Style maven Inbal Boussiba has long been a fixture in Tel Aviv’s boutique scene, having opened the cult favorite Belle & Sue. We talked fashion, feminity, and her new home in Kerem Hatemanim.
Words by Jasmin Argaman
Photos by Shalev Ariel
It is lunchtime on a Wednesday in Kerem Hatemanim (vineyards of the Yemenites in Hebrew), one of Tel Aviv’s oldest neighborhoods and by far, one that has drastically shifted over the last decade. Established by Yemenite-Jewish immigrants at the beginning of the 1900s with shanty-like eye-level, single-story homes, today, the sleek buildings have morphed into glass ceilings piercing the skyline.
Inbal Boussiba and I arrange to meet at Cafe Yom Tov and she says the timing is perfect; the middle of the week when no one is there. Yet, thanks to the bright, generous rays of sunshine at the end of January, the place is full and alive as befits the Kerem, no matter the timing, really. Inbal’s new home is a short stroll away, and the fashion entrepreneur shares the cozy spot with her partner, Itay, and their two children.
We met to talk about entrepreneurship and about the complicated trend reversal from instant gratification to slow-down culture. If there is someone with whom this deply resonates, it is Inbal, who whole heartedly believes that slow and steady wins the race, and that depth and attention to small details are the lifeblood of why and how we should do things.
Tell me a little about the process of your personal design choices. We are so inundated with houses that follow a basic script; a white kitchen, an island in the center, Nordic, monochromatic design. How do you create something that is simply different?
“I am a minimalist in my daily life. Starting with what I wear (I’m always in black) and how I behave in the world. However, I am very attracted to textures, colors, and combinations of textures and natural materials. At home, you could say that I made unconventional choices and I fulfilled everything that I don’t realize about myself in my day by day. In my wardrobe, for example, there are no colors. I won’t go with anything pink.”
Have you always worn only black?
“It actually happened to me at the age of 29, after studying at Shenkar. It simplified my life. Fewer decisions to make in the morning. Before that, I had a crazy closet, a rich vintage collection: Lanvin pieces, patterns, colors...I felt that even though I am in the field of fashion, I actually like it, I chose the color black, from now until death. I also really like to add gold to black.
As far as our house, it is basically all my design passions that I don’t exude from my exterior.
The process, which I did with the interior designer Shlomit Selvin, was so enjoyable. I knew I wanted only natural materials, a lot of concrete, wood, raw iron, and stone.”
How did you not get lost in the process?
“Of course you get lost. There are a thousand correct answers. This house could have been a thousand other houses. I could have chosen a turquoise floor that I really wanted, by the way; an Iranian stone that was beautiful. There was also a crazy yellow stone from Hebron. But it was this stone - pink - that I went with.
Perhaps the most integral part of the story of Inbal and Itay’s house in the Kerem, long before the renovation and conversations about materials and inspirations, is the long and Sisyphean journey until its eventual purchase. Some context: it was a plot of about eighty meters, which stood as an empty parking lot, abandoned for twenty years. It took the couple seven years to complete its purchase, and they had to buy it outright from no less than 36 Yemeni heirs.
“Like I said, I like marathons. I thought it would only take me six months to complete the purchase of the lot, and in the end, it took seven years until we bought it, but there was no option to let go or give up. ”
Something in the mechanism of “no fear” is very present in Inbal’s work, seemingly a natural instinct for her. Challenges and complex problems, which may startle some of us on a daily basis, do not prevent her from moving forward. She relays how even when she founded Belle & Sue (whose claim to fame is being the first e-commerce fashion site in Israel) with her sister Adi and their business partner Shira, she had to take huge loans from the bank, where they encountered scepticism as to whether people would really buy fashion online. The common denominator to the projects I have created is that I am probably a person who sees the glass as half empty, but not in the negative sense of the expression. When I see a half-empty glass, it’s an opportunity for me. If I recognize a problem, I look for solutions. If I see a lot of mistakes, it doesn’t stay in a negative place. It’s the contrary; it motivates me into action.”
Boussiba’s recent educational project ‘The Lost Treasure’ was also born from the exact same drive. The concept is one that makes you think, “how has this note been done before?” It’s a nationwide project in which children collect ten agora coins (comparable to a dime) from their homes and donate the money that is collected to a cause close to their hearts.
