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The Chosen Ones: An Interview With Alon Livne

The Israeli fashion designer on moving to New York from Tel Aviv, his cat, and why Purim is his favorite Jewish holiday

Periel Aschenbrand
January 27, 2017
Zohar Shitrit
Alon Livne. Zohar Shitrit
Zohar Shitrit
Alon Livne. Zohar Shitrit

There’s a new sheriff in town. And even though he’s a fashion designer and not actually in law enforcement, everything seems very political right now. Even—or especially—fashion.

Alon Livne hails from Tel Aviv and at the ripe old age of 29, he stands at the helm of three eponymous lines—bridal, evening, and ready-to-wear—designing six collections per season. He’s worked for some of the most famous names in fashion and us now well on his way to becoming one in his own right.

With fairly impeccable timing, he has just arrived in New York City with plans for international success, a bossy Maine Coon, and gowns for the gods. He is already in demand by the biggest celebrities on the planet—with even Gaga gaggling for his attention. I found in him, a prodigy who harkens back to a time past but would simultaneously make Jane Jetson gag on her gadgets. And also, an unlikely activist.

I recently met with Livne in his Soho studio, where he just started to offer custom design services for private clients. He showed me how his gowns begin as a drawing and, with painstaking, hand-sewn, militant attention to detail, come together, piece by piece and panel by panel, become the dresses dreams are made of.

Periel Aschenbrand: There are literally like a million tiny beads here.

Alon Livne: Each piece is hand-beaded based on my drawings.

PA: You must be a nightmare to work for.

AL: I am.

PA: How long have you been in New York?

AL: I moved here three months ago.

PA: Bruchim Habayim! Welcome aboard! So tell me—six collections a year, that’s insane. Did you start your career in bridal?

AL: I have a big studio in Tel Aviv with about 50 employees, but I’ve always done both—bridal and evening are very couture and the work on each gown is insane. Ready-to-wear is more hype, more crazy, more…. like me.

PA: Cute but psycho?

AL: Exactly.

PA: You had your first show at New York Fashion Week for the first time three years ago. That must have been very exciting.

AL: It was! I saw my dreams come true here, in New York City, because it’s so big and you have so many opportunities.

PA: You studied in Israel?

AL: Yes, I went to Shanker School of Engineering and Fashion when I was 17 and then, when I was 20, I worked for Alexander McQueen in London but I already knew how to sew, how to cut fabrics, everything.

PA: How?!

AL: I was an autodidact. I bought a small sewing machine when I was like 14.

PA: You always knew this was your calling?

AL: Since I was 12. I didn’t go to the army because I wanted to go to university and study and start my career.

PA: Is there judgment around that? It seems like the most reasonable thing in the world to me. If the Orthodox don’t have to go to the army because they have to study, then why should the artists?

AL: I don’t know any artists and designers and singers who went to the army. But I think I can support my country and bring pride to my country in other ways.

PA: I totally agree.

AL: I really, really, really love Israel, especially Tel Aviv. The only reason I came [to New York City] was for my career. Israel is an amazing place for many, many things, just not so much for fashion.

PA: I agree with that, too. It’s changing though.

AL: It can never change and I’ll tell you why: It’s too small.

PA: But it has changed.

AL: Yes for shopping, but if you are a designer and you want to sell and you want to grow, it’s impossible.

PA: Your cat is enormous, she looks like a lion. How has her transition to New York been?

AL: Amazing. She is the queen and the main manager here. No one is allowed to close any doors without checking with her. She hates closed doors.

PA: How does a cat from Israel wind up with a name like Mary?

AL: It’s actually Marylinda, which means Mary, the beautiful.

PA: Ah, that makes sense. There has been a lot of talk of powerful pussies in America recently, but we’ll get to that later. For now, let’s get back to the clothes. So you got an internship at McQueen, which is pretty unbelievable for anyone.

AL: It wasn’t that hard actually. I just sent my CV with my portfolio and two days later they called me and I came right away. I stayed for two seasons, then went back to Tel Aviv. Then I got a job at Roberto Cavalli in Florence and I stayed there for one year. But then I heard the Israeli version of Project Runway was happening in Israel, and I thought if there is a designer who is going to get this prize, it has to be me. So I went and I won it.

