Kornit Fashion Week elevates Israel’s cultural diplomacy
From the choreography of gestures to national color combinations in outfits, international relations have been governed by protocols of style and decorum that inform the public of the state of the union(s). Then came the “I don’t care” jacket and the walk in front of the Queen. Given the seriousness of the blunders, the New York Times officially announced “the death of fashion diplomacy” in 2019. Thankfully, it was a premature eulogy. The Biden administration ushered in a new era of well-tailored sartorial communication. Pandemic mask mandates have highlighted the intersection of “function, fashion and politics” as world leaders navigate the intricacies of keep face without showing a face.
These days, fashion diplomacy thrives in three areas. It is increasingly becoming a means of mobilizing collective action and a platform for artists to express their solidarity in times of crisis. It serves as a means of supporting national economic growth while positioning national brands in the global marketplace. Finally, fashion diplomacy can create opportunities for historic breakthroughs and a sea change in the cultural status quo. Leading up to Kornit Fashion Week in Tel Aviv, I was curious how one of the most dynamic events on the industry circuit would address the world’s pressing diplomatic concerns. Turns out fashion diplomacy isn’t just alive, it’s thriving!
Solidarity with Ukraine
From Balenciaga dedicating its fall-winter fashion show to Ukraine to Vogue Poland publishing its April issue with a focus on Ukrainian design talent, the tragedy unfolding in the Eastern European country has united the creative industries in their supportive response. In Tel Aviv, designers Tovale and Naama Chasin placed Ukrainian flags on all front-row seats and had models sing Ukrainian songs on the catwalk. A poignant moment was made all the more poignant as this collection spotlighted Chasin’s Lifetime Achievement Award for creative longevity in fashion.
An Israeli-Ukrainian brand Para Ruk offered handmade accessories, scarves and bags in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities. Most artisans managed to make their last-minute deliveries just as supply lines were under fire across the country. A collection of t-shirts We Ukraine designed by Ukrainian artists was sold in a showroom curated by fashion producer Rosa Sinaysky. “Many Jews have a long history of family ties to Ukraine. The Ukrainian-Israeli diaspora is strong here, so we had to give this issue all the attention it needs and deserves,” said Motty Reif, founder of Kornit Fashion Week Tel Aviv. Purchasing an item made me reflect on the recent passing of Madeleine Albright and the late secretary’s legacy of fashion diplomacy. A collection of jewelry that accompanied her on her official state trips has become an exhibit Read my pins celebrating the soft power of intention. Gestures, big and small, matter in a time like this.
Pride of national product
Meanwhile, Jewish and Israeli designers have continually made the fashion media headlines for creative concepts and pioneering business practices in cruelty-free design, faith-based styling as well as NFTs and fashion technology. Oh, and to dress up Beyoncé! After one of the shows, I asked Michal Herzog, the First Lady of Israel, what role fashion plays in Israel’s cultural diplomacy. “Israeli fashion has always been one of our biggest ambassadors around the world. I grew up a huge fan of Maskit run by the late Ruth Dayan and the amazing Gottex swimwear. They brought the Made in Israel label to all major department stores around the world. Young designers take the lead and make us proud.
Emerging talent includes Aharon Genish who has stood out for his fascinating take on gender (non)conformity. Her collection featured identical items based on the strict Haredi dress code of her childhood. The garments were then personalized with unique digitally printed landscape elements highlighting the blurred boundaries between feminine and masculine.
YANKY & NATAF is a brand of the creative couple Yanki Golian and Nataf Hirschberg Golian. Their collection was one of the most fun of the week to see and imagine wearing. Inspired by the 1980s and 2030s, they infused their time travel nostalgia with a touch of metaverse hype. Israel’s leading design institutions such as Shenkar, Bezalel Academy and Holon Institute of Technology focus on the development of new textiles alongside traditional fashion education. It’s no surprise that their alumni are some of the most innovative designers working today.
Young couturier Alon Livné began his fashion journey by cutting and stitching up his grandmother’s old tablecloths. He now works with 3D printed leather designs and laser cut couture textiles to create contemporary fashion sculptures admired by Cardi B, Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian and Naomi Campbell. Blending a proud heritage with a forward-looking vision is a signature blend that makes Israeli style appealing to global audiences. “I love contemporary designs that incorporate traditional patterns and embellishments into modern pieces. Our designers come up with bold modern designs with a taste of the Middle East. Internationally, it’s an attractive combination with an interesting twist” , noted First Lady Michal Herzog.
The most powerful fashion diplomacy statement of the week was the most ambitious yet. A year ago, fashion magazines The Official Arabia and Laisha exchanged goodwill gestures by putting the first Israeli model and the first Arab model on their respective covers. “But will it last?” I asked questions in my report about this incredible moment. Fast forward to spring 2022 and Emirati luxury designer Mona al Mansouri has made history by becoming the first Arab designer to exhibit in Israel! The meticulously crafted collection of gorgeous gowns would have impressed even the most discerning high fashion audience in the world. Dr. Mona (as she is known to a million Instagram fans) is based in Abu Dhabi. An engineer with a successful career in the oil industry, she was inspired to pursue fashion by the late Gianni Versace. “I was very sad when he was murdered because I considered him a part of me. His work was differentinnovative, stimulating.
Israeli singer Miri Mesika opened the show. A trainer on The Voice of Israel and a judge on the Israeli version of american idol, his presence added pop gravitas to an already powerful moment. By the time Dr. Mona came out for the required bow, the entire audience was on their feet for a standing ovation. A song by Arik Einstein played with Hebrew lyrics: “You and I are going to change the world together”. Many were moved to tears. Dr. Mona has also been encouraged by the support of her Emirati, Saudi and Qatari clients. Motty Reif, Founder of Kornit Fashion Week, said, “It was a dream come true to finally host an Arab designer’s first show in Tel Aviv! Dr. Mona has always understood this was bigger than politics. It was a matter of peace, and she was very brave to be the first to take that step.
Following the cooperation mandate of the 2020 Abrahamic Accords by Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, fashion is becoming one of the most eloquent voices for lasting peace in the region. “As a luxury brand, I compete with the biggest fashion houses not only in the Middle East, but globally. Tel Aviv exceeded my experience of fashion events in France, Italy, Spain. From the creativity of the designers to the professionalism in staging, lighting, organization, it was beyond imagination,” Dr. Mona remarked.