Miri Beilin does not own a television. The fashion designer and haredi stylist watches the fashion network only in her studio, and she's fine with that. "I live and breath fashion, I know what today's trends are," she explains.
While growing up in Monsey, New York, 30-year-old Beilin used to watch her mother sew cloths with an old sewing machine. That's when she decided this is what she wants to do with her life.
For her 8th grade dance she sewed all the girls in her class pinafore dresses. Today she styles the elite haredi world, owns a bridal salon, and directs fashion studies for religious women at Miryam Fashion College.
"The religious sector has a great need for beautiful clothing," she says. "There are holidays, Shabbat, events, women's meetings. During the matchmaking period, the girls have to look their best and wear their most amazing outfits. Sometimes I'm recruited especially for this period, or a few women of the same family hire me before the Sheva Brachot (the seven blessings), held every night of the week prior to a wedding. They need a nice outfit for each night. I also dress women before and after giving birth, two very sensitive situations."
Beilin lives in Bnei Brak with her husband Isaiah, 32, a diamond dealer who works mainly in New York, and their four children: Zvi, 11, David, 10, Abigail, 7, and Harry, 2.
She was only 17 when they first met via matchmaking. "I arrived in Israel for a visit and I was introduced to him. I knew we were a good match after our first date. We were a couple of cute kids who wanted to get married. I'm the eldest of ten brothers and I was very mature. I had a strong will to start a family. When I first became a mother at age 19 I was the happiest girl alive."
Left: Do's, Right: Don'ts (Photo: Abigail Uzi)
She stayed in Israel and focused more on her family and less on a career. "Until David was born, my second child, I stayed at home. I was adapting to Israel, studying Hebrew. When I met Isaiah I knew how to say only two things: 'I want ice-cream' and 'there's a cockroach'. Slowly I progressed. I've always loved cloths and knew my way around fashion, but not about the materialistic aspect of it all. I wanted to do something that was considered holy. Something productive like making the brides feel happy in a nice dress, taking a women and making her stand in front of a mirror and make her feel good about herself and in front of her husband. A good friend told me its time, I'd already had two kids so it was time to open a bridal salon."
When you opened the studio you didn't have any fashion knowledge yet. How did you know how to design?
"I've been designing ever since I can remember. In the beginning I made my own patterns and just started to cut. I remember when Abigail was born I began studying at the Miryam College."
Today women are attracted to Beilin through word of mouth recommendations. Her studio is located in Bnei Brak, but there is no way of knowing how to get there since there are no signs. She begins to work around 6 am, sewing dresses for events and brides which cost between NIS 8,000-10,000 (Around $2,000-3,000). Her children come to visit the salon I in the afternoons. "This is a gift from above, having an opportunity to develop a career as well as spend time with my kids. They come here straight after school, they have a game room here and a place to do their homework. If I'm out of the office in the afternoons or I'm very busy I have a nanny."
She barely has time to write on her Facebook wall. "My secretary does it all. My Facebook isn't meant for personal use, but strictly for business. I have about 1,500 friends at the moment, only women – no men. I advertise fashion and makeup news – I read magazines from around the world and offer tips."
A younger look. Left: Don'ts, Right: Do's (Photo: Abigail Uzi)
She implements these tips on her personal styling clientele, a field of work that has gradually grown in the religious and haredi sectors lately, even among young teens. A stylist consultation costs about $100, and Beilin always suggests four consultations, including a close look at clients' closets, their organization, and a complete shopping trip with guidance.
Where do you buy the clothes?
"It depends. Those who are more daring and wish to invest more, especially those who work in offices and public locations, I usually take to Kikar Hamedina (a large plaza in Tel Aviv) or to Ramat Aviv. I take the more conservative women, like daughters of rabbis, to Bnei Brak. There are some women who don't want to leave the city, some don’t want to leave the house and prefer that I bring the clothes to them. There are women who hire me for a single meeting, prior to a matchmaking date or a haredi event. Then there are those who hire me as their permanent personal stylist, and they're very proud of this status. Anyway, it's not a costly process, the opposite is true. I believe that if you shop right, you can cut back on amounts and utilize the outfit properly."
Where do you begin?
"With the client's closet. I measure the length of the skirts, see the color palate and figure it out. I see what she wears to a date and I'm able to immediately tell if they are very conservative. I'll never make a women do something which makes her feel uncomfortable. I won't change her or her personality - just bring out the best in her, physically and personality-wise."
Professional woman. Left: Don'ts, Right: Do's (Photo: Abigail Uzi)
"If we're talking about teenagers, I always work in cooperation with their mothers, sometimes I even play mediator. For example, when the girl wants to go for a more provocative look, I offer creative and alternative suggestions to get them to reach an understanding. The same thing goes for married women: I always ask the client, 'What would your husband say or want?' because I think it's the most important thing. I have a lot of rabbis' daughter for clients as well as women and teenagers from different religious backgrounds. Some look good and well-kept, some are heavier and less beautiful, but they certainly know what they want. There is great awareness in the sector, more than you think. I think it's important that a girl look her age, so if she's 14 she doesn't look 20. Another important issue is that her personality will shine through her outfit, in a modest way of course."
How do you decide how modest the outfit should be?
"It depends on the client. Modesty is very individual."
What about your own limitations regarding modesty?
"I've never done anything to cause a scene. I can say that I don't dress to draw negative attention, but to please myself and my husband. That should be the goal of any married woman, and I'm certainly not planning on crossing any lines. I never shop without my husband, because the most important thing is that he love what I wear. Of course I pick out clothes and accessories I feel great wearing, but he has the final word."
"When a woman feels good about herself she is able to give more. Judaism encourages beauty and aesthetics. You can learn that from the monthly preparations for the ritual bath. Haredi women are well kept and today, more than ever, they know they should invest in their looks and smile at the gift God gave them."
Trends converter – that's Beilin's definition of what she does. "The idea is to take something that's not modest and turn it into something modest and respectable, while still making it look effortlessly fashionable," she explains.
"When I say effortless I mean that if the outfit is too open and sleeveless, a lycra shirt underneath isn't always the right solution. Sometimes it even looks pathetic. This is where I step in. A woman can show me a stunning Chanel or Roberto Cavalli item and ask me to convert it to something they can wear. I teach her how to do it elegantly and how to wear it in different variations and different seasons."