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Horsing Around the Right Way: Fashion Lessons from the Talmud

A woman sashays through a bustling street spilling with lemony taxis, acrimonious honks and anonymous faces, to head in my direction. My eyes wonder over her beige tailored jacket, nude eyelet top tucked into a taupe A-line skirt, and finally halt at her vivid vermilion pumps. I am left gaping like an editor feasting her eyes on Coco’s historical reflection gracing the prism of that descending mirrored staircase of Chanel’s 1954 comeback collection. What could it be: her hair, her face, her strut, her scent? None of the above; rather, something magical occurred the moment my gaze rested upon that bright hue in the sartorial sea of pallidness. This phenomenon is known to aesthetes and fashion cognoscenti as the “pop of color”. But what exactly is this mystical power instantly transforming an outfit from drab to fab? Monotonous to marvelous? Lurid to lovely? Miranda Hobbes horrid to Carrie Bradshaw beautiful?

Runways of Runways

Runway of Runways

The Talmud explains: “Poverty is beautiful for the Jewish people, just as a red strap is to a white horse” (Hagigah 9b) .Now that’s something you won’t read in the latest issue of Vogue. Of all visually appealing items, why compare poverty to a sash stuck on a stallion? How is poverty “beautiful” for Jews? Who wants to be pre-rock Jenny from the block? Understanding this enigmatic statement reveals how although the ancient Talmudic sages where neither couturiers nor magazine editors, they did divulge avant-garde insight for the fashion and moral conscious, transcending time, location, and even religion.

Let’s apply a bottom up method of analysis, beginning with a chromatic breakdown. We all feel a little spark upon the sight of rich red roses, red lips, and of course a refined little red dress. Red is the color of blood, leading to its symbolism of vitality. It highlights the essence of life: excitement, energy, sex, love, desire, speed, strength, power, heat, aggression, danger, fire, blood, war, violence—all things intense and passionate. White on the other hand, is technically not even a color, but the manifestation of all hues. Thus, it stands for wholeness and completion— virginity, purity, birth, simplicity, cleanliness, peace, humility, precision, innocence, truth, and coldness.

On its own, large quantities of bright red will lead to an eyesore, anger the fashion god’s and make the wearer look like a cheap call-girl–in contrast–plain white will send the observer snoozing, and the wearer down the wedding aisle. But together in appropriate doses, these colors foil one another, working wonders for the wearer and even the most persnickety spectator.

Interestingly, in a culture far far away from Babylonian Talmudists, the mélange of these two pigments has its very own word: Kohaku. In the nation whose flag shares these pigments, Japan, Ko means red, while haku translates as white. Red mixed with white indicates joy and celebration, their pairing in the matrimonial ornaments presents –noshi or kaishi– a compelling quality supporting man’s desire to create a bond between his own life and that of the gods.

There is nothing particularly striking about a red strap— it is just a dyed strip of treated animal skin. Yet sitting upon the snowy horse, vibrant rouge underscores the contours and splendor of a truly majestic animal. A soigné, well groomed steed educes a striking image of strength, dignity, and prosperity. Alone, accessories themselves are of no distinction, but upon the horse they highlight the otherwise unheeded features of equestrian elegance.

Similarly, poverty is neither romantic nor exotic nor aesthetic. Hedi Slimane might have gone for the grunge in Saint Laurent’s most recent collection, but let’s face it –we’d all rather be the millionaire over the slum dog even if that meant giving up on a Jai Ho. Nonetheless, often the most challenging situation, that which pumps blood and flushes faces, is that which accentuates inherent virtues, allowing the best in us to take a well awaited strut down the runway. Challenging times of need and deprivation induce a reevaluation of priorities; after all,  herculean stories of valor and altruism of the Great Depression, WWII, 9/11 and hurricane Katrina are moral pops of color par excellence. Evidently, poverty and predicaments in general, draw out the best in man, like a scarlet strap on a white horse.

For the 2011 Cannes film festival, Milla Jovovich took this Talmudic insight quite literally, landing her a spot on oodles of illustrious best dressed lists. Looking killer in Prada, Milla made us all wonder if the devil was involved in the wearer’s enchanted ensemble. The drop-waist gown and scintillating beads conjured up the great Daisy Buchan and her roaring era, while a posterior slit ensured a sexy back.But what makes this the finest look of them all, lies in a minute detail with the grandest impact.Beige, nude, taupe, champagne and all those naughty neutrals are on trend but let’s face it, they can wash the wearer out; that’s where the red accents on the collar, neckline, lips and minaudiere come in, delineating the silhouette’s muted hues. These few major accents play off the gown’s neutrality highlighting the subtleties of the contrasting couture creation.

