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    COVERE N-046-054-tel-aviv_KF.indd 046 16/02/2017 17:38

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    D GIRLS Modest fashion is having a moment. We went to Tel Aviv to meet some of the talented designers who are proving that demure doesn’t need to mean boring

    W o r d s ⁄ L o u i s e S c h w a r t z k o f f � P h o t o g r a p h y ⁄ J o n a s O p p e r s k a l s k i

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    he partment block on Tel Aviv’s suburban fringe gives no hint of the riches hidden in its basement. Years of grime cover its concrete facade and air-conditioning units cling to its balconies. But just press the buzzer and walk downstairs; another world awaits.

    Inside Chana Marelus’ fashion studio, chandeliers hang above soft cream carpets. Racks of satin and lace gowns line the walls, their intricate beading sparkling in the warm light. Clearly, this is a building that keeps its beauty on the inside.

    That’s a philosophy that resonates with Marelus. To look at her snug black dress and heels, you’d never guess she chose her outfi t with anything in mind but style. But for her, and thousands of Haredi (strictly Orthodox) women like her, getting dressed is a complicated business. Everything they wear must pass the rules of tzniut – the modesty code of this religious Jewish community. Does it cover the knees? Does the neckline meet collarbones? Are the sleeves long enough?

    “It’s a confl ict I have every day,” she says. “I’d read magazines and stare at these gorgeous designer gowns and just wish I could wear one of them – without putting a T-shirt under it and ruining the whole look. I think that’s why I started designing.”

    Marelus is one of a small but growing group of Israeli women who are creating designs specifi cally for the modesty market, bringing a touch of glamour to the long sleeves and skirts of the tzniut. For some of these designers, modesty is a religious matter. For others, it’s simply an aesthetic preference. All of them emphasise that covering up is their decision.

    Previous⁄ Designer Amanda Kremer This page⁄ Chana Marelus and her haute couture gowns Opposite⁄ Amanda Kremer with her clothes

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    "I feel comfortable dressing modestly. That’s my choice” “It’s about how you feel and what you believe in,” says Marelus. “I feel comfortable dressing modestly. That’s my choice.”

    In the last couple of years, business has been on the up, bolstered by online boutiques, modesty blogs that connect women from diff erent religions – and the fact that international fashion has been having a distinctly modest moment. The mainstream press has recently been full of headlines that refl ect a spike in enthusiasm for more covered ensembles, such as “Modest Fashion: A Trend or An Evolution In Fashion?” (Huffi ngton Post) or “More Is More: The Rise of the Modest Fashion Movement” (Vanity Fair).

    It might seem like a strange contradiction in terms. After all, modesty suggests the avoidance of attention, while fashion is usually about attracting it. Indeed, not everyone in Israel’s Jewish community approves of this kind of embellishment. In some of the most Orthodox districts there have been reports of vigilante groups – called mishmeret tzniut, or modesty squads – enforcing hard-line codes of modest dress and behaviour, sometimes even with violence.

    These kinds of attacks provoke media attention and widespread outrage, but, says Amanda Kremer, who designs under the label Amanda K from her home studio and boutique in eastern Tel Aviv, it’s the work of an extremist minority. “There are people who think fashion is not a good thing, but I think there’s no confl ict in putting a bit of fashion into the beit knesset [synagogue]. Why not make it nice? Not to be looked at, but to be happy.” »

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    Kremer was born into a Haredi family in Belgium, but these days she considers herself modern Orthodox. All her designs are created to suit diff erent levels of modesty. Many of the brightly printed dresses and skirts she creates just skim the knees, but she keeps extra fabric for customers who want to cover more.

    Her ranges show the potential of combining nothing-revealing with totally-out-there. The swimwear is a riot of acid-coloured knee-length Spandex, her maxi dresses are emblazoned with bold fl orals, and her head coverings range from the plain and simple to the full-on Carmen Miranda.

    Religious Jews have more excuses than most to dress up. Every Friday whole families step out in their fi nest for Shabbat. For many, the calendar is packed with weddings, festivals and other cultural celebrations that call for a bit of glamour, which milliner Orit Aviezer is happy to provide in the form of hand-stitched cocktail hats.

