made their clothes. My father had sewing machines everywhere and he taught me how to sew. By the time I was 13, I was a really good sewer and I started making clothes for my mom and myself. It became this fun, compelling thing. My mom, who is now 91 years old, was really into fashion and encouraged my interest.”
After high school, Mizrahi attended Parson’s School of Design in New York City. His first fashion job was working at Perry Ellis, then with designer Jeffrey Banks, and then Calvin Klein. Along the way, he honed his skills, in such areas as selecting fabric, sketching clothes and participating in design meetings. By the time he was 26, he went out on his own.
In 1989, he presented his first show, which catapulted him into fame and his couture soon dominated the fashion mags. He dressed celebs for red carpets, and his clients included Michelle Obama, Meryl Streep, Hillary Clinton and Oprah Winfrey.
“Designing for Michelle Obama was such a thrill,” he said. “And Barbra Streisand was so lovely. I tailored a suit for her and Women’s Wear Daily erroneously attributed it to Donna Karan. Barbra wrote me a note saying, ‘We know who really made this suit!’”
But Mizrahi’s successful journey has had its lows. While he made countless guest appearances on television and in movies, earned an Emmy nomination for best costume design for his work in Liza Minnelli Live and was the subject of the acclaimed documentary film Unzipped, which chronicled his 1994 collection, his company was losing money and closed after his fall 1998 collection.
He returned to fashion in 2002, teaming up with Target and becoming one of the first high-end designers to create affordable clothes for the general public. In 2009, he launched his lifestyle brand Isaac Mizrahi Live!, sold exclusively on QVC. In 2011, he sold his trademark to Xcel Brands. Among his many credits, he hosted his own television talk show, The Isaac Mizrahi Show, for seven years; he wrote two books; and he narrated his production of the children’s classic Peter and the Wolf at the Guggenheim Museum. In 2016, he had an exhibition of his designs at the Jewish Museum in New York. Currently, he sells on QVC and via Lord & Taylor, and serves as a judge on Project Runway: All Stars.
Throughout all of his fashion endeavours, he has found time to be on stage. Mizrahi, who is a charming storyteller, said he loves doing live cabaret. “I hope the audience will really enjoy themselves when they see my show, and laugh and enjoy the music,” he said. “I want them to get the idea who I am and how I got there – and I want them to know the story of my life.”
When asked what he’d like his legacy to be, the designer, entertainer and showman referred to his Judaism. “My name is Isaac, which means laughter in Hebrew,” said Mizrahi, who considers himself a cultural Jew. “I think, most importantly, I want my legacy to be about humour.”
Alice Burdick Schweigeris a New York City-based freelance writer who has written for many national magazines, including Good Housekeeping, Family Circle, Woman’s Day and The Grand Magazine. She specializes in writing about Broadway, entertainment, travel and health, and covers Broadway for the Jewish News. She is co-author of the 2004 book Secrets of the Sexually Satisfied Woman, with Jennifer Berman and Laura Berman.
Best known for couture wedding gowns, Galia Lahav is one of the major players in the wave of Israeli designers making a mark on the international bridal industry. (photo from Instagram)
With fashion accessible at our fingertips via e-commerce, shopping apps and social media, the past few years have seen the rise of emerging designers from around the world. Along the way, a number of Israeli designers have won favour with the international fashion crowd, particularly celebrities and their stylists.
“I always say that talent has no geographical boundaries. If your vision is strong, the quality of your work is high and you know how to work with international markets, then your way to success is quick,” Israeli fashion blogger and Instagram influencer Roza Sinaysky told Israel21c.
Sinaysky, known on Instagram as @moodyroza, said she has seen a change in the Israeli fashion scene over the last two to three years, where more people are interested in fashion and willing to support young designers. The designers, she said, also are more aware of trends and the needs of the industry thanks to social media.
“The rise of social media made a huge difference in the fashion industry. For designers, it opened a lot of doors. When everyone can see your work, you never know who might reach out,” said Sinaysky.
Over the past few years, Israeli designers have been approached by Kensington Palace, Beyoncé, Serena Williams, Lady Gaga and many others to create custom pieces.
“I think it’s so great that Israel is recognized as a place of talents, not just technology. It makes me very proud to see local designers do so well abroad,” said Sinaysky.
Below are eight Israeli fashion and accessory designers making their mark internationally.