What's cream,white, and red all over?

What’s cream,white, and red all over?

Another designer utilizing the power of the pop is Christian Loubiton— and boy has it recently developed into quite the brouhaha. Today, it seems everyone wants that tempered touch of rouge. Last year, in a case of high stakes over high heels, Louboutin indicted Yves Saint Laurent over using the French cobbler’s signature red sole. The Yves Saint Laurent heal at issue is monochrome red, covering the insole, outsole, heel and upper portion. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that Christian Louboutin had a enforceable trademark for the use of red outsoles, but only when the rest of the shoe was tinted in a contrasting color. Judge Cabranes explained it was “the contrast between the sole and the upper that causes the sole to ‘pop’ and to distinguish its creator.” It’s that discreet hint of tomato red, blood burgundy or pale blush that gives quotidian monochromatic designs that holy je ne sais quoi worth fighting for.

 From right to left: Model in Alexander Huseby, Pippa Middleton in Issa, Angelina Jolie in Valentino, Model in Oscar de la Renta


From right to left: Model in Alexander Huseby, Pippa Middleton in Issa, Angelina Jolie in Valentino, Model in Oscar de la Renta

If the lesson of a white horse is so crucial, where else can it be found in the Judaic canon?

At the Hebrew nation’s very inception, Israelites smeared a strip of blood upon their doorposts for the angel of death to Passover their homes in Egypt; on the Day of Atonement, the high priest wrapped a scarlet thread around the scapegoat’s horn, who was then sent off a cliff to expiate Israel’s sins; the leper was purified through a process involving a crimson string  and releasing one of two birds ; during Israel’s conquest of Canaan Rachav the harlot was spared thanks to the rubicund thread hanging by her window.

Even Solomon’s provocative Song of Songs harnesses the powerful imagery as the lover describes how the maiden’s beautiful “lips are like a scarlet thread” which Rashi understands as “beautiful to keep their promise as the spies did to Rachav the harlot” in the merit of the crimson string (4: 3). The dove-eyed woman returns the encomium explaining “my beloved is white and ruddy” (5:10).

Besides pigmentation and a shout out in the bible, cattle blood, ribbons and lips share an unlikely feature in these sources—redemption. Salvation comes through atoning blood of Israel’s sacrificial lamb, scarlet threads, and luscious cherry stained lips. But how can a nice color combination lead to deliverance? Is the Bible really purporting Sola Colorem; salvation through style alone? Far from it, rather, the aesthetic message of a little red and a whole lot of white translates to the behavioral plane as well. Thus, the pages of Hagiga advise not an abstention from all fiery passions but, in fact incorporation of these powers in appropriate amounts in order to enhance one’s unadulterated virtues; the secret to salvation lies in complementary accessories accentuating natural qualities. White purity is all the more noticible when countered by a tempered amount of florid flush . Just as the sanguine shard makes Angelina’s Valentino gown, it was Martin Luther King’s ardent dreams that liberated a subjugate peoples, Stravinsky’s octatonic chords that form the Rite of Spring,a cherry on top which gives the Shirley Temple it’s tantalizing charm. So the next time you want to leave the house all dressed in white (even after labor day ) don’t forget a redeeming pop of color, as from  dress to demeanor —contrast is key.

milano2

Bianco e Rosso en Italia

Bianco e Rosso en Italia

Just Say No To Knowing; Confessions of a Sober Sem Girl on Purim

Judaism is a faith of stifling precepts, or what Nietzsche likes to call “I will’s” bête noire— the “great dragon… a scale-covered beast; and on every scale glittereth golden, ‘Thou shalt!’”(Thus Spoke Zarathustra / The Three Metamorphoses). But once a year even the most curmudgeonly yeshiva boy rejoices as Jews are commanded to do what most religions interdict: sit back, let go and get blotto.

According to the incendiary Talmud:

“A person is obligated to drink on Purim until he no longer knows the difference between ‘cursed Haman’ and ‘blessed Mordekai’ (Megila 7b).”

This enigmatic onus has been stumping rabbis, startling Semgirls, and hexing minors since before Karl Lagerfeld donned his signature snowy locks (believe it or not, his hair isn’t one of the seven pre-worldly creations delineated by the Talmud on pesachim 54). With his triangular hat, pointy dark beard and slanting eyebrows Haman stands in stark contrast to every robe-bearing, white-haired Mordekhai at any Purim soiree. Does this mean the Sages (Chazal) are actually demanding intellectual nullification to the point of losing the capacity to discern between nefarious Haman and virtuous Mordekai? If an intoxicated person is dismissed from mitzvoth, how are Chazal obligating a state of un-obligation? Jewish thinkers and Chassidic ones in particular, have been endeavoring to become au fait with the law which has evolved into the highlight of celebrating Jews eluding persecution by Persia— drinking wine until one is utterly smashed.

