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Who Is The Most Jewish Designer?

(It’s probably not John Galliano)

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Ralph Lauren at Fashion Week last month.(Fernanda Calfat/Getty Images for IMG)

My response to l’affaire Galliano, in which the (former) Dior designer and general genius John Galliano was accused of a penchant for crude anti-Semitic slurs, moved pretty quickly from denial to depression (there was anger, too, but thankfully that occurred over a weekend, so it didn’t get aired on The Scroll). And now, there is acceptance: Prompted by contributing editor Rachel Shukert’s musing that perhaps Galliano’s alleged affinity for Hitler is “less a function of a shared murderous ideology than admiration for a fellow uncompromising stylist,” as well as by another friend’s challenge, I have been asking myself: Do we really need our favorite fashion designers to like Jews?

The question is more complicated than it might seem. For me, fashion used to be inextricably linked to my Jewishness. Mainly this is because the catwalk of my past was the synagogue aisle: As I’ve written, for me, good clothes and shiny hair were the particular trappings of Shabbat and holidays; prettying oneself was a unique form of hidur mitzvah, or glorifying the commandment. (The same principle is responsible for your sterling silver candlesticks, or that nice carved mezuzah from the Old City.) When I got older and started circulating in a wider community, I found that these values were calcified in the term “JAP,” which, despite its arguable historic connotations of misogyny and even anti-Semitism, I reluctantly embraced, because there was no other readily available term that meant something both to me and to the culture at large.

Then, a couple of years ago, a colleague asked me who I consider to be a truly Jewish designer—not as in Ralph Lifshitz, the Jewish boy from the Bronx who created the ultimate sartorial phantasmagoria of the WASP lifestyle, but as in designers who created the fashions that most spoke to the Jewish story of upward mobility, conspicuous consumption, desire for assimilation, and, at some far point, acceptance and even leadership. I offered up Emanuel Ungaro, whose garish prints seemed to me reflective of aspiration, that most feverish of American Jewish traits; at the other end of the spectrum, I said, was Prada, whose aggressive minimalism revealed nothing if not confident insiderdom.

But I’m no longer sure. So I put the question to you: Who’s a Jewish designer? And—perhaps more importantly—does it even matter anymore?

Related: Fashion’s Fascists [Tablet Magazine]
The Jap [Lilith]
Earlier: Golly, Galliano!
Resignation over John Galliano
A Plea on Behalf of John Galliano

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Deanne says:

As a museum professional and nearly 60 year old, my first thought was: Sidney Kimmel. Yes,I said Sidney Kimmel.
I grew old with him: first when he opened Villager clothing, and in my middle age: Jones of New York. No matter what I try on, those things FIT me, in size and look. The fact that he is a philanthropist who invests in the future of our country is the broach on the cloak.

Rachel says:

Marc Jacobs, and not just for obvious reasons.

Rachel says:

Hands down, Alber Elbaz!

Ugh, Elbaz is so fatphobic (yes, I know, he’s a fashion designer, mah nishtanah — but oy, the self-hatred and the distaste for curvy bodies are not endearing unto me). How about Diane von Furstenberg? Silky fabric and colorful pattern, two things I think are Jewy, and you can’t beat her personal story.

But in terms of princessy ungapatchka aesthetic, regadless of actual ethnicity: Roberto Cavalli.

Proud to nominate Isaac Mizrahi! He grew up with a strong Jewish background, attended Yeshiva, gives back to the community, and propogated the high-low trend in 2002 combining expensive pieces with affordable basics. He was the first major designer to work with Target, bringing high fashion to the masses. Can you get more Jewish than that?!

Also noteworthy is Diane von Furstenberg. Her mother is a Holocaust survivor. Most importantly, she created the wrap dress, allowing women to look professional, modest, and sexy all at once while staying comfortable. Also, it is especially flattering for the curvy figures of Jewish women.

rachel says:

I don’t think it *matters* any more who is or isn’t a *jewish* designer, but I *do* think that while it’s not necessary for designers/celebrities/public figures to be out and about in adoration of the jewish people (do we need fanboys/fangirls?) I do think that the Galliano affair shows that outright hatred and/or stupidity of what some may see as an “easy target” is not acceptable. I personally still love the House of Dior, and even more so for their response to the issue. I love Ralph Lauren, Prada and Emmanuel Ungaro as well.

Atarah says:

“Do I really need my favorite fashion designers to like Jews?”

None of this was relevant to me until last week, when I felt hated by my favorite designer.

The fallout is not that I’ll be rating my next favorite designer by how much they adore minorities, but by how much they seem to understand that all our cultures create a far more beautiful tapestry than a plain white one.

Oh, and I vote for Donna Karan as “The Jewish Designer”

shualah elisheva says:

my vote?

miuccia prada [specifically her line "miu miu"], for her unwavering commitment to idealizing a time and place most of us would rather forget. her spring 2010 line was ripe with middle school references – peter pan collars, chunky shoes reminiscent of mia’s…

and we keep harkening back in our shared mythos to the idealized shtetl. “life is with people,” and all that.

Well-done! Come on, we’re enjoying your posts!


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Who Is The Most Jewish Designer?

(It’s probably not John Galliano)

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