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Macy’s Taps Former Yeshiva Student for Exclusive New Line

Kobi Halperin got his start doodling while studying Talmud

Liel Leibovitz
September 15, 2017
Getty Images
Kobi Halperin and Kenneth ColeGetty Images
Getty Images
Kobi Halperin and Kenneth ColeGetty Images

As a boy, Kobi Halperin didn’t know what he wanted to do when he grew up, but he was pretty sure he wouldn’t end up devoting his life to Torah study. Hunched over his books at the Yeshiva he attended, he would doodle constantly, mainly drawing beautiful gowns, but fashion designer was not exactly a profession a religious Israeli child could reasonably expect to ever master, so Halperin kept his dreams silent.

Until it was time to become a man: When he accompanied his mother to Tel Aviv a few months before his Bar Mitzvah, to the boutique where she had ordered a custom-made dress, he was transformed. “I remember that visit to the boutique viscerally and visually, as if it happened yesterday,” he said in a recent interview. “I was filled by a feeling that this was my natural place.”

Others had the same feeling. When he attended Shenkar, Israel’s prestigious design college, he was immediately marked as a big promise, even as some wondered what a soft-talking formerly religious designer with a preference for timeless and elegant pieces could bring to a field often dominated by big personalities and manic innovation. As he was graduating, Halperin won a prestigious design competition in Italy, but instead of accepting his reward—an internship with a high-end Italian atelier—he surprised his friends again by taking off and settling down in New York. It turned out to be another good move: Soon, he was named creative director for Elie Tahari, and for 13 years was feted by the fashion world for his contributions to building the brand. When he and Tahari had a falling out, in 2012, Halperin moved over to Kenneth Cole, until he was ready to finally strike out on his own. In 2015, he launched his own label, designing clothes inspired by his own life experiences.

His newest collection, for example, is inspired, he said, by immigrants like himself and by looking at people and wondering about their diverse backgrounds. “I like going to the food market and just seeing how people dress, the way they create their individual look,” he explained, “and the way they are proud of their history and where they come from.”

Macy’s must like the same thing: the retail giant announced earlier this month a new exclusive line by Halperin, named KOBI.

“The limited-edition capsule radiates a European sensibility that fosters a soignée approach to dressing. Elaborate lace adorns chic, off-the-shoulder tops and elegantly cut blouses,” read the line’s official announcement. “Sweeping cape sweaters, a statement shawl-collar coat, bell-sleeve jackets, and expertly tailored blazers are rendered in luxurious fabrics to magnificent effect. Skillfully draped dresses and a perfectly fitted jumpsuit skim the body and accentuate the waist without being overly body conscious for an easy elegance that is head-turning in its subtlety.” Not bad for a kid who got his start pondering the Mishnah and dreaming of fabric.

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.