Renowned Israeli fashion designer discusses her revolutionary fashion, as well as her involvement in Dress Codes, the new exhibition at the Israel Museum

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“Mi sento medievale”, confesses Ilana Efrati speaking in a flawless Italian. “I feel medieval”, that’s what she is saying with her delicate, exotic accent.

We find ourselves at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, on the press tour of the temporary exhibition Dress Codes: Revealing the Jewish Wardrobe. Ilana and I are sitting at a table and she is telling me about her involvement with the event that we are attending, for which she designed a unique piece inspired by one of the hundred garments displayed. The idea behind the project was to gather six of the most important and distinguished Israeli fashion designers and to assign each a different garment from Dress Codes with the task of creating a modern interpretation of the piece. Ilana Efrati, of course, was one of these designers.

As she shows to the journalists the garment she created, I can clearly see how much of herself she puts in her work. It is no surprise that the section of the exhibition that she draws inspiration from is called Fusion in Dress, since Ilana herself is a fusion of cultures and identities, which is greatly represented by her piece.

“My mother’s grandfather arrived to Israel from Samarqand, Uzbekistan, in 1877, overland, passing through Iran, Baghdad, Damask, and Lebanon”, Ilana tells me. “My family was dealing with the issue of exile, as a lot of other Jews, who were sent abroad. So when they arrived, they created a ‘comuna’ in Jerusalem, out of the walls. They were very rich people and they wanted to build a new architecture inspired by Italy; so they built beautiful ‘palazzi’, which you can still see in the Buchara neighborhood of Jerusalem”.

Not only her roots are very international, though. When she started her career as a fashion designer in Israel, Ilana maintained the tradition and brought together French techniques, Italian fabrics, and of course, middle-eastern influences.

“When I started working as a designer in the 1980s, unfortunately the Israeli textile industry was crawling; the government chose to use the budget of the textile to support high-tech, instead”. High-tech is one of the main Israeli prides, but – as Ilana Efrati states – it doesn’t give as much work as the textile, which used to be a very large sector. “The same phenomenon is happening in Italy right now”, she explains. “I realized that I could not find quality fabrics in Israel, so I searched for companies abroad to work with”.

That was the moment her bond with Italy was started first. “I found Italy as a great inspirational place, not just for its fabrics, but for its lifestyle, as well. Every few months I would travel to Italy. At one point I even started looking for a place to live there, and ten years ago I acquired an old farmhouse in Umbria and I renovated it”. Strongly inspired by the natural landscape of the area, Ilana has started living a double life: every other month, she now leaves the Tel-Avivian, urban frenzy, in order to embrace the Umbrian, unspoiled land.

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Ilana Efrati has a studio in Dizengoff, Tel Aviv, and curates a blog, Masaot, together with her daughter Or Rosenboim, a history researcher in Cambridge. Their passions, fashion and history, become a whole in one of the most original blogs I have ever read. “I feel very medieval, rather than Renaissance”, confidentially told me Ilana. “A lot of people focus on the Renaissance, without thinking that without the Middle Ages it would have never occurred! The influence that I have drawn from the medieval period can also be seen in the piece I presented at the Israel Museum: all the materials that I used come from my land in Umbria, as well as the colors, that are all natural and were taken from vegetables”. Ilana Efrati created her piece by combining nature, technology, people, land. “Everything can be a source of inspiration” she says.

The result of such work is an essential two-color piece, inspired by the torrid weather of the eastern countries from which Efrati’s family comes from and by the untouched color of the land.

“Today’s fashion is treated in a very commercial way, it’s a fast world”, concludes Ilana before we part. Fashion today is often based on ephemeral and occasional phenomena, but the Israeli designer has always gone against the flow and has developed a ‘slow fashion’, a style meant to be durable. “I’m a radical – but not for the sake of it”. Ilana just does not like what she sees. And she brilliantly succeeds at changing it.

Photo of Ilana Efrati presenting her piece at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, by Simone Somekh. Photo of fabric courtesy of Ilana Efrati. Natasha Bassalian contributed reporting. For info visit ilanaefrati.com