Dreed*Tea chatted with Israel’s “First Lady of Fashion” Nurit Bat-Yaar about her new album book Israel Fashion-Art, where it all began and where it is going.

The author, Nurit Bat-Yaar, Photo: Ron Kedmi.

Q: How did you get started in the fashion industry?

A: Although my main interest and inclination was always towards art, my first step into the fashion world was as a model. On one “fateful” day when I was 16, my path crossed with Fini Leitersdorf, the diva of original Israeli style that was developed and consolidated at Ruth Dayan’s Maskit. My father, who had an olive wood studio at the time made wood buttons for Fini’s coats. One day his delivery guy didn’t show up, so I delivered them instead. When I got home, my parents told me Fini had called saying she would like me to model for her.

My impression was that models had a very mature “auntie” look. Nothing like a 16-year-old would consider becoming, so I first refused Fini’s offer. Several months later she suggested I join an exclusive Maskit modeling course. I agreed on two conditions: that I wouldn’t be forced to wear lipstick or stilettos. “At Maskit you can model even barefoot,” Fini replied.

Gottex ad editorial photo from 1976
Lea Gottlieb, Gottex 1976. Photo: Ben Lam

At the course’s end there was a press fashion show in which I was marked as “most promising.” A friend of Fini opened a modeling agency and I became a most sought after photography model.

Never neglecting my true love of art, I also took fashion illustration courses and a graphic art course. The opportunity to do this professionally in a magazine came up when Eli Tavor of Haolam Haze interviewed me about a popular “picking the oranges” postcard that was attached to Christmas presents sent to local UN soldiers. He asked me what did I do in addition to modeling and I showed him my fashion illustrations.

He asked if I might be interested in publishing them in the magazine. I prepared a sample full page life-style section incorporating my sketches. I then started working there covering the fashion world. The rest is history.

Yehuda Dor, Photo: Sami Ben-Gad

Q: Please tell us a bit about your 26 years at Yedioth Ahronoth?

A: During several years in the U.S (due to marriage) I reported to Maariv about New York Fashion Week, trends, designers etc. When I returned to Israel, I went to work for Yedioth Ahronoth.

My work there included endless tasks (now done by more than 5 people). I covered world and local fashion, produced and stylized fashion editorials, discovered new designers for editorials and/or my young-designers series. I covered local fashion weeks as well as overseas ones and interviewed leading international fashion figures.

Marina Sheins, Shenkar 2003. Photo: Avi Valdman

Q:You have been referred to as the “first lady of fashion.” It is a very impressive title, how did you get it?

A: It first started when I was compared to the creative editor of Harpers Bazaar and then Vogue, Diana Vreeland who was mentioned in an article in the Jerusalem Post as “calling the fashion shots.” Upon retiring from Yedioth I was referred to as “the first lady of fashion writing and documenting” and I guess people must have been impressed by the creativity and know-how I applied to my fashion editorials and the thoroughness of my approach to subjects I was writing about. I gave an added touch from other fields such as philosophy, women’s lib, art, films, music, etc. I suppose the fact that I was doing all of this in the most widely circulated newspaper also had something to do with it.

Silvia Vered. 1998. Photo: Ido Lavie

Q: Tell us about how you got the idea for your book, Israel Fashion-Art 1948-2008, which has been referred to as Israel’s fashion bible?

A: The idea to write a book about Israeli fashion was always in the back of my mind. I appreciated and loved the aesthetic melting pot created at Maskit and its importance socially. I decided to save all relevant visuals and info for a book one day, including photos and stories about other designers who followed Maskit’s ideology of being inspired by Israel’s cultural values such as archeological findings, local colors, landscapes, materials, and the arts and crafts of newcomers. I had endless fashion editorials of their designs, so I realized I had a treasure on my hands that I should share with future generations. They are part of a unique aspect of the country’s visual culture.

1968 Maskit image by Fini Leitersdorf (photo: Peter Hertzog)

Q: The book covers 60 years of Israeli fashion – the entire lifespan of the country. How does the fashion industry tie into the development of the country? Do you believe its been leading the development?