Purim has always had a special spot in the inner chambers of my heart far beyond Paris, across from Sex and the City, tightly flanked by Chanel and Emanuel Levinas. As a Persian American Jew growing up among Ashkenazim, each holiday meant being inculcated in unfamiliar eastern European traditions. But there was that one time a year where Persian pride kicked in (though it was also that time of year where kids called me “Shrek” in accordance with the Talmud’s claim that queen Esther was green as myrtle(Megila13)). Beyond tadig, Purim is Iranian Jewry’s one recognized contribution bestowed upon Judaism. We have my ancestors to thank for intrepid Esther, righteous Mordekai, trilateral baked goodness, Mishloch Manot, the epic Megilah, and my personal favorite: dressing up as whoever you secretly want to be year-round.

To my surprise, none of these jocund subjects where the omphalos of Purim this year at Seminary in the Holy Land. Rather, the only topic emerging from my friends’ Torah-tinted lips was concern over what normally forbidden substance would soon be entering their unadulterated mouths for the very first time.

“Are you going to drink?” “Do you want to get drunk?” “Have you drunk before?” “I don’t want to lose control!” “In America, I would never get drunk with my teacher, just at house parties or bars!” “In America, our synagogues look down upon drinking.” Such were the proclamations reverberating throughout the Beit Midrash in the month leading up to the big day.

On Purim, Dosiot (religious girls) from all corners of the country –and settlements— flock to the hills of Migdal Oz for a notorious Purim fête. No one was really sure what would transpire, but we knew it had something to do with alcohol, dancing till the wee hours of the morning, bonding with strangers, and “spirituality”, all topped off by a little vomit of course.

“Drunkenness is like pregnancy,” our  teacher from Tekoa explicated as she rubbed her burgeoning belly and then asked the Americans if we understood her Hebrew (mind you the same instructor brought us a bottle of  girly Golan Moscato to our inaugural lesson back in August). While I gawked at her towering Idan Raichel- esque religious head covering, paired with a contrasting buttery mahogany leather jacket, she continued: “In these months I often wake up thinking it’s all a dream, I just had too much to drink. I rejoice in the thought that the vomiting, cravings, insomnia, mood-swings, pain, and constant wondering if I just peed myself will fade soon, but then I look down at my belly and realize I have many more months to go.” She went on to expound upon her most cathartic moments of inebriation on Purim; how she danced with girls she hardly interacted with beforehand, confessed to friends, burst into tears and made an unconscious habit of calling her current husband, then boyfriend, begging him to just satisfy God’s will and make the big move already.

Finally the big night had arrived. High- tempo Jewish music thumps. Aromatic sweat and vomit dance through chains of young woman whirling in circles as if on a childhood merry-go-round. Cheap chocolate liquor my friend received in her boss’s mishloach manot burns through my throat, making me question if it’s really worth it. Social mores are shattered as current and former students alike run to pour their hearts out to the normally feared head of the institution. I notice an older woman in the corner clad in a long Indian tunic swinging her body to the music with her eyes shut, only to realize it was my Gmara teacher, head of the advanced Talmud class. To the left, my morning chavruta is so alight with alcohol she struggles to open her eyes; luckily a good friends is right behind her prepared for the worst.

A good Persian –Israeli friend runs up to me and begins to jump, gazing at me with googly eyes. “Eliora, your breath smells, you have smell in your mouth.” she says. I breath into my hand, double check with a friend—the only odor we detect oozes from the bodies of those around us baptized in sweat and alchohol.

The lights shine brighter as the earth rocks closer to the sun, and now the singer is playing faster familiar tunes, and the sea of voices pitches a key higher. Laughter declines minute by minute, swapped for worried glances, and wads of girls on the prowl for more alcohol, making sure they will have enough to drink.

Ring around the rosy seems to be the dance move of choice. Every shoulder shimmy, hip twist, hand undulation, leg kick or body twirl I offer is met with a look screaming the sardonic Israeli expression ‘did you fall from the sky?’.

While on my way to get roaring drunk from utter embarrassment, a momentary lull hits; “Purify, purify our souls to serve you truthfully!” the crowd moans in unison. Tears rush down florid faces, fists clench toward the sky, bodies embrace and I am  just standing there trying to make sense of it all while exchanging a laugh with one of my few sober friends. This one call looks like the catchall cry for each of my peers’ existence.