“People don’t know that if you go to the bank with a bag full of small change, the teller won’t even accept it! This small, ten-agora coin, which is always an excess of something, goes mindlessly into the pocket, is thrown around in the car, or in a jar, and is forgotten there. According to the Bank of Israel, there are currently about NIS 150 million shekels worth of these ten-spot coins lying around, not even part of the economic cycle of the country. In a few years, this coin will most likely be removed from circulation and it will have no value. So if there is so much money in all these tens of pennies - why doesn’t the State do something about it? Why is there no voice calling to collect them? So, I picked up the gauntlet and, luckily, the Igol Latova association and also the Brinks organization teamed up with me and made this whole thing work together.”
“What is really amazing about The Lost Treasure is that children are the ones doing it, collecting the coins, and turning them into real money. Almost half a million shekels have already been donated to associations. In kindergartens, the little ones perceive it as a treasure-hunting adventure, and in middle and high schools, teenagers lead the change, learning about entrepreneurship and social leadership. The Jerusalem Municipality did this last year in all educational institutions in the city, and this year they are starting in Jaffa, translating the educational program into Arabic. Great things are happening. The greatest reward of this initiative is educating children from a young age on how important it is to pay attention to the small details.”
Our conversation leads to other channels, and precisely during a time when the media discourse of women’s rights in Israel is on fire, Boussiba immediately makes it clear that, for her, femininity has always been a source of strength. This is how, quite organically, Belle & Sue’s next collaboration with Lev Cinema, a local chain of movie theatres, was manifested. Despite being a small boutique fashion brand, and not a huge chain that stretches across the country, Belle & Sue has planted a deep cultural stake in contemporary Israeli fashion and has been sponsoring the Jerusalem Film Festival (JFF) for the last four years in a row. This year, the renowned festival, which does wonders for the city of Jerusalem, and, in general, for the local film industry, celebrates 40 years since its inception.
“I saw the movie Corsage at the last festival, and I fell apart. The movie wouldn’t leave my mind. It made me think about all the things I suppressed in my femininity and this is something I’m convinced is shared by many. I feel that this is a film that every woman should see. Its feminism, cinematography, music, and design - it all documents the heart of a woman, and how complex it is to be a woman, in whatever position you are in. I told Lev Cinema that we must do something together for the release of the film. We designed silk handkerchiefs for them. On one of them is the refrain ‘be a lady, they said,’ from the now-viral poem by Camille Rainville which textualizes the harsh set of expectations that are imposed on women. In general, I think about how fragile, yet powerful and strong, a woman’s heart is. We are much more complex machines, and therefore also much more successful. We have parts that even the most skilled watchmakers in the world will not be able to replace.
Speaking of expectations, I can’t help but ask the obvious question; What is it really like to do ‘everything’, i.e., the universally-conflicted juggle of both work and mothering?
I don’t feel that I excel in either field - in my motherhood, or in my career. Yes, it could be that if I were just one of them I might be “better,” but that is not for sure, either. When I founded Belle & Sue, I was pregnant with my first son and I had the fear that what would define me was ‘only being a mother.’ I wanted both, and that was my drive to start the business.
Boussiba’s latest project, FEZ, is another whole world of her own making, one that pulls from her origins and familial ties. “It took me a while to connect with my half-Moroccan identity. Something in the discourse that still fuels sectarian deprivation, in my subjective experience as the daughter of an immigrant from Morocco and the granddaughter of grandparents who lived there most of their lives - must change. There was suffering, everyone knows there was and I don’t deny it, but for me, talking today about deprivation is not what defines me. I want and need to celebrate my half-Moroccan side. I named the FEZ brand to celebrate this place, and as a tribute to my father whose family originated there. I hope that through the brand he will want to explore his roots on a trip to Morocco, because in the past he didn’t want to. My father, a world-renowned professor, suddenly started wearing a thick gold chain. He says it ‘brings the Moroccan out in him’, and it does the same for me, too.”
How do you sum yourself up, in a nutshell?
“I have fun creating. I feel like I’m at the peak, at some climax, and I hope it will last for many years. I like to have my hands full. And I love small details. And a glint of gold.”
- Tags: ISSUE 7