Recently we had the pleasure of visiting Maskit showroom and studio – Israel’s first world famous fashion house, which sat dormant since the 90’s and was only revived last year. We got the chance to sit down with the new head designer Sharon Tal. Not only did we get a first hand review of the revival collection, but also got to ask her everything on our minds- and there was a lot!

Michell, Sonya, and Daina in the iconic ‘Desert coat’

Michell, Sonya, and Daina in the iconic ‘Desert coat’

It was an exceptionally educational and fun experience. And while hearing about Maskit and seeing all the fantastic clothes was indeed fascinating for us fashionistas, the real treat of the day was getting to try on our faves! But more on that later, for now sit back and feast your eyes on our exclusive behind the scenes shots in the studio, the beautiful garments and all the intricate details. And don’t miss Sharon’s explanations behind the designs.

We’ll start off with the 1st of our 3! reports – by giving you the history of the label and the new designer. After all, you can’t build the “Present” and look to the “Future” without knowing the “Past”.

History of Maskit:

Maskit showroom

Maskit showroom

Maskit was founded by Ruth Dayan in 1954 as a luxury women’s ready-to-wear and decorative arts house. It came out of an ideology to provide work opportunities for new immigrants, whom Ruth had been tasked by the government to train in agricultural business. Upon visiting these immigrant villages she discovered that there was no sense in teaching them agriculture when so many of them were such skilled artisans in embroidery, rugs, and arts & crafts. And so the idea to start Maskit crystallized. Ruth also sought out artisans from other indigenous communities (Bedouin, Druze, Palestinian, Lebanese, Syrian). Fini Leitersdorf was appointed head designer, and together they made Maskit a global phenomenon within 2 short years!

Maskit-50-70-skecths

Original sketches from Maskit archives (50’s-70’s) in the upstairs work studio. Detail of one of the sketches

The Glory Days:

Maskit proposed an innovative concept at the time: to take modern European patterns and styles and infuse them with original ethnic embroidery which no one had seen before, this combination proved to be very desirable. Top designers and fashion houses from around the world collaborated with Maskit, including: Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Pauline Trigere, and Givenchy. Maskit was sold internationally in high-end department stores (Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorfs and Neiman Marcus to name a few) and its clothes were worn by celebrities and heads of state around the word. Maskit opened a lifestyle concept store in ‘58, with a coffee shop inside, first floor had textiles, second floor clothes and jewelry, other areas had furniture, rugs and other interior design items.

Original Maskit pieces from 1960. Wall of inspiration: Maskit photographs from decades past.

Original Maskit pieces from 1960. Wall of inspiration: Maskit photographs from decades past.

The ‘Temporary’ End:

In ‘94 it all came to a screeching halt when Maskit closed due to the failed guidance of new ownership. Fortunately for all, Sharon Tal, an incredibly talented designer, appeared in Ruth’s life 2 and half years ago, and after much research and consideration Ruth and Sharon are reviving the brand to its former glory. It was and is the only real Israeli “Fashion House”.

About Sharon Tal:

Sharon Tal holding an Arabeska inspired print, silk scarf

Sharon Tal holding an Arabeska inspired print, silk scarf

Sharon graduated with honors from Shenkar School of Design in 2008, went on to work in Paris at Lanvin, and then become the head of embroidery at Alexander McQueen in London.

DT: Tell us about working at Lanvin with Alber Elbaz?
Sharon: I couldn’t believe it, I was in one of the best fashion houses in the world and Alber is one of the nicest, most amazing, kindest men! I ate lunch with him many times, I was the first Israeli intern to come there, so it might have been a bit of nostalgia for him to be able to speak Hebrew. It was a very intimate, fun and relaxed atmosphere (at Lanvin) and the communication with him was very easy. I was there 6 years ago and I’m still in contact with him.

Jacket with Yemenite jewelry coated with silver, and trimmed with leather. Hard at work creating unique garments in the upstairs work studio. Details of Yemenite and Bethlehem inspired embroidery.

