Tel Aviv - Tel Aviv Fashion Week on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean capped off an exemplary week of shows on Wednesday in terms of inclusivity and diversity but more. Embracing the symbolic power of fashion, the event organized in the Jewish nation state opened its catwalk for the first time to a designer from the United Arab Emirates, Mona al Mansouri.
“I use this platform to spread social awareness, not just for fashion. That's what makes us different,” says Motty Reif, the founder of Tel-Aviv Fashion Week, who FashionUnited met after the collective show of students from Shenkar – the fashion school which included couturier Alber Elbaz among its students. For the past ten years, this fertile ground for creations has been supported by a Fashion Week sponsored, for the second time, by the company Kornit Digital.
This year, 20,000 people came to the refurbished port hangar to attend around twenty shows. Described as “alternative” by Motty, the four-day fashion week pushed the inclusiveness slider a step further than its big sisters in London, Milan, Paris and New York.
“A celebration of beauty and people”
After attending London Fashion Week, Motty Reif says he was surprised by a cast that, according to him, did not reflect this city, yet perceived as the "capital of diversity". “They were all young, skinny and tall,” he says. This is for me the most important thing here. If the designers want to work only with thin models, fine, but they must be between 20 and 80 years old. They are of various sizes, ages and bodies. To me, that's what a celebration of beauty and people is all about. And that's something you can't see in Milan or New York."
On the catwalk, the gaze passed from a fuller silhouette to a slim body, from salt-and-pepper hair to a shaved head and every skin color imaginable. The diversity was there and the public, generous with applause, did not hesitate to greet the passage of plus size models like that of older women and local celebrities.
For the most part, the models were all Israelis, but "like most people living here, they come from different places, some are immigrants or refugees," says Keshet Shapiro Vaturi, designer of the Kesh brand, registered with the Kornit Fashion Week schedule. "I don't look at people's backgrounds when I cast, like with my suppliers or the people I work with, I choose people based on who they are and what they convey." She hopes that one day inclusivity will be something completely natural: "Today, in many cases, it seems forced, but I guess it's a step in the right direction".
The representation of body diversity has been on the rise for a handful of years, the topic of inclusivity in fashion is said to even affect sales. According to the Representation and Inclusion in the Fashion Industry Report released in 2021 by All-Party Parliamentary Group for Textiles and Fashion, 83.7 percent of respondents say that if a fashion brand turns out not to be inclusive, it would impact their purchasing decision. One thing the founder of Israeli Fashion Week understood well: “I think women are fed up with fantasies,” he observes. A creator cannot choose and photograph only one type of model, otherwise you will not buy”.
Mona al Mansouri, the first Arab designer to present in Israel
In Israel, the concept of inclusion, and therefore of coming together, takes on a political meaning. Because it takes shape in a country marked by religious division, the human and cultural landscape that Israeli fashion chooses to represent has an even stronger reach than that of European and American Fashion Weeks.
At the end of March, a meeting aimed at strengthening cooperation between the Jewish state and Arab countries took place on Israeli soil. This "Negev Summit" brought together Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and four of his Arab counterparts (Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco). The event facilitated the visit of Mona al-Mansouri, designer from the United Arab Emirates: A big step forward since it was for the first time in history that an Arab designer from the United Arab Emirates took part in Israeli Fashion Week.
The reception of Mona al-Mansouri was made possible after several months of discussions. "We had never been able to do this before," says Motty. But thanks to the process initiated by Naftali Bennett (Israeli Prime Minister), a great opportunity has been created. She was very brave to decide to come because it's not easy, her clients come from Lebanon, Syria, South Arabia (...) I didn't think she would come... you make a decision and you know what you can lose. Then, at one point, she said "I'm going to take the first step to making a real connection for peace." And that's what she did."
According to Motty, fashion has a role to play in bringing Israel closer to neighboring Arab countries: "Our politicians talk and tell stories, but we as people, as fashion people, have to take the first step".
Alongside the fashion shows, Kornit Fashion Week also held a showroom bringing together designers from various backgrounds. Among them was Shady Francis Majlaton, an Arab creator of Israeli and also Palestinian citizenship, his work is inspired, among other things, by Muslim outfits. His arrival was precious for Roza Sinaysky, the curator: “I really wanted a Palestinian designer, not for the symbol or by strategy but because for me it's the same thing. They don't have the opportunity to do something like that because they have a fairly restrictive environment, just like Aharon Ganis" (note: Israeli designer who was raised in an ultra-Orthodox family).
On Thursday, the day after Israeli Fashion Week, a Palestinian from the occupied West Bank opened fire in a street in Tel Aviv. While fashion and the symbols of unity it can offer countries unfortunately have their limits, the profession nevertheless has the merit of wanting to set an example.
Julia Garel traveled to Israel, invited by the Ministry of Tourism of Israel.
This article was originally published on FashionUnited.FR, translated and edited to English by Kelly Press.