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PALM LATITUDES

MELTING POT : Towing the Orthodox Hemline

January 23, 1994|Ivy Brown

Jean-Paul Gaultier's " shmata chic" might have made fashion-mag headlines last year, but Orthodox Jews who really live by the ancient rules of dress often have a hard time finding something kosher and contemporary. That's where Miss Irene comes in.

"There's nothing mysterious about how Orthodox Jewish women dress," says Miss Irene, owner of the eponymous West Los Angeles boutique that mainly serves an Orthodox clientele. "It's a matter of modesty." Which means keeping knees, elbows, collarbones and the head (if married) covered and no trousers, no revealing slits, sheer materials or tight-fitting apparel.

That might sound like a formula for fashion monotony, but for 22 years, Miss Irene's boutique--which is really her converted garage--has offered racks of stylish and colorful dresses, stacks of sweaters and hats. Nothing unusual, just carefully chosen garments that tow the Orthodox hemline.

To be sure, the same brands can be found at department stores, but, as Adair Klein, director of library and archival services at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, puts it: "I like shopping here because of Irene's warmth and her patience when I'm looking for an outfit. And the personal attention I get with her, no one gets that kind of care and concern anymore at the big department stores."

Miss Irene, who uses no last name, came to the United States from Hungary in 1956. She is a former Hebrew-school teacher who turned to the rag trade "so I could stay home and make money. It paid the tuition for my (three) children to go to Hebrew school," she says.

"Jewish women are not different from other women," Miss Irene stresses, as she shows how a few stitches can take the sin out of a slitted A-line dress. "They want a good buy and to look modern and stylish."

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