Fashionistas latest finds 100 percent made in Israel

A dream is being realized in Room 949 of the Westin St. Francis Hotel.

There, Malka Meiersdorf sits at a desk covered in fashion specs and order forms. She’s in San Francisco for a contemporary clothing trade show. In Room 949, the standard double bed is absent, replaced by racks of A-line skirts and funky floral blouses. All of it — the red satin dress, the summery floral shift — is the creation of Israeli fashion designers that is making a debut in the United States courtesy of Meiersdorf’s new business, Milk & Honey Imports.

“I still can’t believe I’m doing this,” she said, her freckled face spreading out in a grin. “I’ve dreamed it for so long.”

Milk & Honey Imports will be the go-between for Israeli designers and American boutiques. Because Meiersdorf will sell only contemporary clothing and accessories made in Israel, she sees it as a small way to help the Israeli economy and fashion industry. The clothing will be available in high-end independent shops and boutiques, and will be available for purchase in early 2008.

Meiersdorf started the company in January with one designer, Naama Bezalel, who she says is the Israeli equivalent of American designers like Betsey Johnson, Nanette Lepore and Tracy Reese.

“Naama designs clothing while thinking about a real body she needs to dress,” she said. “The skirts are all A-line or flowy, with lots of fabric for the Jewish butt. It’s all slimming and flattering.”

Meiersdorf helped Bezalel design a unique collection for an American audience.

“Israeli fashion tends to be really original. Americans don’t always want to look so bizarre.”

Israeli fashion also tends to be influenced more by European designers than American ones. It’s centered “100 percent” in Tel Aviv, she said, and is a small but growing industry in which everyone knows and supports each other.

Meiersdorf, 30, was born in the United States but grew up in a Modern Orthodox home in Jerusalem. After the army and college, she worked as a wardrobe stylist on Israeli TV shows. Six years ago, she moved to New York to get a different perspective on the fashion industry. She started by working retail, then in public relations, then in wholesale merchandising.

She consistently thought about starting her own merchandising company so she could give Israeli fashion designers a bigger audience.

Meiersdorf is not the first to have such an idea. At the same trade show, Dvora Braunstein displayed clothing from four Israeli designers — Sigal Dekel, Yael Orgad, Frau Blau and Or.

Braunstein moved from Israel to Los Angeles two years ago so she could start her fashion importing business. She also represents designers from Belgium, France and San Francisco.

“Whenever I came to visit my sister in California, everyone asked me, ‘Where are your clothes from? I love your clothes,'” she said. “So I figured it was a good business opportunity.”

Dress yourself in Israel

Naama Bezalel’s American collection will be available at Honey Ryder, 564 Hayes St., S.F. Contact (415) 255-6858 for store hours and directions.

San Francisco stores carrying other Israeli designers (Frau Blau, Or, Sigal Dekel and Yael Orgad) include Finn, 364 Hayes St.; Metro 200, 2116 Fillmore St.; and Paparazzi, 1424 Grant Ave. Other Bay Area stores carrying Israeli designer clothing lines: Shunzi, 141 Kentucky St., Petaluma and 1233 4th St., San Rafael; Reeds, 1302 Main St., St. Helena, and Paparazzi, 31 Main St., Tiburon.

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.