The Middle East has enough battles to fight without fashion needing to be one of them. Within this dry stretch of land lies a place with a much freer and sluttier sense of style that includes midriff-baring wedding dresses and underwear at the beach. It’s called Israel.
Like most full-fledged American Jews, I’ve been fed a steady diet of teen tours and manufactured Masada hikes at sunrise since the age of 12. But I’m also a total fag. So, naturally, that means I’m always far more interested in shopping at the shuk than listening to some archeologist talk about how some hole in the ground is supposedly a 10,000-year-old burial site for dead cows and shards of pottery. Years of travel and a boatload of beat-up bongs later, I began to wonder if this was the only country on Earth where khaki-cargo-short-wearing, fanny-pack-toting tourists actually out-dressed the locals. Could it really be possible that G-d had forsaken fashion in his very own Holy Land?
I had pretty much come to terms with the fact that while my people could invent the theory of relativity and Google Instant, they were entirely incapable of designing a decent dress. Then that all changed – and Tel Aviv-based designer Mirit Weinstock is the reason why. I caught a glimpse of her collection at a small SoHo shindig a few weeks ago, and Weinstock’s shimmery silk dresses and handmade jewelry strewn on haphazardly hair-bunned models served as the evening’s main course. The whole thing could have easily taken a disastrous turn toward dowdy. But it didn’t. That left me intrigued enough to have a word with her on everything from career and Israel’s track record of sinful style to some of the challenges faced by designers outside of major fashion capitals.
We’ve listened to plenty of Project Runway contestants tell us their sob stories. What’s yours?
I guess my sob story as a designer is that I’m an Israel-based designer trying to grow in the international market, always living in an ongoing conflict. Should I stay in Israel? Move to Paris? Try to do it in the US? Is that OK as a sob story?
I remember insisting that my mother buy me nothing but color-coordinated Nike track suits from the ages of 4-6. It was my sporty phase. Tell us about your first fashion memory.
My mother told me that I insisted on wearing coats in summer and little tops in winter. She used to fight with me every morning. Her happiest moment was when I started going to elementary school. We had to wear a uniform.
Describe your personal sense of style in three words.
Elegant. Ladylike. Inspirational.
What’s the biggest regret in your career? What’s your biggest success?
My biggest success is that every season I manage to create a new collection, which makes me happy. My biggest regret is looking at those collections 6 month later, asking myself “What the hell I was thinking?”
In my experience, wearing a tank top qualifies as “getting gussied up” in Israel. Do you dress differently when you’re hanging in the Promised Land, versus, say, New York or Europe?
No. I always wear whatever I feel like that day. The way people look at me in Israel versus New York or Europe is different though. For example, in Israel, people always say how French I look, while in Paris no one ever mistakes be for being French.
A friend once insisted that I wear an Ed Hardy hat. Needless to say, we’re not friends anymore. What’s your most embarrassing fashion fuckup?
When I was still a hip teenager, I used to sport corduroy bell bottoms in a color best described as mustard-beige. I also wore sneakers with them.
What are you obsessed with right now?
A red dress. I’m trying to find one in an exact tone of bright red. I have been dreaming about it for quite a while now. I saw a perfect one at Valentino’s boutique – just a tad too expensive, though.
Without thanking Jesus (which, I suspect wouldn’t be a problem for you), where do you look for inspiration?
Everywhere. In art, nature, music, fashion, poetry, words, love, dialogues. My favorite artist Louise Bourgeois just died last May. She was a huge inspiration for me. This was very, very sad to me but I’m happy that I had a chance to see her last exhibition in New York.
I’ve heard it’s tough for Israelis to make a go of it in anything other than what you guys call “hi-tech.” What’s the single greatest challenge you face as an emerging designer there?
The greatest challenge is being able to create and survive in a country with such a small and young fashion and textile industry lacking government and non-government support.
Would your designs be different if you were based somewhere else?
My designs change all the time, so I guess being based somewhere else would influence that too.
I recall the wet look and headbands being in style for Israeli men during the mid ’90s. My retina still hurts from it. From your POV, what’s the worst thing about fashion in Israel? Are there signs of hope?
Israeli girls wear jeans so low I am continuously confronted with their bellies. Their backsides remind me of my plumber’s – not a good thing. There is hope: high-waisted pants are in many international collections. Israeli women might embrace them one day too.
I noticed something called MissMi on your website. Break it down for us.
MissMi is an international fashion project where girls from all over the world take self portraits wearing my designs. It started in 2007 with 5 girls. Today, there are over 80 MiGirls from about 40 countries, and the project is still very much alive and going! This is an artistic dialogue between me and many other girls over the world. Each one of them also answers a questionnaire about art, fashion, love, etc. For example, Tamara Ganor from Israel answered “Google” for the question “Please define love.” and “YouTube” was her answer to the question “Who is your favorite artist?”
How has the economy affected your business?
I launched my first US collection in 2006 and had two great seasons. My collection was sold in amazing boutiques like Stine in Los Angeles, By George in Austin, Texas and Searle in New York City. All that stopped when the recession started and buyers didn’t have the budgets to buy young designers’ collections as they did before.
I still don’t feel that this cautious mood has changed and find that today it is so much harder for a young designer to launch a line properly. The money and time that the designer needs to invest are huge and the market is very difficult. This is the ultimate tragedy of our era. Without young, affordable designers, the public misses the chance to express their personality. Young, contemporary designers with a unique fashion statement are what most people can afford to buy. Their designs are the perfect solution if you want a good, quality item and originality but don’t want to wear mass-market products such as H&M or Zara because you can’t afford the high-end labels yet. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible for young designers like me to survive in this difficult economic situation.
I’ve seen enough soccer moms to know the horrors of capris and camel toe. What’s another serious slip-up women make when putting a look together?
I feel bad answering this question because most women are really trying. Should we punish them for that? I guess not, but please, they shouldn’t overdo the trying. It’s effortlessness which is really charming.
How can a woman spice up her wardrobe when shekels are in short supply?
A red lipstick.
Give us one must-have item for fall/winter 2010.
An item that makes you smile. The fashion world is taking itself way too seriously.