Fashion

Meet the modern mad hatter: Tami Bar-Lev

The up-and-coming headwear designer opens up about what inspires her surrealistic creations and what celebrity she'd love to dress.

Tami Bar-Lev, pictured above, worked for renowned milliner Piers Atkinson who has dress celebrities such as Kate Moss, Lady Gaga and Rihanna.  Tami Bar-Lev, pictured above, worked for renowned milliner Piers Atkinson who has dress celebrities such as Kate Moss, Lady Gaga and Rihanna.  Tami Bar-Lev, pictured above, worked for renowned milliner Piers Atkinson who has dressed celebrities such as Kate Moss, Lady Gaga and Rihanna. (Photo: Tami Bar-Lev)

Whimsical desires, humor and sweet obsessions characterize milliner Tami Bar-Lev’s surreal headpieces. The Israel-based designer has managed to merge high fashion with wildly gorgeous headwear that disregards trends or societal influence. Bar-Lev has made a name for herself – and a thriving business – letting her imagination run wild. It’s something that most fashion designers only dream of doing.

“I managed to start isolating myself and creating based on pure passion and ideas that excited me,” Bar-Lev told From The Grapevine from her Tel Aviv studio. “I just have a pocketful of ideas that I just have to let out."

Tami Bar-Lev is redefining the art of millinery with humor, imagination and technical skills. Tami Bar-Lev is redefining the art of millinery with humor, imagination and technical skills with her fashions. (Photo: Tami Bar-Lev)

A pioneer in her field, Bar-Lev’s creations have graced the heads of private clients and models at fashion shows all over the world, as well as in magazines and on TV. While her headwear collections aren’t without their quirks, Bar-Lev has managed to remain fresh and desirable to the mainstream by creating a bit of something for everyone in each collection. “I like choosing design elements that are recognizable, that a person can relate to,” says Bar-Lev. “I work a lot with visual and conceptual association.”

Bar-Lev says her “If You Like Piña Coladas” collection was inspired by the American dream vacation and the Beach Boys' song “Kokomo,” which mention a “tropical drink melting in your hand” and “cocktails and moonlit nights.” Tropical clichés are sprinkled throughout the collection of straw hats, silk turbans, Hibiscus headbands and floral silk tiaras.

Headpieces like this one from the "If You Like Pina Coladas" collection take Bar-Lev one week to create on average.Headpieces like this one from the "If You Like Piña Coladas" collection take Bar-Lev one week to create on average. (Photo: Tami Bar-Lev)

In fact, quirk and clichés are precisely what the milliner goes for. “My aesthetic is very popish,” Bar-Lev told us. “I love a good cliché, I think clichés are wonderful!”

While studying at Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Israel, Bar-Lev found herself constantly sketching and designing headpieces and hats. “I didn't have the courage to dream of actually focusing on hats then,” says Bar-Lev. “In my last year, I flew for a few days to London and went to see “Hats: An Anthology” by Stephen Jones at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 2009. I stayed there for hours and decided that hats were going to be my future.”

Before launching her eponymous studio, Bar-Lev worked in the London studio of renowned milliner Pier Atkinson. Atkinson, who has dressed such celebrities as Anna Dello Russo, Kate Moss, Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Cate Blanchett, groomed the rising designer. “I think the most valuable thing I learned there was to follow your vision no matter how crazy it is but don't forget to make it practical, production-wise,” says Bar-Lev. “I’m still working on that one – unsuccessfully sometimes!”

Brides are among the designer's favorite clients.Brides are among the designer's favorite clients. (Photo: Tami Bar-Lev)

Sure, pineapple turbans and banana hats might not work for everyone, but a great deal of Bar-Lev's work is more subtly playful. She's managed to attract brides-to-be around the world who lust for her elegant, one-of-a-kind pieces for their special day. In April, her headpieces graced models’ heads at the Mira Zwillinger’s show during Bridal Fashion Week in New York. Bar-Lev studied at Shenkar with Mira's daughter Lihi, who now serves as co-designer of the brand.

Brides don't seem to bore the designer as one might imagine. Rather, she enjoys the balance that her bridal clients bring to her work. “It is a glamorous and fancy design, which is fun. I enjoy washing my ideas in white and light colors. It cleans everything.”

A model sporting a headpiece from Tami Bar-Lev's "I Heart Pistachio" for brides.A model sporting a headpiece from Tami Bar-Lev's "I Heart Pistachio" for brides. (Photo: Tami Bar-Lev)

Her latest bridal collection, sweetly named “I Heart Pistachio,” was inspired by the various planning stages of a wedding when brides inexhaustibly scout for materials, the right color palette and visual elements. (It's otherwise known as a bride-to-be's Pinterest board.) The collection consists of unique objects such as pink and red raspberries, pretty butterflies and air-like Bougainvillea flowers. “I am very excited about this collection,” says Bar-Lev. “It’s filled with with light pastel colors that give the brides’ look a little kick."

While the designer isn’t interested in name-dropping clients (we tried!), she wasn't shy about sharing the one celeb she’d love to design for. “I kind of feel like creating a twig and branch-like crown for musician Lorde. I think it would look great with her curly hair.”

Lindsay E. Brown is the managing editor of Eco-Chick, the web’s first ethical fashion, beauty and travel site for women. She has written for Whole Living Magazine, Edible, and Cottages & Gardens. Lindsay has been featured as a fashion and beauty expert on the Veria Living Network. Lindsay holds a BS in Global Business Studies and Marketing from Manhattan College, and received the 2012 Honors Award at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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