What do Beyoncé and Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai (who was just in Vancouver for a concert) have in common? They both wear Shahar Avnet. The young Israeli designer made headlines last year when her custom-made, nude-coloured tulle gown was worn by Beyoncé on stage during her world tour with Jay-Z.
Avnet also designed the multicoloured kimono famously worn by Barzilai on the cover of her hit song “Toy.”
“My garments are for confident women who are fearless, intelligent and chic; women who are not afraid to be the centre of attention and making a statement,” Avnet told Vogue Italy.
The Tel Aviv-based designer’s tulle creations walk the line between art and fashion, often combining techniques such as drawing, embroidery and collage into a single dress.
Avnet graduated from Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art in 2016, receiving her first international exposure when her final project was chosen to represent the school at the International Catwalk during Graduate Fashion Week in London, England.
Avnet’s bold colours and unusual, feminine silhouettes have caught the attention of celebrity stylists and magazines. Other celebrities who have worn Avnet’s dresses include American actresses and singers Zendaya and Kelly Rowland, and members of the Israeli band A-WA.
Designer Maya Reik launched Marei1998 several seasons ago, almost immediately earning praise from the fashion world for her classic-modernist design sensibility – an unusually subdued approach for a designer her age (1998 refers to the year Reik was born).
Drawing upon Reik’s love for European cities and vintage nostalgia, Marei1998 offers a twist on classic luxury, reviving traditional styles like the robe coat and wrap dress. The brand’s claim to fame is its faux fur coats, which have become a celebrity-approved go-to for a sustainable statement. Last year, Marei1998’s eco-fur was spotted on model Bella Hadid and actress Priyanka Chopra.
Marei1998 has presented its collection in Milan the past few seasons and has had several successful trunk shows with online retailer Moda Operandi, which says “the young Israeli is living proof that elegance doesn’t come with age.”
A by Anabelle
Anabelle Tsitsin, the 26-year-old designer behind celebrity-approved shoe brand A by Anabelle, drew upon her background in fine arts to launch a collection of luxury footwear in 2016 that features unexpected and playful embellishments like crystals, feathers and fur. All the shoes are made of Italian leather and fabrics in Parabiago, a town just outside Milan known for its history of footwear craftsmanship.
The brand’s signature style features an architectural A-shaped heel, worn by celebrities like Victoria’s Secret model Josephine Skriver and actresses Katharine McPhee and Logan Browning. In 2017, Halle Berry wore A by Anabelle’s lace-up “starlette” shoes during an interview with Ellen DeGeneres on The Ellen Show.
Although based in Israel, the brand has started to make its rounds on the international style scene and social media thanks to influencers and fashion bloggers like Maja Malnar, Camila Carril and Cristina Musacchio.
Israeli-born, New York-based designer Nili Lotan launched her namesake brand in 2003. The label, which revolves around timeless slip dresses, simple cargo pants and elevated basics, is tomboy meets luxury, making it a go-to for model-off-duty style.
Though Nili Lotan has been a mainstay in Tribeca since the store opened in 2006, it has been pushed toward the spotlight in the last several years thanks to an ever-expanding list of celebrity followers, like Gigi Hadid, Rihanna, Jennifer Lawrence, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kaia Gerber. The brand has been referred to as Hadid’s “wardrobe secret weapon” by Vogue, with frequent images of the model in Lotan’s designs flooding Instagram.
Best known for couture wedding gowns, Galia Lahav is one of the major players in the wave of Israeli designers making a mark on the international bridal industry.
Led by head designer Sharon Sever, the brand’s embellished, forward-thinking designs have been worn by Beyoncé, Serena Williams, Ciara, Jennifer Lopez and many others – Lahav made headlines when Beyoncé chose a dress from the label’s Victorian Affinity collection to renew her vows with husband Jay-Z. Another defining moment came when the designer created six custom-made, cream-coloured gowns for Williams’ wedding party.
Dresses from Lahav’s line of evening wear have made frequent red carpet appearances, with their plunging necklines and figure-hugging sequins adorning stars like model Shanina Shaik, actress Sarah Hyland and singers Ciara and Halsey.
While Alon Livne opened his Soho, N.Y., atelier and ready-to-wear showroom in 2017, he has been designing under the label Alon Livne since he founded his studio in Tel Aviv in 2010.
With three separate lines – bridal, evening and ready-to-wear – Livne has gained a following of international brides, celebrities and lovers of bold, fearless fashion.
