Jerusalem — after a fashion

Everything I unlearned about fashion, I unlearned in Tel Aviv. After all, could there be any metropolis, Mediterranean or otherwise, more antithetical to aspirations of a sartorial nature than this sultry city? That old Adam Ant tune “Strip” seems tailor-made for Tel Aviv, particularly in sweltering July (I’ll spare you the Google search, the upshot being “it’s at times like this the great heaven knows, that we wish we had not so many clothes…”)

This is not to knock Tel Aviv’s many talented designers. Au contraire, I love what they do and champion them at every opportunity. If you’ve got the right figure – and God knows lots of people in this town have the right figure – then there are few better ways to flaunt them than in Tel Avivi designs. But seriously, nobody wants to dress up much here, and for proof of that just head to the Tayelet, the seaside promenade, Tel Aviv’s biggest 24/7 open-air catwalk, where looking the part has less to do with what you are wearing than with what you aren’t.

So, with the blue water beckoning and the jellyfish still not quite yet biting, I couldn’t help but snicker at an invitation to a fashion show the other day in…Jerusalem. Asking me, a former adoptive New Yorker and ex-adoptive Parisian, to check out the latest styles in Jerusalem is a bit like asking me to fly to Philadelphia for fashion tips.

But Jerusalem’s closer, and it’s got Bezalel. Which is nothing in the least to snicker at. In fact, for any chance to check out what’s going on at the famous Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, I will happy board bus, plane or donkey to go there. The Department of Jewelry and Fashion’s Annual Fashion and Jewelry Show was no exception.

I’m no fashion expert, but the stuff that strutted down the long improvised runway on the top floor of the Bezalel Gallery had in the aggregate and minutiae enough material to outfit Lady Gaga and her various personas for at least a dozen music videos. This was the chance for talented fashion grads to unleash the visions that have been percolating for months, if not years. The show itself was orchestrated with every bit as much professionalism and precision as I have seen at shows in New York and Paris. That alone would have been worth the trip.

But then there was 28-year-old Hila Feinberg’s dark Gothic fantasia, with clothing and shoes that seek to examine the tension between an individual’s separation and integration in society, purposely distorting the shape of the clothes in the process. The sinister hoods and cloaks reminded me of the monk-y business at the start of Madonna’s new show, but I was as much in awe of those decidedly non-Levantine shapes and inverted army-pattern espadrilles as I was by the spectacle of Hila’s friends, a bevy of Bezalel students moonlighting as models: like a group of “Baywatch” hotties all swathed in black (but “there are many shades of black,” Hila averred).

Dark Gothic fantasia (photo credit: Anthony Grant)
Dark Gothic fantasia (photo credit: Anthony Grant)

Wild: how else to describe this raw convergence of thought and fabric, catapulting its way down the catwalk while the bass pounded my eardrums halfway to Haifa? Thank goodness for Hila’s blacks, because it made Dikla Saar’s flesh-toned silicones and cottons that much more compelling, to say nothing of the forms – one tawny, über-outré blouse in particular had the appearance of simultaneously caging its wearer while liberating her from any sense of captivity. Funky town, that Jerusalem.

Flesh-toned silicone. A Dikla Sa'ar dress
Flesh-toned silicone. A Dikla Sa’ar dress

I more or less fell in love with Doron Ron – or rather, with her “gender blender” cotton-wool sweaters that are based on changes made to basic men’s clothing patterns, in order (in the designer’s words) “to undermine the preconception of the gender divisions into “masculine” and “feminine.” Those changes are based on contrasts in material, shape and color – between fabric and knit, and between a tailored pattern and soft hand-knitted material and between grey and muted colors to saturated colors. But these delicately patterned sweater-esque creations have an unmistakably feminine touch. At once ethereal and cozy, their transparent, torso-revealing aspect straddles the line between innovative and playfully seductive.

Sheer beauty or pure sex? (photo credit: Anthony Grant)
Sheer beauty or pure sex? (photo credit: Anthony Grant)

In truth there was precious little on the Bezalel Gallery floor that didn’t floor me. Yael Goren’s voluminous gowns with suggestive sisal rope protrusions reminded of me of a random Ridley Scott cinema storyboard as channeled by Björk, for which these clothes would have been perfect had there even been a video for the Icelandic chanteuse’s “Anchor Song” (note to Björk: it’s not too late; call Yael). The intention, according to the designer, is to “symbolically express the connection to the mother, and represents a desire for a deep and all-encompassing merger through the image of the ocean. The ocean representing the subconscious in all its force as the ‘original mother.’”

It’s hard to visit Jerusalem and not think at least fleetingly about Judas, which brings to mind Gaga and about those videos-to-be I mentioned, and Elenora Gendler’s “Deep Light” collection. It’s Snow White meets Star Trek with a little Tinker Bell thrown in for good measure, along with a heck of lot of silicone and silk crepe chiffon, silk organza, Plexiglass and fish skin mixed in to make it happen. That’s right, I said Plexiglass and fish skin. Her plucky work reminded me a bit of the late Alexander McQueen, particularly with the oversized aquamarine chopines and soupçon of things amphibian, but I wouldn’t characterize the overall creative charge as derivative.

Snow White meets Star Trek with a little Tinker Bell thrown in
Snow White meets Star Trek with a little Tinker Bell thrown in

Anything but, in fact. I don’t follow fashion, but I know cool stuff when I see it. I could have spent hours ogling it all, trying to decode this and that, but I never know what to wear anyway, and was glad to get back to the style-slaying steam of the White City. And though I still can’t quite fathom Jerusalem, I will say this with conviction: That was some pretty happy incomprehension, after a fashion, up there on Yaffo Street.