Oneging at Migdal Oz

The nature of the entire brouhaha eludes me. Is this really what serving god “truthfully” looks like? The holiday appeared as one big hoax. Everyone is playing the part of the “religious drunkard” screaming to god having a “spiritual revelation”. Do these girls really know what they are saying? Are these sacred songs internalized, or just how these girls express their elated states based on which melodies are blasting through the speakers? If Lil Wayne’s Lollipop was playing would they be singing along with the same gusto? Were they having a spiritual high, or just basking in the delight of alcohol? Nonetheless, who is to say mere drunkenness delegitimizes a religious experience?

Further in Jerusalem, festivities continued the following night for Shushan Purim, drawing me closer towards some form of answers.

By day Mahane Yehuda bustles with vendors selling everything from zatar and zuchinni to kefyahs and kippas. The animated atmosphere thickens with the scent of fresh falafel and songs of hundreds of haggling merchants. By night the Shuk becomes a “hipster” haven littered with hole in the wall pubs (the commune-run 5th of May is a favorite) and ravenous cats. Yet Purim was different from all other nights: more packed then any Friday pre- Shabbat hustle, the Shuk made an Alexander Wang sample sale look like Galliano’s studio post the Fuhrer faux pas.

The bar is in full swing and hovering rounds of cocktails pervade narrow alleyways, until the air breaths with prattle and giggles, and blasé innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot, and fervent meetings between women who never knew each other’s names.

Men and girls on cargo boxes, counters, and on the flooded floor sway emphatically to Riff Cohen’s A Paris, like moths fluttering toward a lamp among the whisperings and the beer and the stars. Dressed up in a metallic Glenda the Good Witch-esque 15 shekel frock from the Dizengoff flea and adorned by Chanel SS ’13 inspired make up, I sashay through the horde with two suitemates rather buoyantly among swirls and eddies of people we don’t know — though here and there is a face I recognize or just think I do, as most Jews, especially the scruffy nouveau hipster ones all seem to look alike.

Who wore it best?

Who wore it best?

“Eliora! Eliora! Eliii- hora! Persian princess! Eh, Eh. Salaam!” a voice roared. I turn around to find Stacy, a Bal Teshuva from DC and her quartet of twenty something yuppies. After fifteen minutes of Instagram snapping, shimming, and making fun of Naftali Bennet they insist on a cap-full of Arak (mind you the drinking age is 18 in Israel).That would be my only drink on Shushan Purim.

Unlike Migdal Oz, everyone is in costume.Mid-twirl with a dark bearded stranger I realize there is something written on the silly metal lid attached to my partners head. It reads “Kipat Barzel”, literally “Iron Cap” but commonly referred to as “Iron Dome”, the Israeli air defense system which proved indispensable in the recent mini war/Operation Pillar of Defense – by far the finest costume of the night.Looking around at bumbling bodies, the apparition of characters creates an intoxicated, soothing confusion; My Purim experience had just begun.

iron dome

After staring a 50 shekel fee straight in the eye for some time, my inner Persian gets the best of me, and we decide to skip out on “Boogie Night” at the Gerad Bacher Center, a dance party with several rooms playing music from various genres, a “must” for the Israeli Purim experience according to native friends.

While wondering around Bezalel, an unfamiliar Balkan Beat box song drifts through the streets of profuse laughter tipped off by the jovial word. The entrancing hums lead us to a dark apartment building spilling with pirates, black swan male ballerinas, and Aladdins. We enter after bargaining for a reduced fee of 17 nis. There was dancing now in an apartment where old Hebrew books replaced wallpaper; young men pushing young girls backward in eternal ungainly circles, superior couples holding each other meanderingly, fashionably,— and a good number of single guys and gals dance with ferocity independently. By three a.m. the merriment increases. A celebrated DJ blasts what seems to be Israeli electro, techno and trance(if there is a real difference between the three) while a man  covered in Christmas lights, shovel in hand moves in perfect synchronization with each beat; he is conducting the entire show.

Vacuous torrents of laughter tangled with joie de vivre rise toward the Jerusalem sky. A pair of religious men, who turned out to be Chilonim (secular Jews) approach for a dance. One is clearly dressed up as a Hasid; the others’ faction in his large kippah, faded blue t-shirt, tzitzit and cargo pants remains nebulous. He flashes his water canister.

“Ah… a settler!” I guessed.

He looks like a neighbor down the road from Tekoa, or even someone from the adjacent Kibbutz Migdal Oz.

Everything is not as it seems

The moon lurches higher as I float in the sounds and movements of my weight coupled with the figures of those around me. Every shoulder shake, hip twist, hand undulation, and body roll is reciprocated or challenged with a grander move.

