TEL AVIV — Nearly 20 years after Sybil Goldfainer established her high-end casualwear chain comme il faut, she's out to broaden her scope with Bait Banamal, or House in the Port.
Bait Banamal is a freestanding, 10,760-square-foot space in Tel Aviv's trendy port area that houses eight concept stores, some owned by comme il faut and others by female entrepreneurs, as well as a cafe facing the sea and Coola, a women-only day spa-cum-women's center. Intended to be thought of as a town square, Bait Banamal was originally a storage hangar, with eucalyptus trunks that supported the tin roof. The eucalyptus trunks are still there, supporting the wooden building's original outline and surrounded by windows facing the sea.
With $1.5 million invested in Bait Banamal, from comme il faut's coffers as well as bank loans, Goldfainer is counting on drawing women as well as men to this carefully designed space, which opened in 2005. Anyone is welcome to sit in the cafe with its menu written in the feminine version of Hebrew — the language is generally spoken in the masculine — as well as dishes that are more oriented toward women. On most days, there are many more women than men.
"Our aim is to please women," said Goldfainer, who likes to point out the "no men" symbol on the door of Coola, the day spa. She also emphasizes the noncommercial aspects of the space, such as the rotating art exhibits created primarily by female artists, who are partially funded by comme il faut.
The careful support of the arts and women's causes is not new to the eight-unit comme il faut, which was founded by Goldfainer and her former business partner, Carole Godin. After the construction of the controversial security wall between parts of Israel and the West Bank, comme il faut put out a catalogue with its models posing in front of the divisive barrier. In 2003, Goldfainer commissioned Palestinian craftswomen to embroider comme il faut shirts for the spring season. She likes to say that comme il faut was created to support women, from Goldfainer and her three daughters to any woman out there.
To be sure, comme il faut's creations are not cheap, and neither is a coffee at the Bait Banamal cafe. Yet Goldfainer calls Bait Banamal an "antimall, a statement of antiglobalization." The carefully chosen stores in Bait Banamal are targeted toward women, and don't include any of the usual chain stores found in most Israeli malls. Instead, there is a sex shop called Sisters; Coola, that offers traditional massages, facials and treatments, as well as treatments for women who suffer from various medical ailments; a shoe store with hip but comfortable styles that never include stilettos or heels; Radical, comme il faut's concept clothing store, and several other storefronts owned by other women.Given the popularity of the Tel Aviv port, which includes a host of restaurants, cafes and stores, as well as a boardwalk of wide wooden planks, enticing rollerbladers and bicycle riders, Goldfainer is very optimistic about the success of Bait Banamal.
"I want to take this concept, take it out of Israel and bring it around the world," she said. "My intention is to make a difference, and you can do that anywhere."
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