Do You Know About MASKIT?
Those of you who know me (and, of course, those of you who receive a monthly MATANA box), know that the story and the people behind a brand or business are extremely important to me.
I feel a lot more excited and connected to a product when I know more about what has gone into making it: how the business was started, how and where the products are made, and any interesting anecdotes that give it more character and identity.
Most people and most businesses have some kind of backstory - especially in Israel. The history of the land, the quirkiness and diversity of the people, and the constant need to be resourceful make for a lot of good stories. Rarely has anyone said something to me along the lines of “I don't know. I just really like jam and there was a need in the market.” It is always more dynamic and unexpected.
The olive oil that I cook with was made by an Israeli-Argentinian family, third generation farmers who use fruit from an 800 year old olive trees. The salt I sprinkle on my popcorn as I binge watch Game of Thrones is from the northern banks of the Dead Sea. The diaper cream I use a thousand times a day on my baby’s sweet tush was made using herbs from a kibbutz in the Arava desert. … and so on.
A friend once told me that I “fetishize commodities,” but I disagree. I think knowing the story gives me a greater appreciation for whatever I am wearing, eating or using - and allows me to see it for more than what it appears to be. That is why I love telling you the stories of the Israeli vendors we work with - I believe it adds a lot of value to your monthly package and the products inside.
Last week, I attended the fashion show of one of Israel’s most iconic brands: Maskit. It inspired me to share their story with you and my own personal relationship with the brand…
I got married in Israel last summer and couldn’t find anything to wear. I went to a few dress shops with friends and always felt like the designers were just trying to sell me something cheap for too much money. There was no meaning, identity or passion behind the brands, and I felt the designers were only interested in charging me as much as possible for pretty low quality. Nothing had any personality. If that is important to me in an olive oil, it obviously mattered for my wedding dress!
My parents came to visit in early spring and I still didn’t have a dress. One day, we were walking around the American Colony (a small neighborhood in south Tel Aviv) when my mom noticed a sign and said “Oh, Maskit - I think bubbie Esther used to have a coat from here. Let’s go in.”
The building, like all the buildings in the American Colony, dates back to the 1800s when a group of 150 Christian Americans moved here, bringing with them the wood and materials to resurrect their homes in the New England style. There is nowhere else like it in Israel.
When we entered, it appeared as though we were in a museum. There were vintage dresses, jewelry and advertisements on display, and a large framed portrait of Ruth Dayan.
We walked through into a beautiful showroom and I noticed a rack of white garments, which appeared to be weddings dresses.
Suddenly, out walked a very stylish red-headed woman who introduced herself as Sharon. She told us about Maskit (a biblical word for ornament), which was the first Israeli fashion house, founded in 1954 by Ruth Dayan. The Dayan’s are an Israeli dynasty: Ruth was married to General Moshe Dayan; her sister, Reuma, married President Weizman; her daughter, Yael, is a former Member of Knesset and Deputy Mayor of Tel Aviv; and son, Assi, a famous actor and filmmaker.
In the 1950s, Ruth (who is now 100) noticed that immigrants were entering the country, looking for jobs. The newcomers were skilled in sewing and embroidery, so she submitted a proposal for a social welfare project to the Israeli Ministry of Labor. This became Maskit, which was hugely successful for a number of years before eventually declaring bankruptcy in the 90s.
Sharon, an Israeli designer who had worked for Alexander McQueen in London, took on the effort to resurrect the brand in recent years and has been doing an amazing job.
I browsed through the wedding dresses and pulled one out that had really special embroidery, which Sharon explained was a Yemenite stitching. My to-be husband is Yemenite, and it felt symbolic.
I tried on the dress and loved it. I loved the feel of the silk, which was apparently from a merchant in Damascus. But mostly, I loved feeling like I was wearing a piece of history. It wasn’t just a dress - it had so much character and so much behind it.
Since then, Maskit has moved into a new home in Jaffa’s Old City. It’s an amazing space and I highly recommend planning a visit on your next trip to Israel.