Spaces between bodies vanish as music fills the gaps between the masked figures. My body and the melody unite creating fluid movements dripping from some entrenched sensation which rarely escapes.

I am enjoying myself now. I allow my body to take control, immerse in the music, revel with rousing strangers and the scene changes before my eyes into something rudimentary, substantial, and profound.

There, under the strobe lights, next to the topless men and behind the pirate, a meaning of that enigmatic mitzvah hit.

“Know in order not to know”, rang through my elated head like a catchy Taylor Swift chart topper. Earlier in the year my enceinte Tekoen teacher shared a fundamental R. Nachman principle – the goal of knowledge is that we are not to know. I realized, dismissing differentiation between “cursed Haman” and “blessed Mordekhai” is just that.

Knowledge and lack of knowledge are “pursuit” and “hindrance”. A person engages in pursuit in order to attain – money, a goal, or knowledge. A hindrance prevents attainment whether it is money, some yearned for goal, or lack of knowledge which prevent knowledge. Novel as always, R. Nachman professed that pursuit and hindrance are one, thus essentially the pursuer is he who hinders. As a result, the goal of knowledge is not to know, just as the goal of love is that we are not to love, or more precisely, not to recognize love.

Born two years after R. Nachman, Kant kindled parallel sparks in the world of ideas, setting the Zeitgeist. According to the German philosopher, man encounters the world of phenomena, but never the essence of the world itself. Phenomena may expound upon the essence, yet it constitutes an everlasting barrier between man and the thing itself, and so too between man and himself. Attempts to realize love will, therefore, miss the mark, and move it from the potential state of “essence” to the secondary state of “phenomenon,” and from that moment the phenomenon will whiz past the essence. Every action, speech, and often thought too, reduces some abstract will or idea which in and of itself is infinite, and even as we discuss it relegate the idea to a pillory of definitions, words, and actions. As reified love is more diminished than unrealized love, the ultimate objective of love lies not in realization, for every bit of knowledge and every definition involves a diminution of an infinite and abstract idea.

Discriminating between Haman and Mordekai belongs to the world of knowledge – the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Knowledge makes way for distinction, but distinction results from the sin of eating from the tree of knowledge, from reduction of the infinite which is void of distinctions and limits. Various Hasidic thought propounds that the Torah and all her precepts would be unnecessary had man not sinned (Shagar, Chance and Providence). With this in mind, the obligation of un-obligation on Purim became like the handbags of Spring 2013: transparent. The Sages seem to call on man to negate post sin distinction and revert to a primordial, pre- sin state where “bad” or “good” are nonexistent, as man understands that perfection, completion, and truth encompass the good, the bad and even the kitschy. A pretty modern idea for a bunch of Rabbi’s sitting in Babylon between the third and fifth century.

Hermes,Prada,Chanel,Valentino

Epochs later, a similar impulse colored the works of Western Romantic authors like Shelley, Keats, Wordsworth, and Coleridge ,dissatisfied with the dualistic Weltanschauung of the eighteenth century: Sehnsucht, the yearning towards the absolute, the aspiration to oneness, wholeness and organic unity— the dream of perfection(Gérard, English Romantic Poetry ).

According to this Judaic understanding of understanding, Kant correctly avers that from our world of knowledge, the world of Yesh (Being), encountering the Ein, the essence, and the infinite will remain as inaccessible as the ideal sized Ralph Lauren model. As “possessors of knowledge,” man can only relate to the world of phenomena that grew out of the Yesh.

Over this point, R. Nachman comes to undercut Kant’s nihilism. Indeed, emerging from the world of Yesh and its vessels, the infinite and the essence itself remains untouchable. From the perspective of “good and evil,” only the world of phenomena can be caressed. On the other hand with the Breslov approach, within the wobbly framework of this world the possibility exists to reach the Ein and grace that coveted spot sans knowledge.

“Know in order not to know.”

Concealed within the abdication of knowledge, lies the possibility to jump over the abyss between the Ein and the Yesh, and brush shoulders with the infinite. Waiving definitions and devotion to “hindrance,” is sine qua non for reaching the primeval “pursuer,” the ultimate goal of knowledge. Though to a certain extent R. Nachman agrees with Kant’s assertion that the essence is hidden and the phenomenon is false, in contrast to Kant, a Nachmanian sees waiving knowledge as a way to flout the phenomenon and share a rendezvous with the essence.

The transition from a purely good world to a world that distinguishes between good and evil, characterizes the shift from the Ein (infinite, essence) to the Yesh (being). Knowledge permits judging and classification, but in the world of Ein, sans knowledge, distinction between good and evil disappears like feather hair extensions after 2011.