Lady Gaga is among the brand’s A-list fans, having worn several custom gowns by Livne over the last years. His avant-garde, innovative designs have also been worn by Beyoncé, Nikki Minaj, Jennifer Lopez, Naomi Campbell and many others. One of his dresses made waves when it was worn by actor Johanna Mason in the film Mockingjay, part of the four-movie Hunger Games franchise.
Inbal Dror began designing wedding dresses in 2014, pioneering the style of the “red carpet bride,” with her glamorous, figure-hugging styles that were new to the bridal industry at the time.
Since then, the brand has dressed high-profile brides around the world. In 2017, Dror was contacted by the royal family about possibly making the wedding dress for Meghan Markle’s wedding to Prince Harry. Though the newly appointed Duchess of Sussex chose a different dress in the end, the famous inquiry solidified Dror as one of the biggest names in bridal.
Dror had previously dressed Beyoncé for the Grammys in 2016, proving that wedding dresses aren’t just for brides.
When Meghan Markle wore a silk Boss bodysuit by Israeli designer Tuxe for an evening out with Prince Harry in February 2018, the style was immediately backordered until May.
Tuxe was founded by Tamar Daniel, who was born in Jerusalem, raised in London, and graduated from the Shenkar College in Ramat Gan. She founded her Philadelphia-based bodywear line in 2015, focusing on transforming the bodysuit, once a 1990s staple, into a chic, modern garment.
Her collection includes a range of bodysuits with names like Boss, CEO, Pacesetter, Game Changer and Expert, and has become particularly popular with professionals and religious communities, Daniel told Vogue in an interview. Prices range from about $80 for a simple sleeveless bodysuit to $463 for a cashmere turtleneck version.
“We’ve been royally approved!” the brand posted on Instagram after Markle was photographed wearing the bodysuit. “We absolutely love Meghan for all she has done for women’s rights and are honoured to be worn by someone who encapsulates what we stand for as a brand. She uses her spotlight to be an inspiration and she definitely is to us!”
Israel21cis a nonprofit educational foundation with a mission to focus media and public attention on the 21st-century Israel that exists beyond the conflict. For more, or to donate, visit israel21c.org.
Born 79 years ago, in New York, to Frieda and Frank Lifshitz, immigrants from Belarus, Ralph Lifshitz, better known as Ralph Lauren, has become a universal household name.
The youngest of four siblings clothed in hand-me-downs, the fashion legend never imagined becoming a designer – he did, however, yearn to be the next Joe di Maggio or Cary Grant. His favourite pastimes were sports, listening to the radio, watching TV and movies. And it is from these influences that his dream to design clothing came.
At 16, Lifshitz switched to the name Lauren after experiencing years of ridicule. At the same time, he embraced and embellished his own sense of style, buying oversized and rugged clothing from the army surplus store because he liked how they made him feel, and had an aspect of originality. His preference for military-style clothing predated his draft to the American army, in which he served two years. It was in the army that his respect for the uniform further developed and he incorporated the style into many of his subsequent designs.
In the years that followed, Lauren began working by day for a buying company while studying at night. It was during this period that he had the idea of making ties from scraps, and making and selling his unconventional ties turned into a profitable side business.
While working for men’s fashion house Brooks Brothers, Lauren tried to get them to sell his ties, but to no avail. Moving on to work for tie manufacturer Beau Brummell, an upscale men’s brand, Lauren’s potential started to be realized, as he acquired a “drawer” in their showroom of the Empire State Building to sell his flamboyant ties. In 1967, Lauren started the label Polo, the name reflecting his love of sports, and his creations’ international and sophisticated vibe. Lauren sewed on each label, together with his new bride, Ricky. He also made all the deliveries himself, to the likes of Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdales. During the first year, Polo made $500,000. The young Jewish boy from the Bronx’s design career was on its way.
By 1968, Lauren was making his own suits, which were, once again, offbeat; not what his colleagues were wearing. Lauren believes that fashion is all about playfulness, expressing one’s individuality and not conforming to one look. He has held this belief through his many years in the industry, and it has no doubt provided the foundation of what he has built into a multibillion-dollar empire.
Lauren’s classic innovations include making women feel that wearing a tuxedo was sexier than a gown; turning tailored men’s shirts unisex; and transforming American folk art (patchwork) into fashionable sweaters, coats and dresses, borrowing from cowboys’ attire the rich colour of turquoise, fringed jackets and boots.
