It’s been 40 years of fashion for iconic Israeli designer Elie Tahari, and a week before his celebratory runway show Tuesday at New York Fashion Week — which harked back to the tube tops, jumpsuits and tuxedos that first made him famous — the city of New York recognized his contributions to fashion by designating September 4 as Elie Tahari Day.
The celebration at his lower Fifth Avenue studio was a toast to the Persian-Israeli designer’s groundbreaking years in fashion. Tahari runs a $500 million business with an international presence in over 40 countries, including 600 US stores, and a celebrity clientele that features Beyoncé, Jennifer Hudson and Angelina Jolie.
In front of guests wearing stiletto heels and pins declaring “I heart ET,” for Elie Tahari, the designer, who still speaks with a thick Israeli accent, declared, “The city of New York gave me everything.”
The city, in fact, offered Tahari his first bed, a park bench in Central Park. At the time, he was a poor kid from Israel, having arrived in the late 1970s with just $100 in his pocket. His family had moved to Israel from Iran in the late 1950s, experiencing the poverty and difficult immigration familiar to many families during that period. Tahari’s parents eventually divorced, sending him to an orphanage, and from there he was drafted into the IDF, where he served as a mechanic.
It was during one of his first jobs, as an electrician at a Greenwich Village boutique, that he met his professional metier, after he snatched up a pile of textile tubes — produced incorrectly and composed of gathered, Indian-print gauze knitted through elastic — which he bought for $2 a top and resold for twice the price. He said he capitalized on “the braless hippie girl,” turning the tube top into a sartorial staple now eternalized in iconic images of style royalty like Carrie Bradshaw in “Sex in the City” and actress Keira Knightley. The rest was fashion history.
Some of New York’s best-known Israelis and the bigwigs of America’s finest department stores — Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, and Bloomingdale’s — joined comedian Joan Rivers and Fashion Week creator Fern Mallis for the celebration.
“I think he’s terrific. This anniversary is a huge accomplishment,” said Mallis. “It’s not easy surviving in this industry and to be successful for 40 years, it deserves all the accolades Elie is getting.”
The praises continued this week at Tahari’s Spring 2014 presentation.
“I came to this studio last year and fell in love all over again,” exclaimed rapper Eve, nearly spilling her champagne on her own Tahari frock. “Elie’s collection is feminine yet still ultra-comfortable; like this jumpsuit. I want to look great and feel great, but I still have five other things to do today and his clothing lets me do them.”
Tahari’s studio was transformed into a futuristic city for the event, with inverted white walls featuring models on round pedestals. One corner of the room, however, was a blast from the past — featuring items such as a silicone insert jumpsuit, a caged mesh coat, and a laser-cut leather jacket— hailing from 1974, the year of Tahari’s first Madison Avenue boutique. The Edition 1974 items barely differed from his newer fashions, demonstrating Tahari’s timeless touch for wearable women’s wear.
For his Spring 2014 collection, the designer fused bright hues, washed-out snakeskin and fitted dresses. An azure scuba-invoking, zip-front leather dress and a similar curve-clinging number in a flowery tropical print stood out as unnecessary retreats from the understated chic of Tahari’s predominantly frosty palette.
All collections mixed unexpected fabrics, layers and colors, proving that for this Israeli designer— contrast is key.
“I went through four decades of various fashion waves,” explained Tahari, as he raised his red-stringed hand to cover his head and say a blessing over a sip of water. “In this collection you’ll see the influence of natural clothing mixed with new age, mixed with strips of silicon, and high-tech materials. See that pocket on that coat, or the finishing on this dress—it’s silicon.”
Stylist Philip Bloch later pointed to the same dress, moving closer to feel the fabric for himself, unsure of the origins of the clear material gracing the model.
“I love it. It’s functional, fashionable and it’s glamorous. Not too over the top.”
He then asked to impart a special wish for the designer on his momentous anniversary that got the whole ball rolling.
“Forty years, Elie, and we shall meet next year in Israel!” he said. “Wait, or is it Jerusalem?”
Either way. It’s all about where you’re from. Mazal tov, Elie Tahari.
The Times of Israel covers one of the most complicated, and contentious, parts of the world. Determined to keep readers fully informed and enable them to form and flesh out their own opinions, The Times of Israel has gradually established itself as the leading source of independent and fair-minded journalism on Israel, the region and the Jewish world.
We've achieved this by investing ever-greater resources in our journalism while keeping all of the content on our site free.
Unlike many other news sites, we have not put up a paywall. But we would like to invite readers who can afford to do so, and for whom The Times of Israel has become important, to help support our journalism by joining The Times of Israel Community. Join now and for as little as $6 a month you can both help ensure our ongoing investment in quality journalism, and enjoy special status and benefits as a Times of Israel Community member.