Therefore, one is obligated to drink until he no longer knows the difference between “cursed Galliano” and “blessed Lagerfeld,” for there one transcends knowledge, and there it is inappropriate to say, “cursed Galliano,” for there all is entirely good.

R. Nachman demands one to disregard the world of phenomena, waive knowledge, waive judgment, waive understanding, waive distinctions, and reflect upon the Ein within us. Reflect upon the essence, and bless it: “Blessed Galliano”!

Moving beyond distinction, beyond knowledge to free oneself from the fret of everyday life—that’s what I experienced spinning to Infected Mushroom on Betzalel and not circling drunk girls in the West Bank. When the author of Ecclesiastes wrote “better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof,” he must have had Shushan Purim in mind. (Ecclesiastes 7:8) In the throttling throngs at seminary I was surfeited by the “knowing”. The constant concern over drinking enough, having a good time, and connecting to God hindered attainment of the goal. That first night I was surrounded by a world of worry, a world of distinction.

Blurring boundaries gives man the ability that Kant never considered– the ability to disregard the world of phenomena and sneak a peek at the essence. I’ll admit waiving knowledge is a bit frightening, just as it is a bit unnerving to put on a mask and lose appearances (especially when we’ve spent so many hours, and even more money perfecting it). Who am I, I asked looking in the mirror to find my Purim mask (intense eye makeup to be exact). From the moment my visage is hidden, I can no longer provide a simple answer. From the moment I don a mask, an elaborate costume, or a designer frock, I lose the world of phenomena, and in the words of Rav Kook, who adopted the Kantian stance regarding man’s looking at himself, I have lost that which surrounds the “epicenter of knowledge.” There is no smile, no mouth, no beauty mark, no pimple or face, —just a mask with a stupid smile, void of knowledge.

A pivotal chapter in Shemot unveils the necessity to conceal and the power of the façade. After Moses descends Mount Sinai with the second tablets Aaron and the people are initially afraid of him and his new aquired beams of light. From then on Moses must wear a mask, except when speaking to God and when recapping what he hears to the people (Shemot 34).

At this frightening moment, void of knowledge and full of inebriation, I can do nothing but reflect into the center of knowing, to the Ein only revealed when all duds, no matter how designer (including Chanel) are off. At this moment, there is no cursed and blessed, no “hot” and “not”, no “in” and “out”, no profane and holy, no impure and pure –simply blessed silence.

Purim is to fast-fashion, as retirement is to Karl Lagerfeld: anathema. Purim begs the consumer to look at the world, with a deep and penetrating look divested from the world of phenomena, masks, labels, and trends.

Who knew an inch of intoxication, a bit of blessing and a dash of dancing could do a semgirl so much good?

Petals on a wet, black bough

Petals on a wet, black bough

Monet stole my camera

 
 

Fight ‘Em with Fashion: Israel’s War on Terrorizing Media Coverage

What do you get when you mix the serene Mediterranean, cascading chiffons, an archaic train station, the dernier cri, piquant falafel, and even spicier designers?

Tel Aviv Fashion Week,  of course.

I had the pleasure of ripping off my sem girl ‘uniform’ and slipping into blog-worthy clobber for what turned out to be the first of two takes of Israeli fashion this month (let’s hope good things really do come in pairs even when accompanied by techno and strobes).

We can thank the war for the two separate affairs.

No, not operation, “Pillar of Cloud,” the current strife between Gaza and Israel.Rather, a lesser known, yet equally ideologically driven battle between two resolute Middle Easterners. Just last month, creator of the original Tel Aviv Fashion Week, Moti Reif, withdrew from the event in the wake of an imbroglio with his former partner Ofir Lev.

Reif fled to the Gindi real estate group as backers, who offered to pay the designers’ production fees. Compelled to the same especially for his young artists, Lev invested his own resources with government funding to do the same.

“That’s what you do in a war,” he said flippantly.

Lev runs the first Fashion Week, which he calls the “official” one, because as overall director of the Israel Textile and Fashion Association, he simply can. Ironically the more established Israeli designers such as Sasson Kedem, Dorit Bar Or, Shai Shalom, Dorin Frankfurt and Karen Oberson are slated to participate in Reif’s fashion week no.2.

In Israel’s adolescence, when she still had a substantial textile industry, there used to be a bi-annual event. However, as the economy shifted to tech enterprises, the industry showcase was tossed out like last season’s ab fab “tops.” The revolution from chic to geek meant the “Start-Up Nation” had the well earned revenue to makeover the White City and cloak its shabbiness.Twenty years later, in the spirit of cultural ardor and new money, revitalizing Fashion Week seemed only natural. Thus in 2011, Tel Aviv Fashion Week was born.

