Strong men in apple organza coats with a wild feathery texture. A red-headed young man in a black-gray tailored jacket made of a very long shirt with a melancholy image of a gorilla. Models marching wearing tough facial expressions and colorful cloth bandanas tied loosely around the forehead, in street-gang style. The final collection designed by Ziv Gil Kazenstein, 30, a graduate of the fashion and print department at the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London, uses a mix of orangutan and gorilla prints, references to the traditional dress of 19th century Kurdish warriors and gender differences.
In the two months since it was first displayed at the college’s graduates’ exhibition, it has sparked enthusiastic reviews. Hilary Alexander, the senior fashion journalist who until recently was the fashion editor of The Telegraph, praised it and, in a list published in the paper after the exhibition, cited Kazenstein as a promising graduate. The editors of Dazed and Confused did the same in an article about him in the online edition of the magazine. And more recently, the managers of a well-known boutique in Japan asked him to recreate a number of selected items from it for sale. Kazenstein prefers not to divulge the name of the boutique hidden until the deal is signed and “my clothes dangle from hangers in the boutique,” he said in a phone conversation from his apartment in London.
The managers of the said boutique also asked him to design a special series of print t-shirts to be sold exclusively in their store. This proposal seems to excite Kazenstein even more. His great love, he says, is designing prints and embroidery. Work on the collection under review sprang from there. “The base of the collection was black and white stripe prints that I borrowed from the clothes and tallit (prayer shawl ) of Jews in Europe in the early 20th century,” he relates. “I liked the idea of creating an original print on silk organza, and then tearing up the fabric into strips and creating a new textile from it.”
Using the scraps from the organza he created, he put together, among other things, airy, fluffy jackets in shades of black, gray, white and pink; designed tailored jackets with dense columns and zippers that look like fur; and exaggerated the silhouette formed by wide slacks. He came up with the idea for the coats based on the traditional garb of 19th century Kurdish warriors.
“The principle I drew on from the Kurds’ dress was essentially to empower the silhouettes of the wardrobe, not including shirts and slacks, but clothes with many accessories and a lot more volume. As for the silhouettes, I wanted to reinforce the idea of the great tribal warrior, the dominant male, sometimes to the point of ridiculousness,” he acknowledges. “Apart from that, when designing men’s clothing, it’s fun to do something that’s not just slacks and a shirt. I really like looks comprised of numerous items that speak when they clash or pop up in all kinds of places.” The proportions he gave the coats are indeed exaggerated. The addition of pastel-colored soft plumes interspersed in the coats gives them a threatening and mocking look at one and the same time, as if they were part of the fictional garb of clownish war heroes.
On the runway, Kazenstein chose to feature a particularly loud version of the Beastie Boys’ song, “Sabotage” which he says includes “particularly violent examples of electric guitar riffs.” He says he enjoys the confrontation between the “bad boy” and the “good boy,” as well as the crude and vulgar traits, and the textures of soft and colorful fabrics.
Creating a new tribe
His comments suggests that he drew these foundations from his own personality. But the starting point for the collection was broader, and goes back to his extensive family tree. His father’s family, which came from a small village in Germany, dispersed before World War II to different places around the world; his mother’s family has Kurdish-Iraqi origins. “My idea was to create a new tribe,” he says, “to create six different looks, where each one could in the end stand alone and also belong to the same tribe.”
The colorful monkeys seen on the prints he integrated in the orange flare pants engage in different forms of preening: some brush their fur, others ponder their reflection in a hand-held mirror, and one of them even grasps a hair curling iron. All of them serve to poke fun at early Alpha males engrossed in primping. “It’s amusing because you don’t see it at first glance. It’s camouflaged in the colors,” he says.
Kazenstein, a Netanya native, arrived in London after finishing his army service in Israel. “When I moved to London, I wasn’t even thinking of studying fashion,” he relates. “After two years working in random jobs, I decided I want to study something. I went to Saint Martins preparatory program, where you can try out shortened courses in the school’s various departments – graphics, fashion, textile and others, and in the end I chose the fashion and prints department.”
The third year of study at the college is for interning at fashion houses or labels worldwide, and Kazenstein worked then at a print and embroidery plant in Delhi; at Alexander McQueen’s studio in London, where he had an opportunity to work on developing the prints and embroidery for the designer’s last collection for the Spring-Summer 2010 season; at the Viktor & Rolf studio in Amsterdam; and at designer Diane von Furstenberg’s studio in New York. When asked if now, after finishing four exhausting years of study at the prestigious London institution, job offers are rolling in, he bursts out laughing. “There is of course some interest because lots of famous designers emerged from the college, and at the graduates’ exhibition there are usually senior fashion industry executives present, such as Sarah Burton from McQueen’s studio, designer Christopher Kane and the organizers of London’s Fashion Week, but it’s not always that simple. Right now I’m working among other things on shoe illustrations for Christian Louboutin. It’s a new project we are working on together and at the moment, I’m unable to elaborate further.”
In the future, he says, he will be happy to find work at an established fashion house. “As a print and embroidery designer in a large fashion house, I’ll be able to focus on what I most love doing. Of course, I’d be very glad to go back to working for McQueen or Viktor & Rolf. By nature, I’m drawn to the more theatrical side of fashion, but I’d be happy, for example, to work at places like Opening Ceremony in New York which have a much more commercial approach.”
At Saint Martins he could have chosen to design men’s or women’s fashions. “Naturally, the default option is women, but during the course of studying and working, I realized I enjoy designing men’s clothes much more. I have a clear image of the man for whom I want to design.”