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A group of Jewish students from New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology have created a “renaissance of Jewish art” through exhibitions, literature and live performances under their collective Havura, which hosted a recent fashion show called “Jewish Uniform”. The show aimed to celebrate and explore outfits that looked Jewish, curating the works of 13 Jewish designers, ranging from amateurs to well-known designers showcasing ultra-feminine clothing and modest dresses. The fashion show took place at Tribeca Synagogue where approximately 120 people attended the exhibition aimed at bringing New York City’s creative community together.
Tribeca hosted a fashion show of Jewish outfits: the event turned out to be unusual
Hip-hop music blared from loudspeakers as models walked down the makeshift runway. Some of them were dressed in cream-coloured loungewear, others in modest but elegant dresses adorned with silk handkerchiefs. What kind of fashion show is this and how does it revive Jewish culture?
The models, many of whom were student volunteers at Chelsea’s Fashion Institute of Technology, were dressed in “Jewish uniforms”, at least as defined by the minds of “Havura”, a cohort of believers who call themselves “Frum” .
20-year-old enthusiasts aim to create a “renaissance of Jewish art”. In addition to fashion shows, Havura hosts readings, Torah studies, and concerts. And recently, the group launched a Jewish literary magazine, Verklempt!.
On May 18, the Jewish Uniform exhibition showcased the work of 13 Jewish designers whose experience levels range from amateurs to well-known brands such as Batsheva, whose signature modest dresses and ultra-feminine clothing first made waves in 2016.
The show was directed by Havurah co-founders Daniella Messer and Eitan Gutenmacher, both 20-year-old New York University students, curated by Ashley Finkel, 26-year-old e-commerce coordinator at La Perla, and styled and directed by 26-year-old Lily Page Southen, Internet vintage items store.
The motif of “Havura” is the creation of Jewish art and an understanding of the intersection of art and Judaism. The fashion show, in particular, was about celebrating and exploring what makes an outfit Jewish — at least from the point of view of someone who observes Judaism.
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“The idea behind the show was to use fashion as a means to bring the New York City creative community together,” Finkel said. “We are very pleased with how the evening went.”
Approximately 120 people attended the screening, which took place in an open area under the curved bulb of the architecturally unique Tribeca Synagogue (49 White St.). This downtown area is known today for its hip loft buildings, but it was once the center of the textile and cotton industries in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
“I thought it was really cool to be able to showcase my pieces at the Jewish show,” said Yarden Sofer-Harelik, a 24-year-old designer and FIT alum who wore three outfits at the show, including a blazer dress made from bubble film and seat belt.
Batsheva Hay, an orthodox designer who runs a brand of the same name, provided four dresses for the show, although she herself was unable to attend.
Each “Jewish Uniform” catwalk look had a playful title and description that was featured in the show’s accompanying program, allowing the creative directors to develop their thesis on what makes an outfit Jewish, as well as to have a little laugh at Jewish customs.
For example, The Yenta, which is wearing a white blouse, pearls and a long black skirt: “She visits the shul for one purpose: to drink tea. It’s hot, just like her outfit,” the program reads.
The Shabbat Snoozer attire – a loose, comfortable, matching navy blue set – was described as “a classic combination of a food coma and a few hours left until the Havdala (religious ceremony)”, while Cholov Yisroelnik, described as “a kosher version of a milkmaid”, consisted of a headscarf , pink skirt and white top, with the model carrying a milk carton instead of a clutch.
For aspiring model Tara Dietzel, an 18-year-old first-year student at FIT, attending the event and showing clothes created by Jewish designers was an opportunity to imagine how she could combine her Judaism, love of modeling, and her professional goal of becoming a fashion designer.
“It was so much fun and a good first step to understanding how I can make all these dreams come true at the same time,” Ditzel said after the screening.
There were many friends and relatives of the designers among the guests, who enthusiastically supported their models on the catwalk. After the presentation, everyone gathered together for wine. Designers posed with their looks as models walked through the crowd to show off the texture and detail of the clothing up close.
At the event, Elke Riva Sudin, a Brooklyn-based designer and artist, unveiled The Crown Collection, a limited edition silk scarf collection. Nearly a decade ago, Sudin ran an organization similar in purpose to Havura called Jewish Art Now, and then founded Drawing Booth, a non-Jewish art dealership where artists make live sketches for guests at events. These scarves are her first foray into fashion.
Sudin said making scarves — an item popular with Orthodox women, most of whom, according to Jewish law, cover their hair after marriage — was a way for her to explore her Jewish identity and spirituality as a married Orthodox Jew. She learned about Khavur through a mutual artist friend.
“I’ve been out of the Jewish world for a long time and it was nice to have a Jewish space where I can go to launch my scarves, which is sort of my return to Jewish art and my entry into the fashion world at the same time,” said the 35-year-old. Sudin. “Both I and Havura have the same goals — to be inclusive and create something not only beautiful, but also meaningful for the Jewish community.”
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