By  on December 5, 2011

For the Israelis, it was a significant moment. Tel Aviv Fashion Week, which occurred Nov. 21-24, was the first time in some 30 years that Israeli designers, models and journalists gathered together to view Israeli fashion on the runway. But no buyers just yet. The industry, said the shows’ producers, is not quite ready for prime time.

“No buyers, only press this time,” said Ofir Lev, the 36-year-old former model and businessman who spearheaded the effort with his producer partner, Motty Reif, known locally for producing Beverly Hills Fashion Week.

“There is fashion and creativity in Israel, and there are always big brands being brought to Israel, but Israeli brands are not ready to go abroad,” said Lev. “It will take two to five years to put Israeli fashion on the map.”

According to Lev, deputy chief executive officer of the Israel Textile and Fashion Association, the local fashion market has a $150 million turnover, but growth of the designer market is around 8 percent on an annual basis, “which is considerable.”

There were some 600 people attending the three days of shows, which were influenced by the New York, London and Tokyo fashion weeks. Yet out of the 50 Israeli designers asked to participate in this initial effort, only 10 said yes. The others, said Lev, were too nervous. While the costs of each show were relatively modest, about $7,000 a show, the entire three days cost some $2 million, estimated Lev, including bringing in the journalists as well as Roberto and Eva Cavalli, who helped launch the week. He was able to snag sponsorship from Maybelline and several other Israeli companies, including LaIsha, a local women’s magazine and Renuar, a retail clothing company. But he admitted that there’s a long way to go before Israel’s fashion week becomes a regular event.

The shows “put a little light on this place in the world,” said Dorin Frankfurt, one of the grande dames of current Israeli design who has been in business for more than 25 years, and is one of the few Israelis who exports her women’s collection to the U.S. and Europe. “It’s vital for a designer to show clothes on a runway, on a budget that is reasonable.”

Another leading designer, Sasson Kedem, whose conceptual designs steer clear from the more form-fitting shapes used by other Israelis, said the shows were important in order to show the world that “we are here, we are clever and we make this ourselves.”

“There’s a buzz happening,” he said. “I was just on Israeli television, talking about fashion, finally.”

Still, it will take time to translate fashion shows into an opportunity for buyers, and into major exports for the designers. Nearly all of the local designers create, produce and manufacture their collections in Israel, where textiles are more limited and the sewing process isn’t quite as refined as elsewhere. That keeps prices high while the finished product isn’t always as good as it should be.

“There won’t be any business out of this,” said Gideon Oberson, who produces his well-known swimsuits as well as a ready-to-wear collection. “Even if buyers come, most Israeli designers can’t produce the amounts needed, and the local prices will be too high for export. But it got everyone thinking about how to prepare for such an eventuality.”

Eva Cavalli commented that what the Israeli fashion industry lacks is manufacturing facilities and suppliers in order to fully flourish.

“When you have to go so far for supplies, it makes it harder,” she said. “There’s also a lot of creativity here, but there has to be more of a focus on techniques and workmanship. That exists here, there is the potential, but it needs to be nurtured.”

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