The Hidden Stories Behind BRIDGING II
People often ask me: “What do you do?”
“I am a fashion designer, apparently”, I reply, “Oh, really? In what sense?”
” When I have a message, I design a collection, exhibit, and tell the story.”
“That’s cool,” they usually answer, and I see a clear sight of doubt in their eyes...
Fashion for me has always been a form of communication and a way to tell a story. Human connections and storytelling are how HÍDAS was initially born, and what keeps driving us into new creations.
This month I would like to share with you the story behind BRIDGING II - the second collection we created. It was a story I eagerly wanted to tell, that I somehow managed (with the help of my incredible co-creators) to create a collection in less than two weeks.
In 2017, I was living in a lovely apartment in southern Tel Aviv. I was at a peak point of my career, driven by my work and exciting new collaborations. I was always on the go, traveling and presenting my new brand on various fashion shows across the globe. Life was being good to me, but I constantly struggled with the contrast of my own privileged life, and the disturbing reality of people not so far away.
As a third-generation of Holocaust survivors, I have always been preoccupied with questions such as ׳how׳ and ׳why׳. Ever since I was a little girl, I have always heard the phrase NEVER AGAIN. So when I learned about the war in Syria and the exile of the Syrian people, this distinction was unbearable to me. How can we repeatedly say NEVER AGAIN, while ignoring the reality of millions of people at this exact moment?
Out of a desire to do something, to help in any way I possibly can, despite the risks and the people telling me not to go (due to safety reasons concerning the Middle East conflict and myself being an Israeli), I decided to fly to the Greek Island of Leros and volunteer at a refugee camp.
I arrived on the island on a beautiful Saturday, full of sunlight and a Greek kind of beauty, the blue sea embracing the island from all directions. I remember how tiny the airport was, and being picked up by two volunteers in a huge blue van, bringing me to the house all of us volunteers stayed in.
I also remember how strong the dissonance was between the exaggerated beauty of a little sunny Greek island and the racist, sometimes violent things that took place on it.
When I arrived at the volunteer accommodations, I immediately felt I needed to practice yoga, for the sake of both my body and mind. One of the volunteers joined me. The next morning about six more. Soon enough, we were a big group of volunteers practicing yoga every morning, so I figured, why not try it with the refugees as well?
At first, only two or three people came, but slowly the word spread, the
connection deepened, and the size of the group increased. At some point,
we could no longer practice in any room because there were too many people, so we began practicing outside by the sea.
When we first started with the yoga sessions, most of the refugees practiced wearing jeans, mainly because they had no other clothes and for them, it was a disgrace to accept clothes as donations. But as the trust between us grew, I managed to get them some t-shirts and sweatpants, which they were willing to receive.
Originally, I planned to go to Leros for two weeks. Eventually, I stayed for a few months. Throughout my stay, the refugees never missed a yoga session and asked me to practice daily, sometimes even twice or three times a day.
The thing that astounded me most during my time on the island, was the refugees’ inner sense of hope.
I was fascinated and deeply inspired by how people without any rights, identity, passport, or country to return to, people who knew they would never see their parents or children again, still managed to find faith within themselves and dare to dream of a better future.
I kept collecting small fractions of this hope - constantly writing down quotes of sentences they said and keeping pictures they drew. The refugees intuitively drew, everywhere, using any writing tool they could find. Sometimes they drew by simply outlining shapes in the sand, using their fingers. They drew all kinds of symbols: clocks, a bird in a cage, keys, arms outstretched for help, a ladder which is not clear whether it goes up or down.
Those symbols reflected their most inner truths and doubts, relating to the fluidity of time, their lost homes, and their lingering for a better future.
In August 2017, I got an unexpected phone call, inviting me to present a brand new collection at the September NY Fashion Week. It was an opportunity of a lifetime, an invitation I would never decline, despite the seemingly impossible deadline of two weeks only.
I knew I have been given a stage to tell a story, and I had no doubt which one it was going to be-
The story of people who have lost everything and still managed to find hope, strength, and creativity within themselves. The story of those who have been silenced, while having so much to say. I wanted to share what I learned with a wider audience, using their own words and perspectives.
The BRIDGING II collection is about listening to the voices that are already there.
It is divided into four sections, each one reflecting and symbolizing a phase in the refugees’ life, as expressed by the ones I met.
The prints on the fabrics are entwined with calligraphy representations of sentences they said, designed by a Jewish Calligraphy artist from Jerusalem, and sketches of the symbols they drew, designed by my Palestinian Co-Creator from the Gaza Strip.
Here is an example inspired by the quote "A long silence could have been avoided".
This short description of BRIDGING II doesn’t do justice to the complicated, nuanced, and diverse stories of the people I met in Leros - but it does capture my own picture of what I saw and learned. I did my best to translate the experience in the way I know best - through art, collaboration, and beautiful, detailed fabrics that tell a story.
Thank you for taking the time to look a bit deeper into the work the HÍDAS team makes. If you have your own ideas of collaboration or were inspired by any of the stories, please reach out to us and share to firstname.lastname@example.org or tag #BRIDGINGit on IG.
May we all listen and be heard.
Michal & the HÍDAS team