Lia Kes is involved in every aspect of the design process, visiting factories, meeting with customers, and selecting dyes and recycling materials for garments.
NEW YORK – Lia Kes’s fashion show threw guests for a loop during a recent New York Fashion Week event at the Beekman Hotel in Lower Manhattan. Instead of the glitz that industry insiders have come to expect of NYFW exhibitions, Kes’s show, KES SS18 – which stands for [Spring/Summer 2018] – presented guests with a low-key subterranean vibe.
There were no famous models, no elegant runways, no DJs spinning electronic music – instead, Israeli-born Kes featured 28 original designs, modeled by seven mixed-age, multi-ethnic models: Yuliya in a black Augustine double- wrap slip dress, Tierra in a macro mosaic top, Hartje in an asymmetric cow-neck top and harem pants, and Qi Wen in a high-low halter dress with reverse monk top.
“There is a subtlety and spirituality to Lia,” observes Meredith Berkman, a writer and customer based in Manhattan who wore a Kes-designed outfit to the show. “That is what makes her so intriguing.”
Berkman discovered Kes’s Upper West Side store several years ago because of the big Hebrew letters and pictures of Israel in the window. She was immediately attracted to the label that promoted its Jewish and Israeli background.
Kes grew up on the 1,300-person Kibbutz Afikim, just south of the Kinneret. She reflects fondly on her first sewing teacher and mentor, Ahuva Gottesman.
“I still think about her frequently – her professional qualities were some of the highest I came across in my whole professional life.”
After two years in the Israel Air Force and a bachelor’s degree in fashion design from Shenkar College in Tel Aviv, Kes relocated to the US, settling in, doing a brief stint in California and then returning to New York where she launched her namesake collection.
“I feel like it took me a while to combine who I am now,” Kes said.
“I am an immigrant, an Israeli American, a sort of a hybrid – not completely Americanized and not completely Israeli.”
With boutiques located at 463 Amsterdam Avenue at 82nd Street in Manhattan and in Southampton in Long Island, New York, Kes has found success catering to the locals.
“It is the mix of the right people with the right community to create something so amazing,” she said.
She is involved in every aspect of the design process, visiting factories, meeting with customers, and selecting dyes and recycling materials for garments that can require up to 40 pieces of fabric.
At home, Kes is an involved mom to her two daughters – ages 10 and 13 – and is active in their Jewish day school, Heschel, and Jewish Community Center.
Last fall, during a spate of stabbings in Israel, two Heschel mothers who are also customers and philanthropists approached Kes with an idea – to produce a desirable object that could raise funds for Israel. Together, they created Project AHAVA, a conceptual messenger tote from which all proceeds would go to charities that support Israel.
Customers purchased $180 denim messenger bags – funky, unfinished objects with words describing Israel (eternal, radiant, innovative, lush) printed on the inside. All proceeds went to support the Israel Trauma Coalition.
“Working with her on the Ahava Project was amazing,” said Stacy Helfstein. “Lia is a shining star. She gives 100% and is not happy until the product is perfect.”
Kes continues to leave her imprint on the New York and fashion worlds, building community one outfit at a time. At her Upper West Side store on a recent weekday, shoppers included young hipsters, 80-year-old women – and, of course, a group of Israeli ex-pats.