Bridal fashionista Berta Balilti is making waves well beyond Israel, where her fashion house is based.
The owner of Berta Bridal presides over an internationally successful business, creating luxurious and glamorous wedding gowns sold worldwide.
From her fashion house in the southern Israeli port city of Ashdod, she exports gorgeously detailed gowns to boutiques and stores in more than 20 countries. You can feel the love on the company’s social media sites from more than 1.2 million followers — most of them (875,000) on Instagram — who routinely gush over brides from around the globe pictured in her dresses.
This isn’t your mother’s wedding dress. Balilti is known for her shapely modern designs with signature daring bare backs, dramatic trains and intricate lace and tulle.
She has certainly found her place in the multibillion-dollar wedding industry (estimated at more than $60 billion a year in the U.S. alone). Her gowns are sold at more than 60 retailers around the world, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom and Bridal Galleria in San Francisco. And with the worldwide appeal of her designs, Balilti’s spot as a high-end wedding gown designer has helped place her high up in bridal haute couture fashion.
“There’s nothing like Berta’s dresses,” said Renata Kukielka, the buyer for L’Fay Bridal in New York City. “She has brought something unique to this market, classic and sexy designs.”
Balilti’s success may have seemed unimaginable a generation ago. Born in Cairo, Egypt, she immigrated to Israel at age 3 with her parents just before the 1967 Six-Day War, which had devastating consequences for Egyptian Jews. Years earlier, some of her family moved to Paris with the help of the Jewish organization HIAS before coming to America.
Balilti’s large Jewish family lived in Egypt for many generations, when Jews weren’t accepted as citizens and were considered a people without a country. Her maternal grandfather, Mordachai Elgazzar, owned a jewelry store in Cairo, but life wasn’t easy for Jews. Her family experienced anti-Semitism, bombings, threats and devastating repercussions from the 1948 Israeli War of Independence. With the fall of King Farouk in 1952, Jewish families lost nearly everything. In 1956 the country declared all Jews enemies of the state,
ordering thousands to leave. Each person was permitted to take only one suitcase and a sum equivalent to $25, as the government confiscated Jews’ property. When the 1967 war broke out, Egyptian Jewish men were rounded up and sent to prison camps.
After Balilti’s family settled in Israel, her father, suffering from an injury while working on a boat, could no longer work. Every hardship and triumph her parents experienced later played a role in their daughter’s success.
Growing up in the Holy Land offered Balilti a far different childhood than that of her parents. She found her flair for fashion and graduated from Ramat Gan’s Shenkar College of Engineering and Design. She then worked during the day as a seamstress, and later as a junior designer at a ready-to-wear company in Tel Aviv. At night, she sketched and sewed wedding gowns at home.
In 1995, she opened her first bridal salon, La Belle, a small shop where she was the sole designer and had a staff of about 25 people working for her. From the beginning, her business has been closely held, with family members helping out. Her daughter is one of her models.
In 2004, Balilti expanded, moving her operation into a larger space, turning her boutique into a full-fledged fashion house, and taking on the name Berta Bridal. “We had reached a point in which I felt like the place became too small for my needs, in terms of production and the level of service I expect my team to grant my brides,” she said.
By 2005, the company had 15 retailers; by 2006 it had 30. In 2012, when her son-in-law Nir Moscovich joined the team, he took the company international, overseeing its global operations.
Along Baliti’s journey to success were encouraging parents who inspired her to never quit pursuing her goals. Their example of persevering even in the toughest circumstances set a lasting foundation for her to build upon.
“My parents raised me to believe I can be anything I want, so I just went ahead and chased my dream,” she said. “I didn’t let go until I found my way. My family’s history [in Egypt] wasn’t very positive at the end. But I grew up in a family that always cherished the positive things they had there. I am obviously a proud Israeli, and do not take anything we have here for granted.”
When her first major retailer, L’Fay Bridal, placed its initial order, Balilti was on the road to industry respect. Things took off when her dresses were featured in top fashion magazines such as Vogue and Elle, and the bridal magazines Martha Stewart Weddings and Brides, as well as on popular blogs.
Though she has made her dream come true, Balilti isn’t complacent. “I still chase my dreams,” she said. “I’m grateful for all I have achieved so far, but there’s much more ahead, and I have no plans of taking a break.”