One Small Step For Fashion, One Giant Leap for Israel

In a time when the world is likely to associate Israel with war, politics, religion, and negativity, it has been important for me to get the word out that Israel is more than just Bar Refaeli and the ongoing situation.

For weeks I’ve been struggling  to write the appropriate Israeli fashion topic to kick start my first Israeli fashion blog post on the Times of Israel site.  Since I moved to Israel in 2007, I’ve been a avid promoter of Israel’s innovative fashion industry in an effort to get it recognized by the international world. This weekend, I finally had the long awaited blog post finished. It was  a well-thought out introductory blog post on how Israeli fashion was adding its own value worldwide, alongside positive steps forward in hi-tech, science, and education.

Then, something happened that made scrap it all.  Last week, Nurit Bat-Yaar, one of Israel’s most well-known historians and curators of Israeli fashion and art, passed away.  She was often called the “First Lady of fashion.

This death is especially significant to Israeli fashion because Bat-Yaar was highly regarded as a fashion authority in Israel.  It’s also an especially sad time for me because knowing her personally made my love for Israeli fashion grow.

Bat-Yaar and I got in touch because she saw my Israeli fashion blog, Fashion Israel, and wanted me to check out her book: Israel Fashion Art: 1948-2008. At the time, I didn’t know how important the book was as a strong compilation of Israeli fashion history, so when she offered it to me, I was more excited about getting a thick book with fashion pictures for free, than I was about her important historical fashion commentary.

Perhaps this book is the best representative of the woman Nurit Bat-Yaar — colorful, exotic, vibrant, and yet, refined and modest.  When I met Nurit in person at a Tel Aviv fashion event in 2010, I was taken aback by her elegance, polite, soft-spoken demeanor and sophistication.

I remember that her clothes at this event said something intrinsically bold and luxurious about fashion.  The black coat was form fitting, and made out of some kind of high-end material, perhaps velvet.  The shoulders were sharp and a bit exaggerated for effect. The silk scarf underneath was drawn all the way up to nape of the neck — obviously she belonged in a Victorian era and not this one.  And that artificial rose pin she always loved to wear was perched every so delicately on her lapel.

Her voice was soft and sweet, and yet, her appearance was structured, like royalty. I knew she had amazing stories to share behind that soft grin and yet, she wouldn’t start talking until someone asked her specifically. Little did I know that this quiet, coiffed woman could deftly hone in on the detailed artistry behind Israeli designers past and present and how much they have impacted the world to this day.

Over the course of the next two years, we exchanged emails and I saw her at other events.  I mentioned her in my blog and she complimented me in hers.  The last time I saw her was last year’s Tel Aviv Fashion Week, where she gave a copy of her book to fashion designer Roberto Cavalli. We said our hellos from the front row and she was lovely as usual.

It’s true that this generation’s Israeli fashion is prone to making louder and more risk-taking fashion statements,with a heavy dose of urban style, but Nurit-Bat-Yaar is exactly what Greer Fay Cashman said she was in a recent farewell tribute JPost article.  She is “classic with a touch of drama.” She’s also one of the best representatives to tell the tale of the Israeli fashion as it were — with stories of style from the style that reflect the development of Israeli style, from kibbutznikim pioneer chic to Tel Aviv’s more metropolitan looks.

Nurit Bat-Yaar was just 16 when she crossed paths with Israeli style icon Fini Leitersdorf at Ruth Dayan’s Maskit, the first Israeli fashion house.  Her father made wood buttons for Fini’s coats and asked Bat-Yaar to deliver them to her one day.  Leitersdorf asked Bat-Yaar to model, and Bat-Yaar became the most sought after photography model in Israel. Apparently this wasn’t enough for the “First Lady” of fashion, as she was later called, and  made fashion illustrations which eventually got published in one of the magazines where she was interviewed. This led to many fashion journalism jobs for Israel, including one at Israel’s top newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth for 26 years.

Bat-Yaar was compared to Vogue’s Diane Vreeland and yet, you would never know it from her level of modesty — something that, in this day and age of overabundant social media and a plaguing narcissism in fashion, is hard to come by.  Yet, her experience and knowledge in the local and international fashion world is enviable and she’s done much to get Israeli fashion promoted worldwide.  In the past few years, this has included her book as well as consistent posts on Twitter and a blog where she shared Israeli fashion stories of the past, including hwo she predicted the talent of current high-fashion designer Alber Elbaz, when he was just an 18-year old soldier in the IDF.

The book itself shows that fashion is a testament to the development of Israel as a cultural resource. But it also testifies to the biggest reason Israel fashion should be promoted worldwide: Israel has much to offer to the world through fashion.

Here are just a few reasons why Israeli fashion should be recognized, according to Nurit Bat-Yaar in her book, Israel Fashion Art: 1948-2008.

  • Israeli designers and brands including Yigal Azrouel, Gottex, Alber Elbaz for Lanvin, Elie Tahari, and more are popular worldwide.
  • Israeli Zuri Guetta invented a silicone incorporated fabric that was bought up by Parisian designers such as Jean-Paul Gaultier.
  • Israeli fashion has a rags to riches story with brands like Maskit, developed to provide clothing and jobs for new immigrants but eventually going on to become the “It” style of the country.  Many international groups have gone on to mimic its success internationally.
  • Israel provided the first model to cover American Vogue as it was taken over by popular Editor-In-Chief Anna Wintour in 1988.
  • Prominent designers have done their shopping in local Israeli markets and visited Shenkar School of Engineering and Design to find interns.
  • Current trendsetting designers in Israel and around the world, are mimicking Israel’s past inspirations including Middle Eastern motifs, Yemenite embroidery, and kafias.
  • People in Israel, whether in streetwear, classic looks, work clothing, or foreign brands, are very trendy.

Nurit Bat-Yaar’s words are better than anything I could have said about the potential and prominence of Israeli fashion.

This week, Israel has its second fashion week in Tel Aviv, called GindiTLV Fashion Week, which kicked off on December 16 with a Fashion Icons fashion show featuring some of the style icons of Israel in fashion, stage, and screen.  Among the big Israeli names walking down the runway — Dana International, Bar Refaeli, Efrat Gosh, and Noa Tishby. It’s clear that Nurit Bat-Yaar would  have been one of those icons representing Israeli fashion on the runway.

Or perhaps not.  Perhaps it would have been too much for the soft spoken lady, who even kept her illness and imminent death a secret from her closest friends.  While her dramatic clothing and strong knowledge of Israeli fashion speaks volumes, her passing was as quiet and elegant as her time on Earth. Perhaps we should all take note that Israeli fashion is and should be that same strong study in contradiction — with stylish fashion goers striving to make a statement in bold, risk-taking designs , but honing in on the quiet confidence Bat-Yaar was known for, and somehow doing it effortlessly.  Even with all her “drama,” Bat-Yaar never went overboard, but still showcased the artistry and importance of fashion. Fashion designers, fashion goers, and stylists in Israel should take this and run, knowing it’s Nurit Bat-Yaar who showed us the way.

About the Author
Simona Kogan is an online writer, content editor and pop culture fanatic whose favorite topics include Israeli fashion and culture. Originally from New Jersey, she exploded onto the Israeli scene in December 2007. Back then, she was one of the first writers to blog about Israeli fashion in English for her blog Fashion Israel.