Right after that, I opened my studio and a store in Tel Aviv, which I still have.

PA: What do you sell there—bridal and evening wear?

AL: Yes. I tried to do ready-to-wear but we just don’t have the factories and the fabric you need in Israel. And it’s also very hard to sell ready-to-wear because of the competition with the big chains like Zara and H&M. There aren’t enough people with a budget to buy a $300 T-shirt, so this is the main reason that I came here—to expand. I used to work with bridal in my studio, one on one, and I miss that so much.

PA: That’s really sweet. Tell me a little bit about all these celebrities that are in a craze over you.

AL: I dressed Beyoncé for her Mrs. Carter tour. I made all the dresses for Naomi Campbell’s campaign for her TV show, The Face. I’ve dressed Shakira and Jennifer Lopez for shows, and Kim Kardashian for a TV commercial. Kendall and Kylie, too… I designed a special dress for The Hunger Games and many things for Gaga. All of the pink ruffle pieces are about to go to her and, among other things, she has a giant, very avant-garde pink hat right now.

PA: I see a lot of pink in your collection. As I’m sure you know, pink has sort of become the color of the resistance. In fact, art critic Jerry Saltz just said that “style and fashion could really be weaponized” and that the way we “walk and talk is a way to resist.” The cover of TIME magazine right now is actually a pink hat! I imagine that’s part of why Gaga took and is probably obsessed with your pink hat—which is, like, the pink hat of all pink hats!

AL: I can’t really tell you so much of what I think about politics in the U.S. because I don’t know the small details. But it feels like people in New York are really not happy with that’s going on. And I can understand why.

PA: You created the ultimate pièce de résistance! So much of the fashion right now is resistance fashion. Your work is so unique and visually strong to begin with that the pink just adds a whole other layer to it.

AL: You’re right.

PA: I know. It happens more often than some people would like to admit. Did you always think you would wind up in New York?

AL: I always knew I wanted a worldwide business and brand so I knew I would extend myself to a place, but I didn’t know where. But three years ago, after I showed at New York Fashion Week and I saw the reaction of the stylists, the media and the celebrities, I knew that this was the place because this is the place where dreams can come true. For the last two years I’ve been building an infrastructure to do it because I still have a business in Israel. And my partner, the CEO who is also my husband, works with me.

PA: Oh my god. You guys are like the Israeli version of Dolce and Gabbana back in the day!

AL: Maybe Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. I would prefer that.

PA: Done. How long have you been married?

AL: Six years, but we’ve been together more than ten years.

PA: Incredible. And what has it been like to move here?

AL: Well, first of all the weather is crazy.

PA: The weather?! This is like the first thing everyone from Israel talks about—the weather. It’s unbelievable.

AL: The weather in Israel is so nice and so warm and here it’s very cold. This year hasn’t been that bad. But the first time I was here to do my fashion show, it was crazy! It was snowing everywhere and I was asking people, “Are they going to cancel fashion week?” They were like, “Why would they?” If something like this happened in Israel, the entire country would shut down!

The first thing I did was buy a Canada Goose Down.

PA: Smart move! L’chaim! What’s your favorite drink?

AL: Vodka tonic

PA: How do you eat your eggs?

AL: Sunnyside up.

PA: How do you drink your coffee?

AL: Cappuccino.

PA: What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?

AL: Purim! It’s my favorite time of year, I love the costumes.

PA: Did you have a bar mitzvah? What did you wear?

AL: Yes, I had one, but please don’t make me talk about what I wore.

PA: OK. What shampoo do you use?

AL: Pantene.

PA: Five things in your bag right now?

AL: Sunglasses, headphones, sketchbook, iPhone, and my wallet.

PA: Favorite pair of shoes?

AL: I have 1,000,000 pairs of shoes but always go back to my comfy black New Balance sneakers.

PA: Gefilte fish or lox?

AL: Neither! I hate cold fish.

PA: I could make a really good joke here, but I’ll restrain myself.

Periel Aschenbrand, a comedian at heart, is the author of On My Kneesand The Only Bush I Trust Is My Own.