    In her downstairs studio at her home in Modi’in, just outside Tel Aviv, she shapes her headwear on beautiful vintage wooden hat blocks. Aviezer says her brand of Orthodox Judaism is “very light”. She goes bare-headed except in the synagogue, and when she wants to add a dash of fl air to her outfi t. In the early days of her marriage she covered her hair, but later decided “to cover when I wanted to, not because I had to”.

    Every surface in her studio is covered with hats and the tools to make them. Fedoras hang from hooks. A wall of shelves holds ’20s-style cloches, felt trilbies and a turban sculpted from green straw. Aviezer thanks the Duchess of Cambridge for the increasingly adventurous taste of her customers.

    "Kate Middleton started wearing hats after she got married. Orthodox women love her style”

    This page from top⁄ Orit Aviezer’s millinery workshop; Aviezer’s fascinators on vintage wooden hat blocks Opposite⁄ Orit Aviezer models one of her own creations

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    More modest labels

    THE FROCK NYC Brooklyn-based

    Orthodox sisters Simi Polonsky and Chaya

    Chanin grew up in beachside Sydney

    – not an easy place to follow a modesty code.

    Their studio offers original designs

    and styling. thefrocknyc.com

    MODLI The Jerusalem-based

    online boutique attracts 200,000 monthly

    visitors – mostly Jewish, Muslim and Christian

    women. The site allows customers to fi lter outfi ts by neckline, and skirt and

    sleeve length. modli.co

    AHEDA ZANETTI Australian Aheda Zanetti

    has spoken of her sadness over bans on her burkini design on some French beaches. She created the cover-all

    swimsuit after watching her niece trying to play

    sport in a hijab. ahiida.com

    “After Kate Middleton got married she started wearing hats,” she says. “Everybody loves her style, especially Orthodox women because she always wears very modest dresses.”

    Many credit the Kate Middleton Eff ect for an increased enthusiasm for conservative styles, but she’s just one of the mainstream tastemakers embracing a more modest look. Cate Blanchett, Christina Hendricks and Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke have all appeared covered-up on the red carpet in the last couple of years. In 2015 Vogue declared Orthodox Jewish style the “unlikely inspiration for fall’s sexiest trend”. Last year Dolce & Gabbana launched a dedicated range of high-end, full-length robes, while new modest fashion fairs have appeared in London and Tokyo. »

    “In 2015 Vogue declared Orthodox Jewish style the ‘unlikely inspiration for fall’s sexiest trend’”

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    Several of the religious designers I meet in Tel Aviv tell me it has become easier to buy clothes that meet their needs. One, Betty Eldad, aka Bet-Ka, has noticed a shift in the world of high fashion, from unstructured, organic shapes to classic European tailoring. “The fashion world is really looking for something new, and I think one of the roads it’s taking is Orthodox dressing,” she says.

    But while these styles are certainly on the up, they’re not wholeheartedly embraced by the mainstream, according to fashion journalist Connie Wang. “The modest aesthetic is one of the most prevalent retail and runway trends today,” she wrote in a piece for digital fashion and lifestyle magazine Refi nery29, but “prejudices people harbor against many of the [religious] communities that drive the movement” stop it from becoming more widespread.

    “There’s a general misconception that modest clothing is inherently oppressive,” agrees Orthodox Jewish fashion journalist Michelle Honig. “But if women in so-called ‘liberated countries’ still choose to cover their bodies, then they have made a choice. They have agency.”

    For Eldad, that element of choice is key. As a non-Orthodox woman, who’s unobservant in other ways, her modesty is a purely aesthetic preference. Her appreciation stems from her upbringing in her grandmother’s house in the strictly Orthodox suburb of Bnei Brak. Although her family weren’t religious, on Fridays she would sit on her grandmother’s step and marvel as her Haredi neighbours stepped out in »

    “There is something majestic in modesty. It gives a lot of respect to a person – man or woman, it doesn’t matter