Famed fashion designer Elie Tahari is attending the kick-off event for this year’s Judy Levis Krug Boca Raton Jewish Film Festival (BRJFF), presented by the Adolph & Rose Levis JCC Sandler Center (Levis JCC Sandler Center), in celebration of his first-ever documentary, “The United States of Elie Tahari.” From a childhood living in various orphanages in Israel after fleeing Iran to building a billion-dollar fashion empire, Tahari shares his fascinating story of courage and determination.
Directed and produced by David Serero, the title itself is a multi-faceted reflection of Tahari’s life and legacy. Serero believes that, “America is Tahari’s most significant component of that equation. He embodies all that the American dream means: Hard work, sacrifices, long days, generosity, giving back to everyone. When you see the thousands of jobs he created, it’s enormous, and he contributed to the American culture and the dream. Documentary interviews are unscripted so you never know in advance what the person will say. The United States, America, and New York came back so often in Tahari’s words that it morphed into the title.”
In honor of Tahari’s visit to Boca Raton, Boca magazine is thrilled to interview this inspiring trailblazer who believes that you can achieve anything with a dream, passion, and hard work.
Who is the Elie Tahari woman?
She is smart, stylish, sexy and savvy. She has her own personal sense of style and knows how to put things together. I always say “The clothes should be quieter than the woman so her true beauty can shine through.”
What would you credit for your brand’s longevity in such a competitive marketplace?
I like to think that I can dress every woman. It’s all in how she puts it together. Hopefully when people buy something from us they feel like they are getting something very special, beautifully made with a sense of timelessness.
What has been the biggest challenge that you’ve faced in building your brand over the past four decades?
I think every day has its own challenges and everyday those challenges make us stronger. When I arrived in America I knew the moment I got here that I wanted to stay, which was a huge motivator, but I was really driven by and for my family. The more success I had, the more I could help my family and change the direction of my life. In the beginning, I was making so many mistakes and losing money but I knew that if I didn’t make those same mistakes the next year that I would be able to keep going. The excitement of designing clothes, creating new products and dressing beautiful people were goals that became closer and closer to a reality.
I find this fact interesting and worth mentioning that out of thousands of fashion companies, only three that have lasted more than 45 years are still run by their founders including you, Giorgio Armani, and Ralph Lauren. This is truly a group of three fashion icons. Where do you find your continued source of inspiration?
I’m inspired by everything around me. New York is a huge source of inspiration. The people on the street, the excitement, the culture, the freedom.
What are three main character traits that you believe make a great leader?
Compassion, hard work, kindness and surrounding yourself with the best people.
What is the best advice you’ve received in business?
I think any entrepreneur has to believe that anything is possible. No matter where you are in life, you can dream, achieve and make it to the top if that’s what you want, but don’t let other people define your idea of success. Be true to yourself and the goals you set for yourself. If you have passion and are willing to work to make your dream a reality, coupled with having a product that the consumer wants, you can achieve anything… At least that’s what I still believe.
Let’s talk a bit about your childhood which is an important part of this documentary. Your parents fled Iran and moved to Israel where you grew up in a refugee camp. How did that period in your life shape you as a person and into a globally-recognized fashion designer and mogul?
I grew up in different orphanages in Israel and if they gave me a pair of shoes, a shirt and a pair of pants every year I was lucky. The rest was handouts and leftover clothes. As a result, I appreciate clothes because I only had one new shirt each year.
You moved to NY in 1971 with less than $100. You are the epitome of the “American Dream.” But in reality, how tough were those early years and how did you find such inner resilience to keep going?
New York truly is the most amazing city where everyone is accepted and you can accomplish anything. I fell into fashion by accident. When I first came to the city my only ambition was to eat and to have enough money to stay because I didn’t want to leave. I had to survive. Failure means I would have to be homeless again.
What impression do you hope this documentary will leave on viewers?
I want it to give them HOPE. I want people to believe that anything is possible and I especially want my kids to learn that from their dad. No matter where you are in life, you can achieve and dream and make it to the top if that’s what you want. But as I’ve mentioned already, don’t let other people define your idea of success. Be true to yourself and the goals you set for yourself.
What is your greatest achievement to date? And have you accomplished everything or is there more out there that you hope to achieve?
Well I know I am associated with the tube top which I helped popularize as well as many of the disco dresses I made in the ‘70s, but so many women still come up to me and tell me they wore one of my suits from the ‘80s and ‘90s to their first job interview. They tell me it empowered them and they even got the job! That is such an honor for me, but I know life has a lot more in store for me!
What’s your favorite quote or life motto?
“A kick in the ass is good when you’re facing the right direction.”
What is the best fashion decade?
What’s one fact that most would not know about you?
I used to love to roller skate in Central Park.
Favorite travel destination?
Who’s your current celebrity style crush?
I don’t really have one at the moment.
When you’re not working, what’s your favorite way to spend time?
With my kids.
What are you currently watching on TV or any of the streaming platforms?
The Black List
To see more of Elie Tahari, check out the trailer for his documentary film, “The United States of Elie Tahari.”
Now considered one of the largest Jewish/Israeli Film Festivals in the country, My Festival, My Way, which runs from February 27 through March 20, is widening access beyond county lines and creating a flexible experience by screening over 80 films both in-person and virtually. Audiences will enjoy a broad array of short and feature length films and documentaries from around the globe, Q&A sessions, and appearances by notable film industry guests. In-person films will be shown at the Cinemark Palace in Boca Raton, Movies of Delray, and Beifield Auditorium at the Levis JCC Sandler Center.
A full program guide including dates, showtimes, trailers, a synopsis of each film, Q&A’s and special events are available on bocajff.org. Film packages and Festival Passes are also available for purchase online and range from $59 to $540. As a bonus, all pass holders will receive access to “A Day of Shorts” Program for free. All films can be enjoyed for up to 72 hours after its scheduled time and can be viewed on various platforms by downloading the Eventive TV app which is available on Apple TV, Roku, Firestick and Chromecast, among others.