Jacket with Yemenite jewelry coated with silver, and trimmed with leather. Hard at work creating unique garments in the upstairs work studio. Details of Yemenite and Bethlehem inspired embroidery.

DT: What about your experience at Alexander McQueen?
Sharon: McQueen had the stereotypical strict and serious fashion house atmosphere. I worked there for a few years, when Alexander was still alive. I was one of four designers that worked with him in the same studio room. There was the print designer, the shoe designer, the accessories designer, and me, the embroidery designer. We were all working together with him and Sarah Burton (his right hand, now Creative Director). Sarah is amazing!

Desert Coat - originally created in collaboration with Yves Saint Laurent. It was taken from the pattern of Ruth’s mom’s coat (it was the first one ever done).  As Sharon Tells it: Ruth owns it and let us borrow it to copy the pattern. This one is double sided and embroidered between the seams.   In the work studio, discussing a new embroidery technique perhaps?  Details of Bethlehem and Yemenite inspired embroidery.

Desert Coat – originally created in collaboration with Yves Saint Laurent. It was taken from the pattern of Ruth’s mom’s coat (it was the first one ever done). As Sharon Tells it: Ruth owns it and let us borrow it to copy the pattern. This one is double sided and embroidered between the seams.
In the work studio, discussing a new embroidery technique perhaps?
Details of Bethlehem and Yemenite inspired embroidery.

On the way to Maskit:

Sharon left Alexander McQueen to move back to Israel, and have her first child. It was when she was at home with her baby that she saw Kate Middleton walk down the aisle of Westminster Abbey in a McQueen wedding dress (that she would have taken part in making), that the urge to get back to what she does best tugged at her heartstrings. Since Israel has no fashion house of that caliber, she was disheartened until she saw an article on Maskit (the first and only fashion house of Israel) in the paper and made an appointment to meet Ruth, having no idea of what lie ahead.

Maskit Wedding dresses

This wedding dress has the Tallit (prayer shawl) design.  As Sharon explains: It used to be that for a Bar Mitzvah or a Wedding grandmothers would embroider a prayer shawl with silver thread. It’s not done anymore because  it’s very expensive and it’s handwork and nobody does handwork anymore, except here (at Maskit). So I went to study how to do it - there is a movie in The Israel Museum in Jerusalem, where you can see a person who still does it. I called him, and also learned from watching the movie, and taught my suppliers. We did two wedding dresses inspired by this concept.

This wedding dress has the Tallit (prayer shawl) design. As Sharon explains: It used to be that for a Bar Mitzvah or a Wedding grandmothers would embroider a prayer shawl with silver thread. It’s not done anymore because it’s very expensive and it’s handwork and nobody does handwork anymore, except here (at Maskit). So I went to study how to do it – there is a movie in The Israel Museum in Jerusalem, where you can see a person who still does it. I called him, and also learned from watching the movie, and taught my suppliers. We did two wedding dresses inspired by this concept.

Mother of Pearl embroidery wedding dresses were done in the studio. Mother of Pearl is featured on the shoulders or in the back, around small of back with fabric draping around it.Yemenite embroidery inspired wedding dress plays off of the coin motif. Metal rings covered with silk chiffon and sewn onto fabric, every bead is made by hand here in the studio.  More on both these techniques in Parts 2 & 3.

Mother of Pearl embroidery wedding dresses were done in the studio. Mother of Pearl is featured on the shoulders or in the back, around small of back with fabric draping around it.
Yemenite embroidery inspired wedding dress plays off of the coin motif. Metal rings covered with silk chiffon and sewn onto fabric, every bead is made by hand here in the studio. More on both these techniques in Parts 2 & 3.

Read the whole series:

The Revival Of Maskit: Part 1- The Past
The Revival Of Maskit: Part 2- The Present
The Revival Of Maskit: Part 3- COMING SOON….

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