Mary Novak, one of 10 local women who will wear Israeli fashion designer Sasson Kedem's dramatic pieces on an Old City runway Wednesday night, has the urge to twirl.
She has just slipped into a black, poncholike dress in My Little Redemption and is about to take a gleeful, fashion-fueled spin when she is interrupted.
"Not so fast," says Kedem, who mentored designers on Project Runway Israel nine years ago and who is now considered the Tim Gunn of Tel Aviv. "See left. See right. Look at the audience. And then turn. Only when you get to the end of the catwalk are you Cinderella," he says with a hearty laugh.
My Little Redemption is a two-year-old specialty store that sells women's wear crafted exclusively by Israelis. Owner Galit Carmely invited Kedem to Philadelphia as the featured designer for the fashion show she will host Wednesday night - "Kadima (Fashion Forward) by Kedem" - which will be his first in the United States. Kedem arrived Monday after presenting this latest collection he calls Forms to American specialty-store buyers during the East Coast's market week. To date, his clothes are available in 125 stores, up from 65 two years ago.
"My brand has really grown throughout the world," says Kedem, who has been working as a designer for 25 years, but who has only recently been able to bask in global recognition. "We want women to feel like women, feel good in our clothes. It is the Israeli way to make pieces that are warm, light, and freeing."
The evolution has been slow and steady, but awareness of Israeli designers has grown beyond industry giants Elie Tahari and Yigal Azrouel.
It started in the bridal market in the early 2000s as couturiers like Inbal Dror, Galia Hahav, and Julie Vino were gaining recognition outside Israel for body-skimming gowns coveted for deep décolletage, deeper splits, and lots of lace.
During the ensuing years, Tel Aviv's hip Dizengoff Street became fertile ground for start-up designers, said Iris D. Hami, who is on the board of the Israeli American Council in Philadelphia.
In 2009, Alon Livne became Project Runway Israel's first and only winner. After he debuted his New York Fashion Week collection in 2012, it wasn't long before celebrities like Beyoncé and Lady Gaga were flaunting his designs. Speaking of Queen Bey, she wore a gown from Dror's bridal collection during the 2016 Grammys and had her make several outfits for the singer's Lemonade tour.
Unlike the slinky evening and bridal wear Israeli designers are known for, the country's ready-to-wear pieces tend to be more modest, fluid, and artisanal.
Tel Aviv hosted its first Fashion Week in 2014, and the city's evolution into a modern-day style hub began. Designers - having saturated the market in a country the size of New Jersey - began to spread the word through social media, launching Facebook and Instagram pages. People who liked their work added them to their Pinterest dream boards.
It didn't hurt, either, that certain high-profile designers - from Rick Owens and Yeohlee, to Dao Yi-Chow and Maxwell Osbourne of Public School - were showing a variety of drop-crotch pants, tunics, long dresses, and dusters in viscose fabrics, similar to the comfortable and female-friendly looks Israeli designers often present. Nonetheless, it's noteworthy that such a small country is getting so much attention and looking as though it is on the cusp of making a fashion impact here.
"Israeli designers tend to be more rule-breakers," said Shahar Atooan, a Tel Aviv style journalist. With Israel's warmer climate, many people dress in layers, the foundation of seasonless clothes that are now in demand here, he said.
Carmely, a native of Israel, had quit her job as the Hebrew coordinator at Gratz College in Elkins Park a few months before the first Tel Aviv Fashion Week. So when she learned about the collections, she was free to go. She would have a chance to visit her family, and maybe she would open her own shop, a dream of hers since age 14.
While in Tel Aviv, Carmely visited designers in their studios, introducing herself as someone who wanted to bring the styles from her country to the masses. Because of her job at Gratz, she had cultivated connections with Israeli artist types. Still, the designers, unlike in New York, Carmely said, are more open to walk-ins.
"I knew people would want it because the clothes feel so good," Carmely said. "They are roomy but skim a woman's body in the most delightful way."
Kedem - who says his clothes reflect a mix of Japanese and Moroccan influences - was among the first of the designers she carried.
With a total of eight designers - and no more than two pieces per style (most of the pieces are one-size-fits-all) - Carmely's 1,000-square-foot store looks more art gallery than retail shop, although, at $200 to $500 apiece, the clothing is definitely more precious than pedestrian.
"I love, love, love," Leah Schiff, a stay-at-home mother from Huntingdon Valley, said as she tried on a three-piece ensemble: For the show, she'll wear a green-and-black polka-dot blazer over a gray tunic with a gauzy midcalf black skirt.
"When I look good, I feel good," Schiff said, "and that makes me happy."