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New Breed of Israeli Designers Offers Feminine Touch

There's more than one female look on the Israeli streets, from religious women in sidewalk-sweeping skirts with head coverings to hip young ones in well-fitting jodhpurs and monochromatic T-shirts.

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TEL AVIV — There's more than one female look on the Israeli streets, from religious women in sidewalk-sweeping skirts with head coverings to hip young ones in well-fitting jodhpurs and monochromatic T-shirts. But a steadily emerging set of Israeli designers is hoping to exorcise the skin-baring woman of a certain age, offering her a more feminine and tasteful set of wardrobe options.

"You sometimes see people who are confusing going to the beach with going to the office," said Leah Perez, head of fashion design at Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv. "They look like they took the wrong route."

Israel is certainly a casual country, where more than one parliament member shows up for work without a jacket. And jeans are de rigueur in most offices on any day of the week, not just Thursday. (Israel has a Friday-Saturday weekend.) But sometime between the country's socialist establishment and the last 60 years, many Israeli women confused looking feminine with looking sexy, said designer Nait Rosenfeld, who specializes in a feminine but tailored look in her Electrical District atelier.

"I don't know if it's the army, or has to do with something deeper, like being pioneers," said Rosenfeld. "There's an ethos about Israeli women and they worry that if they look too feminine, it reminds them of their grandmothers and aunts in Europe."

Perez and Rosenfeld theorize that the lack of fashion sense is a result of Israel's early socialist and overwhelmingly agricultural history. The early Zionists dressed in shorts and sandals, and were vehemently opposed to anything bourgeois, which was too reminiscent of their European backgrounds.

"There is something about not wanting to look their age, or being afraid of looking like the 'old aunt,'" said Rosenfeld.

Some of that ethos has translated into the desire to look casual, "like you're not trying too hard," added Rosenfeld. And most of that, she believes, is rooted in the early days of Israel, a country in which its pioneers — as they're often called — attempted to erase their pasts.

For Rosenfeld and a host of other young designers, the goal is to dress well, albeit more simply perhaps than the rest of the world.
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