Gan Hahashmal, Tel Aviv

Shoes by Shani Bar, one of the design boutiques that can be found in the old "electric garden" neighborhood.
Shoes by Shani Bar, one of the design boutiques that can be found in the old “electric garden” neighborhood.

Gan Hahashmal in Tel Aviv has been transformed from the once declining neighborhood that it was into what is now one of Israel’s hippest alternative locales for young fashion and jewelry designers. Situated between Tel Aviv’s White City and quirky Florentin neighborhoods, Gan Hahashmal is a miniature quarter situated  between the streets of Allenby, Yehuda Halevy, Barzilay and Hahashmal. Gan Hahashmal which in English means ‘The Electric Garden’ was named in honor of its distinction as Israel’s first neighborhood with a power plant in the 1920s. Its eclectic architecture fell into decline in the 1970’s but has recently, like much of Tel Aviv been restored and gentrified into a super-cool area popular with fashion designers.

Gan Hahashmal was initially a pocket of architecturally eclectic houses and quaint narrow side streets. It remained so through the 1940s, but was eventually eclipsed by the boom of Bauhaus building farther north and then fell into decline in the 1970s when the power plant closed and the neighborhood became a warren of small hardware stores and crumbling homes. And then, like many gentrified areas, Gan Hahashmal came back in style with the arrival of young Israeli fashion designers seeking cheap rents for their studios and storefronts.

Now there are some two dozen designer boutiques, as well as several cafés and an organic hummus eatery in this formerly elegant, then gritty, now hip district. The first designer arrivals typically opened a combination studio-store, looking for an alternative to their cramped apartment workspaces as well as the more standard storefronts on Dizengoff Boulevard and Sheinkin Street, two neighborhoods that have long been home to Israel’s burgeoning fashion scene.

Now this alternative district has become the “in” location, with established designers opening their own Electric Garden storefronts. Known first as the Collective 6940, a wink at the kibbutz concept as well as their municipal location number, they now call themselves Collective Gan Hahashmal and regularly pool marketing resources as well as information.

The Garden in Gan Hahashmal by Yoav Lerman, on Flickr
The Garden in Gan Hahashmal by Yoav Lerman, on Flickr

Like most young designers in Israel, the Gan Hahashmal pioneers are relatively new to the Israeli fashion scene. In their late 20s and early 30s, most having graduated from local fashion and art schools, they decided to strike out on their own and open their own studios. It’s an unusual move for a young designer, given the risks inherent in making and selling one’s own goods. But Israeli entrepreneurs are bold and this designer version of the Sabra dealmaker is content to stay home and create made-in-Israel clothing for the small, local market.

“There’s a lot of talent in Israel,” said bathing suit designer Gideon Oberson in an interview with the International Herald Tribune. “There are great schools, a lot of imagination and very creative design. But there’s nowhere for young designers to work; we don’t have design companies. So everyone has their own boutique.”

One of the first Gan Hahashmal pioneers was Nait Rosenfeld, who opened her clothing boutique, Nait, in 2002. She was soon joined by fellow fashion designer and friend Idit Barak of Delicatessen and shoe designer Shani Bar.

Selling their decidedly and collectively retro look – pleated A-line skirts, prim cotton blouses and wide-legged trousers, as well as ladylike shoes – their stores reflected their images; charming and quaint for Rosenfeld, antique tones for Bar, whose designs are classic with a modern twist, and more minimalist for Barak. Rosenfeld later reinvented Nait as an atelier, before closing the shop recently to tend to her growing family.

In the meantime, the neighborhood quickly expanded, with clothing, jewelry, handbag and shoe designers setting up shop on the adjacent streets. On HaRakevet, an outer and more visible street than those within the neighborhood, several larger, professionally designed stores opened later and are jokingly called “the new SoHo.”

One of the shops here is Paula Bianco, a jewelry store owned by Smadar-Pola Azriel and named for her late grandmother – a common practice among the young Israeli designer set. She started out designing scarves and deconstructing old sweaters into loops wound around the neck, and uses retro buttons, ribbon, pieces of pottery and singular beads to create bold, whimsical necklaces, rings, earrings and headbands.

Frau Blau, one of the design shops in the Gan Hachashmal neighborhood is known for its whimsical and humorous designs.
Frau Blau, one of the design shops in the Gan Hachashmal neighborhood is known for its whimsical and humorous designs.

Frau Blau, one of the design shops in the Gan Hahashmal neighborhood is known for its whimsical and humorous designs.

The HaRakevet boutiques are far grander in size and look than the neighborhood’s first designer tenants, who tended toward smaller, simpler spaces. “The earlier people were more experimental, more studio,” says Rosenfeld. “It took until the third year for Gan Hahashmal to become what it is today.”

Even today, Gan Hahashmal is authentic in its retro feel, but it is also farther from the city center and the action, and lacks the same kind of traffic. As a result, the customers are either Israelis who live or work nearby, shoppers who come specifically to the neighborhood to see what’s available or growing numbers of tourists who have heard about the area and want to see it for themselves.

At Sharon Brunsher, Sharon and her husband and partner, Tal, sell what she terms “lifestyle objects,” mixing old and new pieces, all in monochromatic tones, from sweaters and pants to blankets, pillows and notebooks. “This is the place for us,” she says, pointing at the still-to-be-restored former tax Bauhaus-style building across the street. “It’s alternative; it’s interesting.”

Nearly all of the Gan Hahashmal stores are owned by designers who are selling their own work, or that of other local designers, whether it’s shoes, bags, jewelry or clothing. Shani Bar is across the street from Eva Teffner, a costume jewelry shop owned by Or Cohen, who specializes in recycled pieces. A couple of doors down is M, the studio where Michal Bassad makes her recycled T-shirts for Shine, another local store; and Banot, a Tel Aviv boutique.

Adjacent to the recently refurbished park that centers the district are Hagar Satat, who works with leather, silver and gold in her jewelry collection; Kisim, a handbag store; and Frau Blau, named for designer Helena Blaunstein’s grandmother and known for its whimsical, humorous designs; as well as several other stores.

“This place fell into my lap,” says Satat, who has doubled her output with the store and distribution of her designs to 30 stores in Israel in addition to 50 in Japan, Canada and the US. With a wide range of ages among her mostly Israeli customers, Satat finds that the store has become her signature, making her less anonymous on one hand, but more beholden to the demands of her customers, who always want something new and different. “I like it because it allows me to be close to my customers, while still in my workshop. It’s my house and Imm the host.”

Article credit goes to Adina Laufer. Find the full article here

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