Margot Bridal’s studio is a pearl hiding up a side street, a few steps from the ancient basalt city walls of Tiberias, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel. Here we find Margot’s haute couture designer, Shiran Navon.
Approaching Tiberias you pass the Sea Level sign at the top of the hill, and descend more than 200 metres below sea level to the ancient-and-modern city. It should be a glorious lakeside beauty, but in fact it’s a hotch-potch of run-down buildings, dusty and bleached in the bright sunshine, interspersed with stunning ancient relics and hot sulphur springs.
The Margot Bridal studio is an oasis. The graceful plate glass shop windows display impressive large images from the 2018 Collection. The studio is bathed in bright natural light. Ruti, the veteran haute couture seamstress, works in the well-equipped design- and sewing room where the gowns are created. Shiran sits at an elegant antique table, exuding calm and style.
About Margot Bridal and Shiran Navon
Q & A with Margot Bridal designer, Shiran Navon
Shiran, how did you come to be designing wedding gowns?
Shiran Navon: From the age of 5 I knew I wanted to be a designer. I was always dressing my dolls in all kinds of my own designs. Wedding gowns were my favourite. When I was 11 my great-grandmother, who was an haute couture designer, taught me how to use her sewing machine. She also shared many tips and tricks, which I use to this day. At the age of 17 I inherited that sewing machine, and knew it was my calling to follow in her footsteps. I grew up in a modest family in Tiberias. I didn’t have an opportunity to develop my artistic talent at the ordinary high school I attended. After leaving school and completing military service I chose to study Fashion Design at the WIZO College in Haifa, located in the same street as my great-grandmother’s house, so I could continue to live at home.
At my college interview, one of the leading lecturers identified my talent, even though I had not been able to develop it yet. He told me I would have to progress 10 steps at a time to catch up with my peers – which I did. 12 years ago I didn’t have any exposure to the world of design through social media, and no doors were opened for me. I was completely unripe – and thirsty to learn. I felt that those around me in the fashion design world were competitive, and not at all collaborative. I dedicated myself to developing my talent, and graduated with distinction after four years.
Where did the name Margot Bridal come from?
Shiran Navon: My great-grandmother, Margot, inspired me to sew and design. She was born in Germany in 1912, and apprenticed in haute couture. When World War II came she had a 2-year-old daughter, Hava. Her husband was killed in the war. Seeing the situation deteriorating for Jews, she handed her infant daughter over to a convent in Belgium for safe keeping. She told them if she survived, she’d be back as soon as possible to fetch her. If she didn’t return, she gave instructions to send her daughter to Aunt Greta, in what was to become Israel.
Sewing to Survive
The Nazis sent Margot to Auschwitz concentration camp. Due to her exceptional sewing skills, her captors pressed Margot into service as a seamstress, sewing for the Nazi officers. During her time there she was subjected to Mengele experiments, which prevented her from being able to have any more children. Her indomitable spirit and talent for sewing preserved her, and somehow she survived the war. She went to fetch her daughter Hava, now aged six, from the Belgian convent. They no longer shared a common language: Margot spoke German, Hava spoke French. Hava didn’t recognise or remember her, and didn’t want to go with her, but eventually it worked out. They lived in Belgium for another four years, until they managed to make their way to Israel.
They settled in the German Colony in Haifa in northern Israel. Margot remarried, her daughter Hava grew up, and had three children of her own. Hava’s daughter Michal then had four children; I’m her second daughter, born in 1982, when Margot was 70. A special rapport soon developed between us, fuelled by my passion to learn all I could about haute couture from my talented great-grandmother. My fondest childhood memories revolve around frequent visits to Margot’s house, and my fascination with Margot’s haute couture sewing skills. She always emphasised the importance of finish and attention to detail, which characterise my wedding gowns to this day. When Margot passed, I inherited her beloved and well-used sewing machine. Her legacy inspired me to study fashion design near her house in Haifa.
I graduated with distinction and decided to establish myself as a gown designer, naming my brand in honour of Margot, my German great-grandmother, who was such a great influence and remains an inspiration for me.
How do you create your designs?