Lauren’s talents did not end at the design table. He used the platform of advertising unconventionally, working with real people, not models, in ads that covered multiple pages to tell a story through his clothing’s many different looks and fabrics. This creative approach was developed in part with photographer Bruce Weber.
Lauren has outfitted Wimbledon players, won the Coty Award for both women and men’s wear, opened the first freestanding store in Europe by an American designer, and established a home collection. Other highlights include being the costume designer for Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in the Oscar-winning movie Annie Hall, and creating a men’s and women’s fragrance in 1978 that is still emblematic. Upon receiving a lifetime achievement award in 1992, presented to him by actor Audrey Hepburn, he said, “I don’t design clothes, I design dreams.”
Ricky, Lauren’s wife of more than five decades, is one of his muses. Her elegant and natural style has been a continuous inspiration for him and it is her sense of self that he tried to emulate in his clothing designs. Together, the couple built the Ralph Lauren brand not only as a fashion domain but as a family business, operated with their two sons and daughter.
In addition to his material and creative successes are Lauren’s contributions to philanthropic causes. Among them, Lauren and cancer surgeon Dr. Harold P. Freeman founded the Ralph Lauren Centre for Cancer Care in Harlem, N.Y., in 2000, with the resources of the Polo Ralph Lauren Foundation and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre. The residence, care and support facility’s mission is “to fight health disparities in the community … [and] become a beacon for quality, dignity and accessibility in cancer care.”
Ariella Stein is a mother, wife and fashion maven. A Vancouverite, she has lived in both Turkey and Israel for the past 25 years.
Stuart Weitzman built up his father’s business into an empire. (photo by Phillip Pessar)
There are so many styles of women’s shoes, including the stiletto, platform, wedge, kitten, sling backs, peep toe, mule or sneakers. Unlike our favourite outfits, the fit of our shoes doesn’t change much in relation to our waistlines. A great pair of shoes can boost our confidence and turn a “shlumpy” outfit into something eye-catching. Marilyn Monroe declared, “Give a girl the right pair of shoes and she can conquer the world.”
Renowned designer Stuart Weitzman was born into a shoe business family. But, while his father had started a shoe company in Massachusetts in the 1950s, Weitzman’s goal was a career on Wall Street and he went to and graduated from the Wharton School. However, after his father died, he started to make the transition from talented hobbyist sketcher to acclaimed shoemaker. His strong work ethic coupled with an eye for style created the prevailing Weitzman empire. His designs flew off the shelves of upscale stores and filled pages of top fashion magazines.
In 1971, Weitzman partnered with a Spanish shoe factory, Caressa. In 1986, Weitzman bought all the shares from his Spanish partners and became independent. Success over the years led to Weitzman’s ownership of nine factories throughout Spain, which granted him the ability to keep his upscale shoe brand at a price 30% to 50% lower than that of his contemporaries. At his peak, Weitzman owned 120 private boutiques and sold globally in department stores.
Fifty years in the business has attracted a large following of shoe enthusiasts to Weitzman’s creations, including celebrities like Beyoncé, Kim Cattrall, Jennifer Aniston and Taylor Swift. In 2002, Weitzman fashioned a pair of million dollar shoes, almost literally dripping in diamonds, worn by actress Laura Harring to the Academy Awards. He also designed the most popular nude sandal worn among celebrities, which has become a classic and essential for many women.
Weitzman sold his company to Coach for an estimated $574 million in 2015. At the age of 76, he remains the creative director. It is now Weitzman’s wish to find a successor, as his two grown children, Rachel and Elizabeth, have chosen different routes.
Weitzman and his wife, Jane Gershon, worked together to build the business. Together, they also became philanthropists, donating to many causes, but also establishing the foundation Pencils of Promise, which focuses on opening schools in Ghana, Laos and Guatemala.
Weitzman and Gershon are passionate about their Jewish roots and work to ensure the future of Jewish communities and Jewish heritage. Consequently, a substantial amount of their contributions and time commitments revolve around Jewish institutes and causes around the world.
Weitzman, an avid ping-pong player, participated in the Maccabiah Games in Israel in 2009 and 2013. Also in 2013, he made a donation of $1 million to Maccabi USA. “My participation in the Maccabiah Games was one of the greatest experiences of my life!” he has said.
