Eyal Zimerman’s career has been defined by what he calls “happy accidents.”
The Israeli fashion designer, whose work was showcased at the Loft Gala in Ottawa earlier this spring, showed an early aptitude for architecture. When he realized it wasn’t the career for him, his next choices were photography or fashion design.
“I said, ‘You know, let’s try fashion,’” recalls Zimerman, 40, from his home in Kiryat Ono, near Tel Aviv.
More than 20 years later, designing and creating women’s evening and bridal wear remains his passion. There have been many other “happy accidents” along the way, and Zimerman was always quick to take advantage of them.
His high school studies in fashion, which included private lessons and training with professionals, were interrupted by his three years of army service.
But, as soon as he left the army, he took another design course and then started looking for work in his field.
“Twenty years ago, there wasn’t as much social media,” he recalls. “So I went up and down Dizengoff Street [in Tel Aviv], knocking on doors.”
Behind one of those doors was Pnina Tornai, an internationally known designer who has since been featured on the American TV show, “Say Yes to the Dress.”
“She came to look at me and said, ‘Who’s he?’ She told her assistant, ‘I only take people from Shenkar [College of Engineering, Design and Art], but you know? Take his number – maybe he can be an assistant to my mother,’ who was running her retail store.
“I came home, and I was really upset. But the next day, she called me. I was so excited – the best designer in Israel and she called me!”
Zimerman started by cutting dress lengths for Tornai’s designs, and eventually became her assistant. They worked together for six years. He believes his calm demeanour balanced what he calls her “hot temperature.”
He eventually moved on to focus on his own designs. And, even when he worked for other designers, he always created a private collection.
His Canadian connection was another “happy accident,” after he followed his heart to Montreal two years ago. The romantic relationship didn’t last, but he forged other enduring friendships and Canadian connections.
On a train one day, Zimerman noticed a striking young woman he thought would be an ideal model for him.
His Canadian friend said it wasn’t polite to approach strangers in Canada. But Zimerman gave her his card, never expecting to hear from her.
The model, Solitha Shortte, called an hour later and said, “When are we going to meet?” She had checked out his designs online, and was eager to work with him. Now based in Halifax, she remains his muse.
“She gave me the courage,” he says, to seek out photographers, models and makeup artists in Montreal. A few weeks before he was due to return to Israel, he had an opportunity to do a showcase for photographers and makeup artists in Ottawa.
He called a friend who was about to leave for Canada, and asked her to collect a suitcase full of dresses from his mother to bring with her. Those dresses were featured in the Ottawa showcase.
Zimerman eventually connected with Bruno Racine, co-owner of The Loft hair salon and spa and the creator of Ottawa Fashion Week and its successor, the annual Loft Gala.
He spent four months working on the dresses for the gala, many of which involved a great deal of hand stitching. He doesn’t use assistants – “It’s a lot of hours, but I have control of everything I make” – and has an enviable collection of rare and vintage fabrics from all over the world.
I bought one of Zimerman’s designs to wear to the gala. We did all the measurements and discussions online, and met in Ottawa only three days before the event for a “live” fitting. I felt like a princess in the floaty chiffon confection.
Zimerman’s creations (http://tinyurl.com/hmaeroh) have been worn by Herieth Paul, the Ottawa-raised supermodel and new face of Maybelline cosmetics. He’s interested in opening a boutique in Ottawa because he loves the city and believes there’s a market for his luxurious dresses, which start at $1,000 US.
But he’s not interested in growing his brand if it means losing the personal connection with customers.
“I want to keep my personality – I don’t want to be that huge,” he says. “I don’t want to destroy the affection that I have for the customers and the clothing.”