A: Israeli fashion indeed led the development of the country during its first decades. In its beginning and prior to the state’s inception, there was Ata, the supplier of the sturdy khaki clothes and uniforms needed for the defense and the building of new settlements. After the country’s inception, Maskit, the home-industry fashion and textile establishment helped in the absorption of newcomers that arrived in Israel from over 100 countries.

Later, developing a successful export industry specializing in high quality knitwear, leather-wear and beachwear fashion provided work for many people and became one of the main sources of the country’s foreign currency. I remember one Fashion Week in the late seventies in which Minister of Industry Igael Horovitz called the entire country’s industrialists to go in the fashion industry’s footsteps to achieve similar success internationally.

Rozi Ben-Joseph, “Rikma”. 1979. Photo: Sami Ben-Gad

Q: Who are some of your favorites designers?

A: Generally speaking, I relate more to specific designs rather than to the designers. Since each and every designer, including the world’s most outstanding ones occasionally present designs I like next to other designs which I like less. But if I have to indicate one, it would be Fini Leitersdorf who is responsible for inventing and consolidating the original Israeli style by combining the Ten Hebrew Tribes multi-cultural arts and crafts in vanguard timeless creations.

Artsi Ifrach, 2004. Photo: Karin Bar.
Artsi Ifrach, 2004. Photo: Karin Bar.

Q: In your book you talk about Israeli designers that made it big outside of Israel. As a leading Israeli fashion figure, what do you think about such great talent leaving Israel to gain international recognition?

A: I have nothing against it. For example, there’s a tendency to consider Paris as fashion’s Mecca, hence many designers from various countries go there, to name a few: German Karl Lagerfeld and Spanish Christobal Balenciaga. So it’s not an Israeli thing.

Shuki Levi’s vision for the 3rd millenuim , 1973. Photo: Sami Ben-Gad

Q: Your book tells the story of the creators of the Israeli fashion industry, who dressed world’s leading fashion icons. What Israeli or world fashion icon made the biggest impression on you?

A: I was most impressed by Jacky Kennedy Onasis who was a Beged-Or fan. For so many years she topped the world’s best dressed list and her White House style designed by Oleg Cassini (whom I had the pleasure of interviewing) inspires designers to this day. Among fashion icons who weren’t clients of Israeli designers I liked Audrey Hepborn and Loulou de la Falais.

Ruth Alon, 1973. Photo: Israel Bonds

Q: What influences in today’s fashion do you see from the decades or designers in the past?

A: At Tel Aviv Fashion Week I observed several influences. Dorit Bar-Or used the coin motive, which for decades was considered one of the components of original Israeli style since it has its roots in the coin-hoods which Yemenite-Jewish women used to wear. Alon Livne’s use of integrated jewels also originated in historical Israeli fashion. Color-blocking, punk elements, peplums as well as wide padded shoulders were also shown at FW, and all correspond with a styles from our past. I discuss in detail all of these influences in my book.

Lea Gottlieb, “Gottex”, 1977. Photo: Ben Lam

Q: What do you think is the future of Israeli fashion? Who do you see now as the leading Israeli designer/s of the future?

A: Now that the tradition of Fashion Weeks have restarted, the future of Israeli fashion appears to be brighter. It’s true that due to globalization Israel lost the leverage it once had in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. But designers everywhere moved their production to the Far-East, so it’s not only our problem. On the other hand, there are many creative talents here, so if they’ll manage to get the financial backing they need in order to invest in quality fabrics and workmanship, they can be successful. Especially if they draw inspiration from our cultural heritage, thus managing to be original and bring something new and fresh to the international arena.

Gershon Bram design, Photo: Sami Ben-Gad

A couple of years ago Karen Oberson decorated some of her designs with a diagonal strip of Ethiopian embroidery which gave them a fresh and uniquely Israeli touch. Kedem Sasson and Yaron Minkowski occasionally add a Bedouin touch or embroidery to their dresses. These are only some examples of the many ideas that can be drawn from our heritage and surroundings and help in creating new fashion leaders. I believe that Leora Taragan and her creative crafty style, Alon Livne’s and his bejeweled approach and Ania Fleet and her individual touches have the potential of being among them too.

Mor Hemed, 2004. Photo: Dafna Grossman

Photos are from the book and are copyrighted and it is forbidden to copy them without a written permission from the the book’s author.


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