Israel - Home of the World's Hottest Fashion Talent

Where do Donna Karan, Roberto Cavalli and Diane von Furstenberg go to find new fashion talent? Israel's Shenkar College of course.

Published: March 14th 2011
in Culture » Society

Fashion students from Shenkar make a splash with their designs on the catwalk.

Which fashion school spawned Alber Elbaz of Lanvin and Kobi Halperin of Elie Tahari? Where did hot Israeli designers Ronen Chen, Mirit Weinstock and Naama Bezalel get their training? And which fashion school do Donna Karan, Roberto Cavalli and Diane von Furstenberg visit to find new talent?


The answer to all three questions is the fashion design department of Shenkar College of Engineering and Design, founded in 1970 in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan.


Shenkar-trained designers have long enjoyed a world-class reputation, winning prestigious international competitions and working in famous design houses across the globe. In December, Shenkar took the #16 spot on Fashionista's list of top 50 fashion schools in the world.


This achievement is all the more impressive for the fact that Israel is not a world fashion center like Paris, Tokyo, London or New York, points out Leah Peretz, head of the department for the past 14 years. And because it's such a small country, its stores do not carry the full range of fabrics and trimmings available to fashion designers in those major cities.


However, under the guidance of Peretz, Shenkar's students have learned to turn these negatives into positives.


"Our students are forced to be inventive," Peretz tells ISRAEL21c. They tailor their own materials and use the expertise of the college's engineering department to learn how to make plastic accessories. Now that manufacturing has moved offshore, they also learn the "language" of special software that allows them to detail for foreign workers how each garment should be constructed.


Prospective students need not have a developed portfolio to win a coveted spot in the four-year program.


"We are looking for talent, but not necessarily experience in fashion," Peretz explains. "We even prefer those who want to do fashion but have no idea how to sew or cut, because then they are a ‘tabula rasa' and don't have any preconceptions."


Cultural melting pot


Married to diplomat Yair Recanati, Peretz has served as a cultural attaché for Israel and strongly emphasizes diversity. Of the 220 current fashion design students, 20 percent are male, five are Arabs and many are of Russian descent. There are students from both secular and religious backgrounds as well.


"It's like a melting pot, and that is quite unique for a design school," she says. "We make a point to have students from different cultures, and we encourage them to express their worlds."


Last spring, 17 Shenkar students participated in an Internet-based cultural exchange program with 17 students at Japan's Bunka Fashion College, another Fashionista Top 50 school. This year, Peretz invited African refugee women living in Tel Aviv to expose her students to their traditional clothing as inspiration for collections of ethnic designs.


This article first appeared on Israel21c.  To read the rest of the article click here.

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