Notes on Fashion: Emerging Designer Looks to His Roots

At a recent fashion show hosted by Brooklyn College Hillel, all eyes were focused on designs by Igor Rozenblyum, a self-taught 24-year-old who immigrated to the United States from Ukraine with his family 10 years ago. A sort of modern-day Nudie Cohen — the late celebrity designer responsible for the over-the-top, blingy suits worn by the likes of Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and Elvis Presley — Rozenblyum designs custom menswear, under his label Rozenblyum Couture, that is Euro-chic (think Moscow nightclub) and carefully detailed. But while Cohen, who was also a Ukrainian Jew, drew inspiration from Mexican art and the American Old West, Rozenblyum incorporates themes into his work that are closer to home. Stars of David accentuate hoodies, hamsas adorn the back pockets of jeans and Hebrew phrases are displayed over bejeweled T-shirts.

The testament to Rozenblyum Couture’s cool factor, however, is a growing non-Jewish following that, Igor explains, exists “because it’s about the concept, not about the religion. It’s what’s in the heart.”

At the March 29 Brooklyn show, which benefited the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind and showcased the work of several other emerging Jewish designers, Japanese koi fish and Bengal tigers adorned Rozenbluym’s T-shirts just as frequently as Jewish symbols. A bikini-clad Matryoshka stacking doll was the focus of one shirt, while a classic hoodie featured “Made in Russia” stamped on the back.

By day, Rozenblyum is an accountant at a modeling agency, but the rest of his time is spent working on Rozenblyum Couture. This includes sketching looks, sourcing fabric, sewing the pieces and embellishing each item by hand. “I take pride in quality and detailing of every piece of clothing that I make,” Rozenblyum said. “Denim in its raw state, leather details, paint, metal decorations and hand-embroidery are incorporated into all designs.”

While many of Rozenbluym’s works are proudly Jewish, they are also intentionally humble. “I consulted a rabbi about putting a hamsa on the back pocket of the jeans. He said it was okay,” he said. “But I wouldn’t put the star there, because the back pocket is the back pocket. And a butt is a butt.” Equally important for Rozenblyum is that the fashion stands alone. “When I’m using Jewish symbols, it must be mixed with style. It can’t just be like: ‘Here’s a Star of David. Let me stick it onto something.’ Otherwise it might look like a yellow star from the war. It has to be appropriate and ethical and not hurt anyone’s feelings. Plus, I wouldn’t put anything out there that I wouldn’t wear myself.”

This story "Notes on Fashion: Emerging Designer Looks to His Roots" was written by Margaret Teich.

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