Fashionistas want killer looks, not looks that kill.
As the world succumbs to the grip of Kabbalah fever, trendy Torontonians are shopping for fashion that looks great and has the added spiritual benefit of warding off the evil eye.
According to the official Red String book, Kabbalists attribute much of everyday misfortune to the "evil eye" and that explains the origin of the expression "if looks could kill."
Shopping for Kabbalah is the newest new age mantra of anyone who wants to attach themselves to the craze, but doesn't necessarily want to invest years in earnest study.
While most of us will never fully appreciate the intimacies of the ancient mystical Jewish religion, enthusiastic consumers often argue that the ritual and the ecstasy of shopping is nothing short of a religious experience.
The Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles "is making a push to promote products" including lounge wear, T-shirts, accessories, jewelry and even baby wear," a recent Women's Wear Daily article says.
Sharon Chalkin-Feldstein, design director of the centre, describes the lounge-wear collection as versatile "lifestyle dressing" perfect for yoga, mediating and shopping. She adds "There's something wonderful about wearing something that wards off the evil eye. That's what's so cool about it. It's not just a fashion item."
The licensed lounge-wear line will be produced by New York-based Polkadot. Future Kabbalah fashion and beauty products include a red string lipstick and a fragrance, she adds.
In Toronto, if you've got a genuine thirst for knowledge, there are courses available at the Kabbalah centre that's just opened in Yorkville. The centre sells official books, scented candles, stones ($13.80) and the famous "restorative and healing" Kabbalah water ($4.50).
But if your curiosity is only superficial, take your cue from the flock of A-list celebrities, from Madonna and David Beckham to Demi Moore and Paris Hilton, who wear their devotion to Kabbalah on their wrists (always in the form of a red string, believed to ward off evil).
Realistically, most of us will never get to the bottom of the ancient teachings.
A recent episode of the popular sitcom Will & Grace underscores the criticism levelled at Kabbalah wannabees. It begins with the ever-ditsy Grace revealing that she is no longer angry with her adulterous husband... "not since I found Kabbalah," she announces, holding up her wrist, which is wrapped in a red string. Will accuses her of taking the string from a bakery box. Grace retaliates, "Your words wash over me. You see, Kabbalah has taught me there is no room for negativity in life. And I believe him."
An exasperated Will explains, "Kabbalah is not a person."
It gets worse.
As the episode unravels, Karen refers to a town called Kabbalah and Jack offers to make a nice warm bowl of Kabbalah soup.
It's pretty silly stuff. But the bottom line is, the characters, Grace, Jack and Karen, represent most ordinary folks who feel confused by Kabbalah.
Less than a block away from Yorkville's Kabbalah Centre, in Hazelton Lanes, the fashion accessories store Fabrice will soon offer a selection of red string jewelry decorated with tiny mother of pearl charms ($85), significant to the ancient mystical branch of the Jewish religion.
At Fabrice, owner Monique Centeno takes a fashionable approach. The collection of Kabbalah jewelry she will carry is created by French designer Aurelie Bidermann. Delicate mother of pearl charms dangle from "genuine" red strings, obtained from the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, she explains. According to Centeno, the charms include the elephant for strength, the frog for serenity, the four-leaf clover for love, health and wealth, and the dragonfly for happiness and luck.
Last March, French Elle asked a group of fashionistas to name their favourite accessory. Sarah Lerfel, the artistic director of the Paris boutique Colette responded that her Bidermann charm bracelet brought her joy and good luck.
As well, http://www.heartstringscb.com, the website of Toronto jewerly designer Cathy Belzberg, features a selection of Kabbalah-related fashion merchandise imported from Israel. Belzberg says she travels frequently to Israel and likes "bringing back cool, exciting things."
The T-shirts ($75) with sayings such as "Protection from the evil eye" and "Listen to your soul," and "Unconditional Love" dog-tags (silver $295) are "not religiously driven."
Belzberg says sentiments such as "Unconditional Love" have a universal appeal.
But for those who are perhaps cynical of Kabbalah's grip on popular culture, particularly as it is embraced by celebrities, Kal Boutique at 119 Yorkville Ave. sells a small selection of cheeky Kabbalah T-shirts and hoodies ($45) created by Toronto designer George Diavolitsis. The shirts, which poke gentle fun at Kabbalah's new celebrity status, are also available online at http://www.brand--o.com. "The trend is overdone," laments Kal, the store's owner. "People are buying these shirts for the joke. It's like yoga schmoga."
The Kabbalah T-shirts feature Diavolitsis' trademark "Furious George" monkeys wearing a discreet red string wristband accompanied by the proclamation, Kabbalah: Instant Member Since 2004.
Diavolitis, who studied fine art at the University of Western Ontario, computer graphics at Humber College as well as classical painting and drawing, launched his Brand-O T-shirt company less than a year ago. Claiming to enjoy exposing the foibles of celebrity culture, only a small selection of the shirts are Kabbalah-centric.
Diavolitis insists he is not making fun of the religion. Rather he is commenting on the celebrities who have gravitated to it without completely appreciating the depth of conviction required to understand the teachings.
"I don't think many of them really understand the seriousness of the religion. These fads that are led by celebrities may not be fully thought through."