Jewish history has rarely looked as elegant as in the 12 hand-sewn wedding dresses made by Israeli fashion students now on view at Temple Emanu-El’s Bernard Museum of Jewish Culture.
The exhibit traveled to New York from Beit Hatfutsot Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, where it was developed in partnership with Israel’s Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art. In an unusual assignment, third-year fashion students were asked to cull stories from their own families and artifacts from the museum’s archives for information about generations born elsewhere — all for inspiration in the design of wedding dresses.
The opening of “Boi Kallah: Here Comes The Bride: Wedding Gowns Embroidering the Story of the Jewish People” was the second time that Shenkar’s fashion students were in the news last week: At the Grammy Awards, Beyoncé wore a white wedding gown from the collection of Israeli designer Inbal Dror, who studied at Shenkar.
The dresses are exhibited on headless mannequins, the white brocades and flowing chiffons silhouetted against blue-gray walls. How do you know you’re not at Kleinfeld’s? These are couture garments with deep backstories.
From a gown inspired by the decorative architecture of a 14th-century synagogue in Toledo, Spain, to another by the tradition of putting on tefillin, the finely crafted dresses include beading with tiny, sparkling crystals and pearls, and insets of lace, leather and fur.
Hadar Brin’s dress represents a story of her great-grandfather hiding the mezuzah case outside their home in Lodz, Poland, at the outbreak of World War II. She uses delicate lace in tribute to scribal arts, and the shape and drape of the dress with its delicate opening suggests something held inside.
Eyal Ron Meistal based his embroidered geometric silk dress on the design of house-shaped medieval wedding rings, worn in Germany, where his family is from. Its veil stands above the bride’s head, as though offering protection. In a playful take on modesty, Hila Tabib has created an outfit with ornamented pants — rows of shells and beads that would jingle with movement — beneath a breezy chiffon gown, with the embroidery covering the bride’s hands, suggesting the traditional henna ceremony, where the palms of the hands are painted.
These designers have since graduated from Shenkar and are working in the fashion field. Mor Kfir, who hopes to work in the New York fashion world, explained that the idea for her design came to her in her first visit to Beit Hatfutsot, when she saw a gallery of scale-models of synagogues. She felt as if an image of a bride were rising from the models, almost a holy feeling, and she recalled the story of S. Ansky’s “The Dybbuk.” Her silk chiffon gown, with its lace, high neck and braided threads, is inspired by the Victorian dress and long, braided hair worn by the young bride Leah in the 1920s production at the Habima Theatre in Tel Aviv. This dress suggests the dark love story. Kfir says that many have asked her if they can wear it.
At the opening, where wedding cake was served, Warren Klein, curator of the Bernard Museum of Judaica, said, “The exhibit is forward-thinking in creating something new inspired by the past, honoring the Jewish traditions, culture and history it draws upon.”