Shiran Navon: I’ve always visualised in 3-D and I start creating on the dummy before I sketch a new design. Think of how a chef looks at the ingredients available, and based on that, creates the dish. When I create a new design I follow a similar process – I collect all the materials I have available, and then assemble them on the dummy, until I’m satisfied with the way it looks. Then I sketch the new design and produce a pattern from it. I incorporate the techniques I learned from my great-grandmother, especially the layering and appliqué flowers. I tune in and follow my heart and intuition as I create my designs. Each creation is an individual work of art – it feels like a birth process.
When designing a wedding gown I bear in mind the bride’s comfort and practical considerations – we want her to feel completely comfortable in the dress, and it must be easy to go to the toilet! All my gowns are comfortable to wear, allowing freedom of movement, and they are not too heavy.
My designs are original. I keep up to date with innovations and developments in the textile and fashion world, but avoid looking too closely at what other designers are doing, because I don’t want to be influenced inadvertently by other ideas.
I am constantly playing with new designs, new ideas. Most dresses incorporate 6-7 different materials – the possibilities are endless.
Where do you source your materials?
Shiran Navon: Most of my materials come from the fashion and textile district in Tel Aviv, Nachalat Binyamin, sourced locally, and from France and Italy. There are about 60 wedding gown designers in Tel Aviv alone, so some materials are custom-made locally. I see other leading Israeli wedding gown designers also sourcing here, but just as different cooks create different dishes from the same ingredients, so it is with our different wedding gowns.
How does Israeli culture influence your designs?
Shiran Navon: Israel is a melting pot of many different cultures, a meeting place of east and west, ancient and modern. Israeli culture can feel tough – like the outside of the ‘sabra’ prickly pear, said to symbolise native Israelis – but I draw on the soft sweetness inside.
My training in haute couture is rooted in European culture, and I also harness the innovative vision which is so strong in Israel, often referred to as the Start Up Nation. My designs blend the different influences into a unique and coherent look, classic, yet modern; comfortable, yet avant-garde.
How would you define Margot Bridal’s style?
Shiran Navon: My designs are a fusion of ancient and modern, inspired by the spirit of ancient traditions but with the vibe behind modern start-ups. The contrasts spark the magic in that beautiful place where soft and rough, old and new connect. I position the lines on all the gowns precisely, to flatter the contours of the body, not just to look good on a hanger. Exquisite attention to detail and a perfect finish complete the look.
All my gowns are comfortable to wear, enhancing the bride’s finest features, allowing her to shine. They are not too tight on the body. I aim for the ultimate angel look – with a dash of daring.
My style is unlike anyone else’s.
What is the theme of your latest collection?
Shiran Navon: As I created the gowns in the 2018 Collection a theme emerged: Heavenly Fairy. The gowns feature 3D appliqué, pearls and hand-cut flowers. The layers emphasise perspective, connecting dreamtime with the bride’s appearance on her Big Day. Each gown is inspired by and named after a fairy.
The names of a collection and of the individual gowns come after the collection is born, and I see and feel how they are – just as it is when a child is born!
Which design is your favourite so far?
Shiran Navon: Without a doubt – Wendy in the 2018 Collection. I love the flattering line, the clean, classic simplicity enhanced by an avant-garde finish. The gown is comfortable and easy to wear. Each flower is hand-cut, with a pearl sewn into the centre. It certainly has the Wow factor, and those most experienced in bridal gowns repeatedly select it as their favourite.
How does a bride choose her dress?
Shiran Navon: When a bride comes to me looking for the dress of her dreams, I connect with her heart-to-heart, and intuitively feel how we can make her look and feel absolutely heavenly on her wedding day. I immediately see where her pluses and minuses are, and how I can emphasise her pluses. I guide her along those lines, knowing how to fit the gown to be the most flattering, perfectly proportioned, and comfortable. During the process of preparing the gown, we gently grow closer, as I feel into every detail. I’m delighted to say I have a 100% satisfaction rate.
A bride comes to Margot Bridal for the personal touch, for the flattering, comfortable yet angelic look and feel of our gowns.
Many of the brides in our local area are religiously observant, seeking a modest yet beautiful gown. I have a range of stylish gowns especially developed to delight the religiously observant bride.
How do you see bridal gown trends developing?
Shiran Navon: Trends move slowly in bridal gowns. I see a return to greater freedom, big dresses with lots of material, not tightly fitted, as they have been over the last few years.