How Israel’s vintage shops saved The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem

Israel’s first major period drama series, “The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem,”When the pandemic struck, I was all set to shoot in Kiev.

It was a bitter blow, stopping one of the most ambitious and high budget local productions.

The lockdown had unexpected benefits. The streets of Jerusalem, Acre, and Safed were freed from their normal bustle and transformed into perfect film locations.

Filming was allowed in the elegant bar and courtyard of the American Colony Hotel, a historic hotel that would normally have been closed to guests. Another scene was shot in a museum that was closed due to the pandemic.

A dance party in “The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem.”Photo by Nati Levy

Internationally known Israeli actors Michael Aloni also appear (“Shtisel”), Hila Saada (“Beauty and the Baker”) and Itzik Cohen (“Fauda”Suddenly, ) had more flexibility in their work schedules.

Liron Cohen, the costume designer of the sprawling family tale, did not initially see local filming as an advantage.

She had to frantically scout new sources for the wardrobe of the multigenerational characters, living in the time Jerusalem was part of the Ottoman Empire, through the British Mandate and Israel’s War of Independence.

“In Kiev it was all arranged that I would have access to a well-established, enormous costume archive to replicate fashions from 1919 to the 1940s. The studio there also had the advantage of a storage facility to keep the thousands of sets of clothes needed to dress 40 main characters and many, many extras.”

Photo from “The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem”Nati Levi

A graduate in fashion design from WIZO School of Design in Haifa, with 10 years’ experience working in TV and movie productions, Cohen discovered during her historical research what a melting pot Jerusalem was in the first half of the 20th century.

“It was a society made up of a wide range of ethnic and social groups speaking many languages — Hebrew, Ladino, Arabic, English and Turkish. Each group had its own distinct style of dress, made of different fabrics and with a variety of accessories,”She said.

“Some immigrants also transformed themselves in their new homeland, modifying heavy, woolen clothing to match the hot climate they now found themselves in.”

A fascinating discovery

“The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem,”Based on the 2015 international bestseller by Sarit Yaishai-Levy. It includes all these groups.

The Spanish-Judeo Erazozas form the central family. Rochel (Yuval Schrf), the unattainable love interests of Gabriel Ermoza, (Michael Aloni), hails from the tight knit Orthodox Ashkenazi congregation.

There are also Irgun fighters (the Zionist paramilitary organization), Arabs, and whoever is in power at the time, Turkish, or British.

The characters in “The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem”They are a melting pot for diversity. Photo by Nati Levy

Cohen said that what seemed overwhelming at first was a fascinating discovery.

“The magic really began when I found the vintage community in Israel. There are many people here of all ages, men and women, who collect and preserve vintage clothing. We started going from place to place and person to person collecting and buying.”

Nearly all the clothing and shoes in the series are original items from the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. Cohen said she was fortunate to find vintage stores like By Kilo in Tel Aviv and Golda in Herzliya, as well as the online site Betty In Vintage Land.

A few of the cast members “The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem.”Photo by Nati Levy

She also cites other finds she made at estate sales or from private collectors. Cohen is also excited about the one-of a kind. wedding dressWith 19th century embroidery she discovered for Rosa (Hila Saada), in her studio of design duo Yoel and Reuma, who collect vintage fabric to incorporate into creations.

Hasidim, British officers

It was not necessary to look very hard for the costumes worn by Ashkenazi characters. Toldot Aharon members still wear the same black-and white stripe outfits up until today.

It was also possible to purchase costumes of British Mandate officers, as an English company specializes in historically accurate reproductions of military uniforms.

Besides using costumes to emphasize the timeframe, they are also important to build the character’s persona, and for this Cohen had to work strictly according to the brief of director, Oded Davidoff and screenwriters Shlomo Mashiach and Esther Namdar Tamam.

Filming “The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem.”Photo by Rami Katzav

Luna Ermoza, a young, sensual beauty (played by Swell Ariel Or), is the protagonist. “we put her in revealing outfits showing her cleavage so that her liberated, sexy, flirty personality would be emphasized.”

The passing of time can also be shown through characters. “I chose the character of Rosa to show how women’s fashions evolve. For example, in the episodes which take place in the 1920s her dresses have low waists and are quite shapeless. In the 30s, her dresses have a more defined waistline and skirts are to the knees.”

Exotic and silky

Liron Cohen, costumer designer for “The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem.”Photo courtesy Liron Cohen

Of all the characters, Lebanese belly dancer Aishi (Luna Mansour) is Cohen’s favorite.

“I love Aisha for her feminist views. She uses her strong intuition and intelligence to navigate the male environment she inhabits. She knows how to play the game,” Cohen says.

“Her garments come from a wider world than Rosa Ermoza, who is a housewife, and her neighbor, Victoria Franco [Mali Levy], who takes in people’s laundry. Aisha wears bold jewelry from India and fabrics that are more exotic and silky.”

Cohen, who is the son of a Polish mother and a Moroccan father, is not the only one to have fallen for the characters and been drawn into a Jerusalem of the past.

“All of the cast and crew related closely to one or other of the communities portrayed in the series. Everyone had a moment where they said it reminded them of their grandparents, their history or of something nostalgic,”She tells ISRAEL21c.

“For me though, it’s the clothing that was like a beating heart, bringing it all to life,”The talented costume designer says so.

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