Lady of the Daisies: A Tribute to Lea Gottlieb – Design Museum Holon

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Lady of the Daisies: A Tribute to Lea Gottlieb 1918 – 2012, is the colorful focal point of Holon Design Week. Curated by guest curator Ayala Raz, at the Design Museum Holon, the exhibition offers the  public a look at the art and industry of the woman who founded Gottex, Israel’s luxury line of swimwear.

Guest curator Ayala Raz/Photo: Ayelet Dekel
Guest curator Ayala Raz/Photo: Ayelet Dekel

On a preview tour of the exhibition, Curator Ayala Raz, whose acquaintance with Lea Gottlieb began in 2004, in preparation for an exhibition which was intended for the Tel Aviv Museum, offered insights on Gottlieb, the woman and the designer.

“I went to her apartment with students three times a week, selecting and cataloging items. She was a woman with presence, one could not remain oblivious to her. We would select items for the exhibition and place them on a rack, putting other items aside. The next day everything we had put aside would reappear on the rack with the items we had  selected for the exhibition. She was a gveret (a lady), very opinionated, very tiny, but her personality filled the space. The research we did in 2004 did not culminate in an exhibition, but in 2007 there was a tribute to Lea Gottlieb at the Holon Theatre, which she was able to attend and enjoy.”

Gottlieb found inspiration in the memories of Hungarian traditional embroidery for her Csardas collection/Photo: Ayelet Dekel
Gottlieb found inspiration in the memories of Hungarian traditional embroidery for her Csardas collection/Photo: Ayelet Dekel

The back-story to the vibrant and aesthetically pleasing exhibition is fascinating – both Gottlieb’s personal story and the design process for her line of swimwear merit interest. On the upper level of the museum, Gottlieb’s swimwear designs are organized by collection, with multi-hued pareos – a signature item in her work – as an aerial installation in the center. Gottlieb was born in Sajószentpéter, Hungary. During the war, her husband Armin, was shipped to a labor camp, while she hid from the Nazis, moving from one place to another between Sajószentpéter and Budapest. Amnon Silber, Director of Education at the Design Museum Holon, suggests that one might see a connection between the experiences of those years and her later work as a designer: the prevalence of flowers in Gottlieb’s designs perhaps referring to her strategy of hiding her face behind a bouquet of flowers at Nazi checkpoints. Arriving in Israel after the war, penniless, Lea and her husband first attempted to open a raincoat factory, similar to the one they had in Europe. However, this being Israel, as Gottlieb told the New York Times:  “we saw no rain, only sunshine.” In harmony with their new environment, they turned to swimwear.

The Csardas collection - from folk inspired designs with embroidered cotton or poplin fabrics, to 24 hue silkscreen print on lycra/Photo: Ayelet Dekel
The Csardas collection – from folk inspired designs with embroidered cotton or poplin fabrics, to 24 hue silkscreen print on lycra/Photo: Ayelet Dekel

Touring the exhibition, Raz described the different collections, emphasizing the vast difference between Gottlieb’s approach to personal subjects, such as the Csardas collection from 1991, and those collections inspired by the great masters of art. In the Csardas collection, inspired by the embroidery of Hungary, Raz recounts, “She remained faithful to the source of her inspiration. She first attempted to embroider directly on to the swimsuit, but that was prohibitively expensive. Ultimately the decision was to create a print, yet that too is labor intensive and expensive, silk screening twenty four different hues. The clothing design were first made in poplin and cotton, like the original fabrics used in Hungary, and then she translated her vision to lycra.”

The exhibition is enhanced by a display of Lea Gottlieb's extensive collection of art books, displayed as they were in her home, with family photos/Photo: Ayelet Dekel
The exhibition is enhanced by a display of Lea Gottlieb’s extensive collection of art books, displayed as they were in her home, with family photos/Photo: Ayelet Dekel

Turning to the Van Gogh collection from 1989, inspired by the artist’s well known painting Irises (1889), Raz said, “When she is inspired by artists and their work, the cut of the outfit has no relevance to the period or style of the artist, it is completely modern. Each collection begins with a pareo, which is the starting point for building the collection. The irises undergo a mutation – they become larger and more colorful, they change.” Raz discussed the transformations of the images that can be seen in the different items in this collection, from the jumpsuit, where the irises appear fairly similar to Van Gogh’s, to other items, such as the swimsuit, where the irises are yellow instead of purple, and Gottlieb has included grapes, an image that is not in the painting. As Raz asked, indicating the swimsuit in question, “Who would see Van Gogh’s Irises in this if they did not already know? She takes  the work of a great master and changes it as if it were her own. Yet she is always guided by the question: how will this look on a woman’s body? Her work is art, created with an open mind, yet on the other hand always connected to the field she is working in – swimsuits.”

Purple irises inspired by Van Gogh, in a modern styled jumpsuit/Photo: Ayelet Dekel
Purple irises inspired by Van Gogh, in a modern styled jumpsuit/Photo: Ayelet Dekel
Van Gogh's irises transformed in Lea Gottlieb's design, yellow irises with the addition of grapes/Photo: Ayelet Dekel
Van Gogh’s irises transformed in Lea Gottlieb’s design, yellow irises with the addition of grapes/Photo: Ayelet Dekel

Visitors to the exhibit may enjoy learning more about Lea Gottlieb and the fascinating process of going from idea to design to the actual manufacture of the swimsuits. Guided tours are available for groups of 15+ members, two weeks advance reservation is required, call  03-5021551 or write to the museum sales department: sales@dmh.org.il.

On the lower level of the museum, there is a view of Gottex today, in the form of large-scale drawings created by Molly Grad, Creative Director at Gottex Group. Completing the swimsuit scene is “Women Talk About Swimsuits,” curated by Yael Taragan. Taragan offers an intriguing perspective on the thoughts, and perhaps even more important, feelings, inspired by swimsuits. This provocative and entertaining wall with quotes from fashionistas and others is displayed in Hebrew and English for all to enjoy.

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Read more about Design Week Holon 2013 events here. Lady of the Daisies will remain open until May 4, 2013.