The thing that wows me about fashion is not just the intricate details of the clothes themselves, but also the history and the story behind it. Perhaps that’s why I love Israeli fashion most of all — because not only is the fashion a melting pot of various influences, cultures, and styles but also because there is such a unique history and story behind it.
This is why I was most excitedf about seeing the new Maskit show at Gindi TLV Fashion Week, Tel Aviv’s major fashion week of the year. Maskit, in actuality, is not a new brand at all. In fact, it’s Israel’s first major fashion label, started in 1954 by Ruth Dayan, wife of Moshe Dayan, who at 97 years old is still one of the most vibrant women I’ve ever seen.
The story behind Maskit goes like this. The government had asked Ruth Dayan to help provide work opportunities for new immigrants in Israel, which at the time meant training them in agriculture. But when Dayan visited these immigrants villages, she found out that many of them were skilled in decorative arts like embroidery, rugs, and arts & crafts. She also searched for artisans from Druze, Bedouin, Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian communities. With the hiring of head designer Fini Leitersdorf, Maskit became a renowned ethnic brand. The magic of Maskit stemmed from its concept of taking modern European patterns and them with ethnic embroidery. It was the essence of Israeli fashion — taking European style and mixing it with the style of the Middle East.
According to Leitersdorf, it wasn’t the ethnic embroidery that made the clothes “Israeli”, but rather the color, texture, and feeling of the clothes which gave it an essence of the country. “Rather, it is the range of colors — the desert brown, the impure black inspired by Bedouin tents, and the eternally changing blue of the Mediterranean. To this is added the loose design, which makes life more comfortable in hot climates,” Shahar Atwan once wrote in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper about the brand.
Maskit was sold in the biggest high-end stores including Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus and the brand collaborated with top designers like Yves Saint Laurent. It was worn by Audrey Hepburn and Pauline Triger. Vogue and Cosmopolitan both covered it in their magazine. Israeli fashion expert Nurit Bat-Yaar wrote about it in her book Israel Fashion Art 1948-2008. If only she was alive to see it revamped today.
It was the quintissential Israeli brand. That is, until 1994 when after 40 years, the brand closed because it failed to get new ownership. Enter Sharon Tal, a designer who graduated with honors from the Shenkar School of Design in 2008 and worked in Paris at Lanvin and as head of embroidery at Alexander McQueen in London. When Tal moved back to Israel to have her first child, she saw the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton and knew she had to go back into fashion.
That was when she read about Maskit and was disheartened to hear Israel’s first fashion house was no longer in existence. She made an appointment to meet Ruth and a 1 hour meeting turned into an all day affair. Even after this, it took a while to re-establish Maskit — because in fact, Tal had no plans to convince her to do so. But Dayan was taken by Tal and the two researched for 2 years while also visiting many artisans that worked with Maskit in the past. It was time to bring Maskit back.
The culmination of this effort can be best exemplified in March’s Gindi TLV Fashion Week, the Tel Aviv Fashion Week established by PR guru Motti Reif, who asked the Maskit team to close out the shows at the end of the week. The fashion show, hosted by Israeli actress Keren Mor, celebrated Ruth Dayan’s 97th birthday as Israeli celebrities took to the runway with appearances by TV presenter and singer Orna Datz, Israeli actress Yuval Scharf, the wife of Tel Aviv mayor Yael Huldai, Israel’s reigning beauty queen Titi Aynaw and more.
The celebrity portion was followed by the model portion led by the brand’s first face, top model Noam Frost, who is probably the most well-known Israeli runway model of the moment, having walked the Paris couture runways.
Tickets ranged from 250nis to 1000nis with proceeds donated to the premature newborn’s unit at the Tel HaShomer Hospital. I attended the event with my fashionable friend, Rachel Grossman as well as other international and Israeli fashion bloggers and press and stylish patrons who bought a seat.
The showcased Maskit collection was “Homage,” which looked back at the more than 40 year history of Maskit. Sharon Tal wanted to show the original details, and the story of the brand in one magical collection. The original embroidery, a trademark of Maskit, was the icing on the cake. The title of the label, Maskit, which means Ornament is a fitting name for the brand that shines on even 60 years later.
For more on Israeli fashion, please visit my blog Fashion Israel.