Last week’s event was an ode to the parvenu, Tribeca not Oscars, highlighting fresher less affluent talent. “I’m not looking for fireworks and balloons from the ceiling and sushi on the table,” says Lev.  And indeed there was not a piece of raw fish, or a skinny vanilla latte in sight. It was the first time I entered a press room where the only nosh options were rugelach, “café hafuch” (literally upside down coffee) with three percent milk, champagne, and more pastries.

Across the railroad, Moschino opened the show. With a soupçon of imagination, and a lot of bubbly, the Ottoman-era station hosting the event appeared a bit like what I remember of Milan last summer: elegant and silhouetted, postmodern and liberal. Gender restrictions here vanished, resulting in a crowd of women vestured like men who were vestured like women ,countered by men vestured like women who were vestured like men.

That said, I was transported back to Israel when looking at my watch to find shows starting over forty minutes late, and Karen Dunsky, a former model sitting a few rows ahead, stridently harping on how the venue looked like Gaza.

Gaza war mongers, apartheid, oppression and Bar Rafaeli are the first associations one has with Israel. The nation clearly has a branding problem – and then some.  But that’s where Fashion Week can help.

“We want to change the concept of what Israel is. This is not just a place on the Mediterranean with camels and M-16s,” said Lev, followed by a thunder of laughs from the audience on the opening night.

In this country, cultures and outlooks merge to create a sum greater than its parts. Amharic words to a Sephardi melody, European handcrafts amongst Ottoman buildings, Arabic graffiti adorning a white Bauhaus building, and North African foods fusing with dishes familiar to anyone with a great Lebanese restaurant around the corner. As for the nightlife – the Big Apple wishes it slept as little as Tel Aviv does.

Israel’s hot climate and even hotter political scene forces a culture of creativity. Meanwhile, the dearth of basic resources likewise forces a culture of innovators. Israeli artists are bursting with unique talents and Lev hopes to present them all on an international stage . Most importantly, Fashion Week helps transpose Israel away from being a central prism of a simplistic conflict, to it being a vivacious hub of ingenuity, art, music, architecture, cuisine, scholarship, and entrepreneurship. Coverage of the events via social media (“hasbara“) and other outlets goes where any op-ed or official government statement has never gone before. Reading about TLV Fashion week from blogger extraordinaire Rummi Neely or seeing the country though Bryan Boy’s Instagram creates an emotional bond between Israel and a global audience who would never have thought of the nation on such terms.

Tel Aviv may not be uttered in the same breath as fashion capitals of Paris, Milan, and New York just yet, but millions will hopefully be inspired to look beyond the vitriolic headlines and discover Israel for themselves.

“Why would you come to Tel Aviv unless you’re gay or looking for a war? says Lev. Now, I hope a few other reasons come to mind (besides all the warm rugelach you can fit in your Mulberry Del Ray Bag).

Dance Away Poverty, Injustice, and Violence

I am almost 18, about to graduate high school, and ready to start the next chapter of my life: college. But what if I didn’t live in Rockville, Maryland, and instead grew up in a developing country, such as Liberia, Malawi, Ethiopia, or Guatemala?

Fewer than one in five girls in Sub-Saharan Africa go to secondary school. Almost half are married by their 18th birthday. One in seven across the developing world marries before she is 15. Next, she gets pregnant. The primary cause of death for girls 15 to 19 globally is not sickness or violence, but problems from pregnancy. Girls age 15 and younger are up to five times more likely to die while giving birth than women in their 20s, and their children are more likely to die as well.

This horrific reality and the prospect of changing these statistics is why I am involved in Girl Up. As an ambassador for the unique organization of the UN Foundation, I mobilize my community and my country to empower girls just like me in the developing world, giving them the opportunity to become educated, safe, healthy, counted, and positioned to lead.

While it is very important to be aware of the hardships facing these girls, I believe it’s also crucial to celebrate their rich traditions and contributions to the international community. Thus, in honor of the strong, smart, and bold women of Liberia, Malawi, Ethiopia, and Guatemala, I am hosting “Dance for our Daughters,” featuring music and food from these rich cultures to benefit Girl Up.

Please come and join Coco Eco to support the cause and change the world, one girl at a time!

Cavalli at Tel Aviv Fashion Week

What’s better than one showing of Roberto Cavalli’s Spring 2012 collection? Two presentations of the jaw-dropping collection, of course!

To kick off Israel’s first fashion week in more than 30 years, Cavalli staged a runway show in Tel Aviv at Jaffa’s historical Railway Station — an encore performance of his Spring 2012 line, which originally showed in Milan.

