Tel Aviv Fashion Week turns out to be the first of two, kind of like the Daily Double in Jeopardy, only with strobes and a backbeat. Decades ago, when Israel still had a significant textile industry, there was a bi-annual showcase, but it receded along with the rag trade as the economy shifted to high-tech entrepreneurship, with spectacular results. The software and chip money of “Start-Up Nation” meant the White City got a make-over, throwing a layer of gloss over the seaside tattiness. And in the culture of new money and arty ambition, reviving Fashion Week was not much of a stretch. The 2011 edition of Tel Aviv Fashion Week, or TLV FW, was the first in 20 years.
Then the organizers turned out to be rivals, and 2012 produced a pair.
“The world is changing and also Israel changed,” says Ofir Lev, who runs Fashion Week No. 1, which concluded Tuesday. Lev calls it the “official” fashion week, because as general manager of the Israel Textile and Fashion Association you get to make these kind of declarations. But in fact the big money and better known designers such as Dorit Frankfurt and SassonKedem will be on display in a couple of weeks, in the separate showcase organized by publicist Motti Reif, who co-produced last year’s unified show with Lev.
This week’s show was cast as the upstart, Sundance not Cannes, with an emphasis on young new talent, less refined and monied but maybe fresher. “I’m not looking for fireworks and balloons from the ceiling and sushi on the table,” says Lev. “I want to help local outlets. The goal is to take these people worldwide.” If in five years there are two new Israeli designers with labels in Bloomingdales, that’ll count as success, he says.
That said, Moschino opened the show Sunday night. The Italian designer, who is neither Israeli nor warming soup on a hotplate, reprised his summer collection to delighted applause in the old Jaffa railway station—an Ottoman-era landmark that turns out to be ideal for a catwalk. The station is the centerpiece of a boutique outdoor mall within sight of the Mediterranean, and the fashionistas wandered the gravel paths between shows, straining not to stumble into the viewfinders of the squadron of wedding photographers who were posing brides on the grounds. On Monday afternoon there were at least three wedding shoots. Possibly four. Brides look alike.
So do fashionistas, it turns out. Lots of black in this crowd. And skinny jeans. The runway shows were nice and everything—I saw two: Liona Taragan, who appeared to be inspired by Native American featherwork, only rendered in black leather (pleathers?); and a Frau Blau of Latex printed with images of clothes; think the tuxedo tee-shirt, only shiny, and with lots of fish. But entertaining as they may be, each show lasts maybe half an hour, and in between people have nothing to look at but one another. So an effort is made. People were taking pictures of a fashion writer who wore his hair in Sideshow Bob braids, 12 rubber bands, each a different color, in each of maybe six strands. That’s 72 rubber bands, give or take. In the press lounge, he sipped champagne beside a woman whose broad, wide, stiff top did not move at all; it was like wearing a sandwich board, only leather.
Overhead, a Blackhawk helicopter made its way north up the coast. No one looked up—military choppers are a routine sight in Tel Aviv—but Lev says what Israelis take for granted holds back those who know the place only from headlines.
“Why would you come to Tel Aviv unless you’re gay or looking for a war?” he says. The fact that Israel is both peaceful and safe, especially in the hedonistic city known as The Bubble, for its disinterest in anythingrelated to “the conflict.”
“Media exposure, that’s the most important thing,” Lev says. The man with the braids reached for his camera. “Well,” he says, “I’m going to have another glass of champagne.”
Karl Vick has been TIME’s Jerusalem bureau chief since 2010, covering Israel,the Palestine territories and nearby sovereignties