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Israeli fashion gets tactical

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It was a pretty embarrassing moment for FMS Enterprises Migun Ltd., which develops and manufactures fabrics for the safety industry. A reporter from Israel's TV Channel 1 met with FMS Enterprises representatives to examine the knife-proof high-collar vests manufactured by the company for the civilian market and agreed to give it a try — that is, to be stabbed while wearing the vest to demonstrate its effectiveness. Unfortunately, the vest failed to deliver on its promise and the knife cut through the fabric. The hapless reporter was injured and needed medical treatment.

Ana Dotan from the Department of Plastics Engineering at Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art had a possible explanation for the failure.

"It is the fibers that do the job," she told Al-Monitor. "The fibers have to be very strong and woven in a special multi-layer structure to prevent the penetration of a sharp object. The Kevlar fibers or similar ones marketed under the brand names Spectra or Dyneema are highly rigid, so any garment made from them would inevitably be very uncomfortable. To ensure a reasonable level of comfort, like that provided by everyday clothes, the protective features of these fabrics have to be drastically downgraded to make them more flexible — at the cost of reducing their strength. This gives way to a situation where a knife can go through at a certain angle."

The Israeli business newspaper TheMarker was quick to report that the incident, which in no time became the laughingstock of the network, had far-reaching economic implications for FMS Enterprises: That same morning, prior to the incident, the company's shares rose by 3% thanks to a flattering piece in the daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth recommending the company's products for the civilian market as the perfect solution for Israelis wary of walking the streets unprotected. TheMarker reported that the company's sales turnover that day was 14 times higher than normal, reaching about 7 million shekels (close to $1.8 million). However, once the incident was reported, the company's shares dropped by some 5%.

The rapid rise and fall in the company's shares reflect both Israelis' rush for safety gear and their profound disappointment that despite the hopes raised by the marketing campaign, no adequate safety solution has been found yet.

photo: school formal dresses

Since the beginning of the current wave of violence, many Israelis have been afraid to walk the streets. The unpredictable and spontaneous stabbing attacks of recent months can happen anytime and anywhere. Israelis are desperate to find technological solutions that will help them to carry on with their normal lives. Seemingly ordinary clothes capable of protecting them against stabbing are thus highly appealing.

The interaction between militarism and fashion is nothing new in the local arena; however, so far, it has been an essentially one-way influence — in the opposite direction, where military aesthetics were adopted by the Israeli fashion industry. It happened quite early in the history of Israeli fashion, noted historian and sociologist Oz Almog in an article on the clothing culture of secularIsraeli society. According to Almog, in the early days of the ATA textile company, which was already active before the establishment of Israel and shut down in 1985, wide use was made of khaki-colored "coarsely woven, strong and durable fabrics … which conveyed in their simplicity the pioneering national-socialist ideology and the proud spirit of the 'Sabra' [native Israeli], as opposed to the 'old Jew' born in the diaspora." Even in the following years, Israeli fashion was still using the visual characteristics of the 'Sabra' spirit … in particular elements taken from the military culture," he wrote.

On the other side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the work of Palestinian visual artist Sharif Waked, a native of Nazareth. His project, titled Chic Point, presents Waked's outfits designed for Palestinians crossing the Israel Defense Forces checkpoints, allowing them to easily expose their bodies to show that they are not carrying explosives under their garments.

Itay Yaacov, a fashion reporter for the Israeli lifestyle website Xnet, notes that the use of military elements in the fashion industry is no original Israeli invention.

"Uniforms are widely used in fashion, all over the world," he told Al-Monitor. "These trends often originate in the United States." Yaacov pointed to the British designer Craig Green, who presented in the recent London Fashion Week a collection inspired by the attire of IS militants and their captives. "Clothes in camouflage colors have always been in vogue — as early as the 60s," he explained, "at the time when the anti-Vietnam War activists used to don military items in an attempt to offset their military connotation and functionality."

What's happening right now seems the very opposite: It is the safety gear industry that is currently seeking inspiration from the fashion industry, with the view of offering products incorporating military features targeted at the civilian market. And it does so hoping to take advantage of the unstable security situation and the mass scare and create a new market for its products. Contrary to what the "flower children" of the '60s sought to accomplish, the local fashion industry of today does not strive to neutralize the functionality of the military apparel. In Israel, the military safety gear industry thrives on and expands itself through fashion.

Students at the major fashion design college Shenkar told Al-Monitor that a few years ago, another safety gear company had already funded a special course in which students were asked to design its protective vests with "a more normal" civilian look and feel. Be that as it may, no product of this kind has yet matured into mass production.

"If we reach a point where the daily reality here renders it a mandatory item, then I believe that the fiber industry and fashion world will find the right answer," said Dotan. "In fact, come to think of the primary function of clothing — it is designed to protect the body. It is no different from the function of the anti-pollution face masks worn by the residents of Chinese cities. The mask has become an inseparable part of their attire. Still, that's not the way it should be, and likewise, going around wearing protective vests is not a normal situation."

Israelis' quest for bullet- and knife-proof gear with the look and feel of civilian clothes is in a sense escapism — turning a blind eye to reality. In view of the inadequate treatment of the disease itself — that is, the threat of terrorism — the desperate Israelis seek refuge in treating the symptom. However, they fail to realize the absurdity of the situation in which innocent civilians are going out dressed in clothes fit for the battlefield — a situation just as absurd as Waked's satirical Chic Point fashion. ​

see more: graziadressau.com

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