Tel Aviv is usually not equated with fashion, but this week the Mediterranean hub is dipping her toes into the style scene. While the fashion industry is alive and active in Israel, Israeli designers rarely play a role on the international stage. However, this week they have the world’s attention, as Israel is staging a major fashion week in cooperation with Italy. Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana, Italy’s CFDA equal, collaborated with Israeli fashion executives led by Ofir Lev, the deputy CEO of the Israel Fashion and Textile Association, to bring the idea into fruition.

Models are seen at backstage as they wait for the beginning of the fashion show by Italian designer Roberto Cavalli during the Fashion Week in Tel Aviv November 21, 2011. The three-day fashion week which began Monday is the first fashion week to be held in Israel since the 1980's. 

“Culture Chanel” opens in China

An exhibition based on the life and design of Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel, “Culture Chanel,” premieres Saturday at the National Art Museum of China.

More than 400 works of art, jewelry, dresses, photographs, paintings, and drawings that were part of Chanel’s life and legacy will be featured at the show, which runs through Dec. 13. The Beijing exhibit, which first opened at Shanghai’s Museum of Contemporary Art, incorporates several new pieces who were in some way linked to Chanel, including a bronze head of Chanel by Jacques Lipchitz, an ink drawing by Salvador Dali, a collage by Pablo Picasso, and a fan decorated by her dear friend Jean Cocteau.

Coco avec Salvador Dalí

Anna Mouglalis, who played Gabrielle Chanel in the 2009 movie, “Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky,” attending the Beijing opening

Curator Jean-Louis Froment

Chanel’s ambassadress Zhou Xun and actress Yao Chen

No matter what age you are, you will enjoy the “Kids Space” or “Espace enfants” on the exhibit’s website where you can create your own Chanel accessories!

Culture Chanel Website

The whole exhibit reminded me of the 2009 short film by Lagerfeld: “PARIS-SHANGHAI: A FANTASY” THE TRIP THAT COCO CHANEL ONLY MADE IN HER DREAMS.

Check out this beautiful look into the fascinating icon and her magnificent adventure.

Thanks to Women’s Wear Daily for photos of the exhibit.

Girl Up on the Hills of San Francisco

San Francisco prides herself on many things: her crooked streets, Golden Gate Bridge, authentic Chinatown, rich galleries, organic food, colorful people, and now an outstanding Unite for Girls Tour.

This weekend teen advisors from across the country and youth of the Bay area came together at the Levi Strauss headquarters to support girls in the developing world.

With passports in hand, more than 200 attendees visited stations on Malawi, Liberia, Guatemala, and Ethiopia, learning about the lives of the nations’ girls. Actress and Girl Up advocate Alexandra Daddario was also present, lifting heavy jugs of water at the Malawi kiosk and balancing a basket of fruit on her head.

I particularly enjoyed running the Guatemala booth, educating attendees on issues facing Guatemalan young women, and writing inspiring letters to them.

When the “traveling” was over, the phenomenal Project Girl Performance Collective wowed us all with a performance on the power of girls, as well as a stirring song by fellow teen Olivia Somerlyn.

Panelists Emily Pryor of the United Nations Foundation, Tamsin Smith of SlipStreamStrategy, Denise Dunning of AGALI, and teen advisor Rocio Ortega discussed problems facing girls and shared first-hand inspirational success stories of Girl Up at work around the globe.

Helga Ying of Levi

I have come out of this weekend more knowledgeable about girls’ issues and solutions; empowered to create change; and, most importantly, with 15 new fabulous and similarly inspired friends. Without a doubt, my favorite part of the entire weekend was sharing the experience with accomplished teen advisors and building relationships that will last a lifetime. These new friendships will enable us to help girls just like us, halfway around the world.

London Town Photo Diary

A few years back in Hebrew class, I discovered a great song, “London” by Chava Alberstein. Little did I know it would become the soundtrack for my British adventure.

Peaceful Protest at the Iranian Embassy in honor of Nedah Agha-Soltan‘s death during the Green revolution of 2009

Afghani rings in Notting Hill

Portobello Market…Chanel

10 Downing Street

Hugh Grant’s “home” in Notting Hill — the owners painted the door black to avoid fans

A new house in London covered with vines…

Picture Perfect Paris — Photo Diary


Nice and Monaco — Photo Diary

Old Town Nice – Cours Saleya Flower Market

You were probably waiting for something Chanel — here’s the store in Monte Carlo

The Famous Chanel No. 5 store on 5 Boulevard de la Croisette in Cannes

One of the original St. James stores, the brand that created the famous sailor shirt worn by Picasso, Warhol, and the great Coco Chanel

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