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2013 May 13

Designer To Watch: Is Alon Livné The Next Big Thing?

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(NEW YORK) Israeli designer Alon Livné has worked with some of the fashion world's biggest names, like Alexander McQueen and Roberto Cavalli, and has since steadily, but swiftly carved out his own break-out career. He made an impressive debut in February: his entrée onto the NYFW scene (a presentation at Lincoln Center) was orchestrated in just three weeks. His latest coup? Designing looks for Beyoncé and her back-up dancers for the Mrs. Carter world tour. We sat down with Livné and his business partner and husband, Gil Ayalon, to find out how it all happened.

We hear you are dressing Beyoncé for her Mrs. Carter tour. How did that happen?
Alon: It’s one of the best experiences of my life. Beyoncé saw my Fall/Winter collection and fell in love with it. Then I met with her stylist, who said, “Maybe we should do something for her tour and discuss creating gowns.” A few hours after, I was heading out to the Izod center in New Jersey where she was rehearsing. We did a fitting for her gowns, and for her dancers' dresses. She also wore another dress for her video of her new single, which will be shown on a big screen during her tour. During “Freakum Dress,'" one of the songs she performs on tour, Beyoncé wears one of my custom gowns, and all of her back-up dancers are also in my designs.

What was Beyoncé like?
Alon: She is really, really nice, she looks amazing, and her skin is…wow! She’s very modest in a way. I expected a big, big diva, but she’s very cute and amazing. And we fell in love with her mom, Tina [Knowles]. We call her Miss Tina, which is what everyone calls her.

Who else do you want to dress?
Alon: There are many like Natalie Portman. She’s Israeli too, so maybe it’s a good connection. Also Tilda Swinton, Rooney Mara, and January Jones. And Lady Gaga and Rihanna, for sure.

What inspired you when you designed your Spring collection?
Alon: Every time it’s different! This time I read a book called The Crystal World by J.G. Ballard and it was so inspiring. The book is very dark and talks about the end of times. But it's also very beautiful and has descriptions of amazing landscapes and people that become crystals. It made me think about so many shapes. In the beginning, I started to work on four or five colors. Then [the collection] became darker and darker and I said, “No, it must be all black.”

Speaking of crystals, you worked with Swarovski on this collection?
Alon: Yes, Crystal Renn actually wore one of my crystal pieces during fashion week. She was photographed in it. I like to play with different kinds of fabrics and shapes. I play with different fabrics to show transparency and skin and it’s these almost alien characteristics that become incorporated into the form. And the crystals catch the light and add this other ethereal element. The futuristic thing is another inspiration. It feels a little bit like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, but it’s glamorous. 

What’s the most fun part of the process when you're designing?
Alon: The beginning and the end. Everything else is a big headache!

When did you get your start in fashion?
Alon: I started designing when I was 17. I studied in Tel Aviv. Then I got an internship with Alexander McQueen for one season, after which I moved to France to work for Roberto Cavalli.

What was it like working for them?
Alon: At Cavalli it was very warm and friendly and you could do whatever you like. I knew Eva Cavalli; she’s the manager of the place. At McQueen it was a little more…

Alon: Yes, but that’s not the right word.
Gil: It was English.
Alon: But I learned so much and discovered many new things. I worked with materials like flamingo feathers, which were very inspiring. At Cavalli I was in charge of the couture line and eveningwear; that was really nice.

You were on the Israeli version of Project Runway. What was that like?
Alon: I won the first prize. It was crazy. It was just after I came back from Cavalli, so I was ready for it. 
Gil: After Alon decided to go back to Israel and start our business, he called me and said, 'I’m going to participate in this reality show.' I’ve known him for 12 years and I said, 'It’s not you. You’re a professional, you’re not reality.' And he said, 'Why? We’re going to start a business. Let’s make buzz.' From the beginning he said 'I’m going to win it.' And the last week when he was in the final, I was renovating our first shop in Tel Aviv, because we wanted to open a week after the win.

Did the show help sales at the store?
Alon: Yes, immediately. That was in 2009, and now I have three stores.

What was it like showing in New York for the first time?
Alon: Wow, it was very exciting! It’s a different place, different people, everything is new and it was also part of our business plan.
Gil: It’s crazy, but when we opened the first store, our initial plan was to expand internationally after three years. His mother tells everybody that at age eight or nine she said to Alon, “What do you want to become when you grow up?” He said, “I will be a fashion designer.” Not I want to be; I will be. We were in four countries before we came to New York and after the first visit, which was February, we decided New York is the place.

How did you pull it together so fast?
Alon: Getting on the calendar was tough, because they were told us, “Sorry we’re closed.” We said, “No take a look.” They let us after they saw the collection.
Gil: It was funny, because on the day of our presentation, we wanted to go in a few hours before. The guards didn’t let us in; Alon's name wasn't even on the list yet.

If you get bigger, do you think that you will remain in Tel Aviv?
Gil:  Actually, on this trip Alon will be opening his branch in New York: a studio and a place for manufacturing and developing the samples. We'll go on from there. But we definitely feel that New York is the right place. It’s definitely easier to find materials and do more here. 

How did you and Gil become business partners?
Alon: We are married and have been together for more than 11 years.

Gil, what were you doing before you were helping him with the business?
Gil: I had a fabulous career as an architect. I was head of one of our prestigious offices in Tel Aviv. I managed the first store simultaneously by phone. Then we got to the step where I couldn’t do it anymore, because Alon's business was taking off. I immediately went into the business two years ago and I’ve been managing it since. I’m doing one project at a time just for a hobby, because he’s a full time job. It’s never boring.

What’s the trick for staying together and working together?
Gil: Compromising a lot. And I think after the second year we decided, without saying it, that it’s not worth arguing about nothing. What do you have to argue about if you know this is the one for you?

Check out Alon Levine's designs for Beyoncé's Mrs. Carter tour and his Spring 2013 collection in the Gallery.

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