Actress, director, social activist, muse. All of these titles are applicable to the international icon, Ronit Elkabetz. Each role is thoroughly dissected in Je t’aime, Ronit Elkabetz, a new exhibition at the Design Museum in Holon, Israel, which opens November 27th on what would have been Elkabetz’s 53rd birthday.
This exhibition, which contains 528 items from Elkabetz’s personal wardrobe, was a collaboration between film director Shlomi Elkabetz (Ronit’s brother and collaborator) and fashion curator and historian Ya’ara Keydar.
While the general Israeli public may not have identified Elkabetz primarily as a fashion icon, this exhibition proves her sartorial choices were always pertinent in the actress’s various cinematic projects and an important part of her daily life. In many ways, this exhibition provides another dimension to Elkabetz’s garments, which she saw as living souls.
Ronit was born in Be’er Sheva and when she was young, her family moved to the town of Kiryat Yam in northern Israel. It was here that she had her first official introduction to fashion as she studied it in high school. At at the age of 17, she began modeling and after designing, sewing, and working as a runway and photo model, she quickly became steeped in the world of glossy covers and haute couture.
Elkabetz would come to have a symbiotic relationship with the fashion world and specifically Moroccan-born Israeli designer, Alber Elbaz, with whom she would often collaborate. Through Elkabetz’s clothing, the act of getting dressed sheds its mundane connotations and becomes something inherently transgressive, cathartic, and creative. Elkabetz’s wardrobe and fashion choices demonstrated her political, feminist, and minority identity agendas and were in many ways an extension of her art as an actress and director.
The theatrical design of Je t’aime, Ronit Elkabetz, expertly curated by Keydar, transports visitors into a theater of sorts as they explore the 31 ‘scenes’ illustrating Elkabetz’s attitude towards fashion. The crowning moment of the exhibition is undoubtedly the three-meter-long vivid yellow Lanvin gown designed by Alber Elbaz. Suspended in the center of the lower gallery, ‘the Sun Dress,’ floats weightlessly, its canary color cutting through the darkness of the gallery space. As visitors enter the dim room, they maneuver through rosettes of silky red fabric on the floor and hear Elkabetz’s voice speaking and singing as if from another dimension, all without ever taking their eyes off of the enchanting garment, which pulls them closer as if it were really the sun.
On the verso of this display, Photocall Magador (a short film directed by Shlomi Elkzabetz) is projected behind a lace gilded mannequin wearing a gothic tulle gown, also by Elbaz. In this imagined scenario, paparazzi call out to Ronit before silence ensues and only the sounds of waves crashing and cameras clicking are audible. The entire room creates a spiritual environment, where the presence of Elkabetz is palpable as her voice rings through the air and her personal items maintain a vibrant presence.
Lustrous jewelry and chic stilettos are displayed in light boxes dotting the walls of a corridor that transitions visitors from the lower gallery. Softly illuminated and presented on an intimate scale, the accessories shown in this passage evoke feelings of awe as if discovering precious treasures or peaking into a cabinet of curiosities. Presented alongside sensual flowers, their femininity is heightened and they seem like organic extensions of womanhood.
The theatrics continue in the upper gallery where mannequins wearing corsets, couture, and costumes tell the story of Elkabetz through style.
The upper gallery is divided by a 16 meter bridge that ascends and abruptly stops in front of the ‘Finale dress’ (designed in tribute to Elkabetz by Victor Bellaish), suspended over a floor projection of the the seashore. Neon text on the adjacent wall ominously reads ‘this is not cinema.’ This climactic display acts as the finale to the exhibition, allowing visitors a somber yet spiritual moment of reflection as they digest the performance they’ve just witnessed.
The triumph of the human spirit is a major theme both in Elkabetz’s oeuvre and the curatorial narrative of the exhibition. Elkabetz imbued every element of her life with passion, and that energy continues to radiate in new ways from the precious objects she left behind from her inspiring yet tragically short life.
Je t'aime, Ronit Elkabetz is showing at the Design Museum Holon from November 27th, 2017 until April 30th, 2018.