There was a time, not so long ago, when the words Israeli haute couture could be considered an oxymoron. There was nothing elegant or sophisticated about evening dresses. And bridal gowns? A profusion of puffiness and petticoats!
But times changed. Dramatically. In a country known as the startup nation, the bridal industry has captured the world’s attention and is reported to be valued at billions of shekels. The wedding gown creations of Israel’s designers are nothing less than stunning, and they are being paraded out onto the world’s catwalks and red carpets. The names of these houses are uttered in hushed, revered tones on both sides of the Atlantic, and beyond.
While the center of the bridal dress district was once Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv, it now expands out into trendy Jaffa, the southern coastal city of Ashdod and beyond. And although Israeli brides tend to rent their gowns (for considerably less money than buying), many designers sell in bridal salons throughout the world as well as via the internet. The shops vary from small, personalized boutiques run by classically trained dressmakers to empires run by businesswomen and their daughters.
Berta Balilti was born in Egypt, emigrated to Israel with her family as a small child and parlayed her degree from the famed Shenkar College in Tel Aviv into a world-renown bridal dress empire. She describes her designs as “avant-garde,” and they certainly exude sexiness and daring, femininity and elegance with their plunging necklines, flowing trains and delicate veils.
Galia Lahav is of Russian descent, born into a family of dressmakers. From a modest beginning creating ivory lace appliques to establishing a design house saturated in extravagance and luxury, a Galia Lahav gown is not for the faint of heart. Her collections epitomize a golden age with evocative names like Ivory Tower, La Dolce Vita, Empress, Lourdes & Les Reves Bohemians. Pearls cascading down a graceful back, mermaid tails, fringes, feathers & ruffles embellish her dresses.
Mira Zwillinger has been in business for more than twenty years, recently joined by her daughter Lihi. Her signature designs may incorporate organza and sequins, silk tulle with hand embroidery and crystals. There is a sense of sweet but sensual, lovely yet exciting with cascading veils, top and skirt separates, off-shoulder and strapless fashions. Femininity abounds.
Lihi Hod is a graduate of Shenkar College and the House of Dior under the guidance of John Galliano. Lihi established her Tel Aviv studio in 2010 and has become a rising star in the industry. Her designs are fresh, romantic and relaxed, allowing brides to feel comfortable, yet sexy, as they enjoy their weddings. Exquisite fabrics, delicate details and a playfulness that ranges from fairytale to movie star glamour, it is clear that Lihi’s brides love her and her designs.
The house of Natali Sisauri has exploded in popularity with a newly expanded showroom in Ashdod. While her roots in fashion and dressmaking come from classic European training and an admiration for the masters of haute couture, Natali is totally in touch with her brides who want to be sexy and alluring on the most important day of their lives. She will sit with them and patiently listen to their wedding dress dreams while she gently guides them toward designs that will suit their bodies and personalities. Lace, exposed backs and form-fitting dresses evocative of Hollywood opulence are her signature looks.
It’s no wonder that Irena Burshtein has a large international following – she radiates an aura of kindness and elegance. Her bridal dresses seem to reflect her attitude about fashion: romantic, sexy, precise sizing, nothing sparkly or overly provocative. A graduate of Shenkar College, it was clear to her all along that she would open up her own shop and cater to women who wanted to look beautiful. Her favorite fabrics are silk sateen, lace, and silk chiffons (often combining different colors to create an amazing blend), sometimes delicately embellished with Swarovski crystals. Her evening dresses are often fitted with hidden corsets (“So the mother of the bride can look stunning – the corset really helps make people look thinner”) and her dresses are custom-designed for each bride.
A bride-to-be contemplating the most important dress she will wear in her life would be well-advised to check out the dazzling designs coming out of Israel – with orders being shipped around the world, one’s location no longer presents a problem. Or just fly over for a visit and a fitting!