A man used to working 16-hour days in a creative environment doesn’t seem set on a quiet retirement. The list of projects he has planned is long. A top priority is constructing a Jewish museum in Madrid dedicated to Spanish Jewry. On the horizon is producing a Broadway musical with Sir Trevor Nunn about the life of Andy Warhol.
Just in case the wedding superstition is true, let us do as the bride is advised – whatever our footwear, let us remember to exit with our right foot first to ensure a lucky day.
Some shoe facts
40,000 years ago, it seems, people began wearing shoes
the first women’s boot was made for Queen Victoria in 1840
sneakers were first made in America in 1916
heels were added to shoes in the Middle East to lift the shoe from the burning sand
Marie Antoinette had 500 pairs of shoes
the only shoe museum in North America is the Bata Shoe Museum, in Toronto
gold and silver coins placed inside a bride’s wedding shoe is an old Swedish custom
Chinese brides throw one of their red bridal shoes to the roof of their house to ensure the couple’s happiness
Altocalciphilia is the name for having a high heel fetish
Donna Karan’s Urban Zen includes pieces to be worn year-round. But the project is grander than a fashion line – it is a broader approach to life that she hopes will speak to many people. (photo from fashionmodeldirectory.com)
With the sun finally out for days running, spring has truly sprung. We can now satisfy the urge to take out our colours from the back of our closets. That bright pink silk blouse in its garment bag is once more seeing the light. Whatever the current look may be, nothing compares to feeling at home in our classics; those pieces that are, at least to us, forever “in.”
In 1985, Donna Karan introduced to the world of fashion the “Essential Line.” In her first private collection, there were seven simple pieces that continue to be timeless. These include the oversize sweater, a bodysuit, jersey dresses, Lycra tights (no longer just for exercise class), a white shirt, loose trousers and a tailored jacket. Over the years, she would incorporate new pieces, in her go-to favourite colour, black.
Karan, born Donna Ivy Faske, in 1948 in New York, was raised by a fashion-model mother and suit-designer stepfather – she was practically destined to have a lifelong career in fashion. The many awards she has received are but one proof of her talent for it.
At the age of 14, Karan quit school and embarked into that world, working in a boutique. At 20, she was accepted into the renowned Parsons School of Design. After graduating, she became, at 26 years old, head designer of the Anne Klein fashion house.
In 1984, Karan divorced her first husband, Mark Karan, and married Stephen Weiss. With full force, she began her own label. The line was geared to “design modern clothes for modern people.” She wanted to create clothing that she herself would wear and in which she would feel comfortable.
After dressing the likes of her best friend, Barbra Streisand, many A-list Hollywood stars and high-powered women in politics, Karan launched a new brand in 1988, DKNY, a line of less-expensive clothing. Seventeen years later, her business expanded into a men’s fashion line, fragrances, bedding. She also wrote a memoir, The Journey of a Woman: 20 Years of Donna Karan, among other accomplishments.
Karan’s Urban Zen came to fruition in 2001. While watching her beloved husband lose his battle to lung cancer and experiencing the sale of her empire to the multinational LVMH (where she stayed on as head designer until 2015), Karan learned that everyone must “find their calm in the chaos around the world.”
Urban Zen includes pieces to be worn year-round. But the project is grander than a fashion line – it is a broader approach to life that she hopes speaks to many people.
Karan believes it is fundamental to blend Eastern healing together with Western science. While watching her husband undergo chemotherapy, Karan found mediation, yoga, acupuncture and other holistic remedies essential for healing, and for acquiring some sense of inner peace. She built a harmonious sanctuary in the hospital where her husband was being treated, Beth Israel Medical Centre in New York. The sanctuary is a place for patients, loved ones and staff to go to recover from broken spirits and find solace. Its philosophy and practices have helped ease suffering to such a degree that, now, many hospitals and hospices have adopted its methods. The concepts are taught to doctors and nurses through Karan’s foundation, UZIT, Urban Zen Integrative Therapy Program.
On a personal level, this fashionista-writer, who has always loved and appreciated the fun of fashion, also experienced an “aha” moment while researching this article. Being a cancer survivor and having overcome some unwanted surprises life has thrown my way, this spring, I am determined to embrace perfecting my downward dog as much as finding my new bag – devoting time to practising gratitude and investing in my most important asset, me. My tranquility and health are more important than any blouse.
Ariella Steinis a mother, wife and fashion maven. A Vancouverite, she has lived in both Turkey and Israel for the past 25 years.