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SPOTLIGHT ON: CASABLANCAWe go behind the hype with Charaf Tajer as he shares the story of his must-have menswear label
If you’ve missed the buzz surrounding Casablanca, where have you been? The brainchild of Charaf Tajer – co-founder of Pigalle and Virgil Abloh collaborator – the French-Moroccan menswear brand has courted serious column inches since its debut AW19 Paris show along with a surge of famous followers. Rappers Gunna and Swae Lee have both walked the label’s runway, while influencers including Dev Hynes, Skepta, Kerby Jean-Raymond and Serge Ibaka were all spotted front row at the SS20 outing in the Musée de Montmartre.
So, what’s all the fuss about? High-fashion but fun is how we’d summarise the Casablanca aesthetic, fusing Parisian elegance with a colour palette that’s evocative of Tajer’s Moroccan roots. Expect hand-painted prints, retro silk shirts and après-sportswear that are well worth the hype.
We spoke to Tajer earlier in the summer about his most recent SS20 show, the genesis of Casablanca, and the label’s new collection launching at Harvey Nichols.
Congrats on the show, how do you feel now that the dust has settled?
I feel great! It was exciting debuting my first Spring/Summer runway collection. We were so lucky to have great weather as it was the longest day of the year, so in the evening at sunset it was beautiful. I’m also happy with the reception the collections are getting – a good building block for future summer seasons.
What made you choose the Musée de Montmartre as the setting?
It’s in a historic and beautiful part of Paris, where I’ve spent many days and evenings on long walks. It has always been an inspiration. The collection was loosely termed “The Last Sunset”, and dusk on the hill where the Musée lies provides a fantastic serene view of the city flanked with traditional French architecture. I also wanted to provide the collection a frame of a secret jardin, as the story of the collection revolves around a tropical garden with ocean views.
What’s on the cards post fashion week – will you get some downtime or is it all go, go, go?
I’ve just spent a few days in Italy as a “break”, however, I don’t give myself a lot down time. I am lucky as I get to do what I love every day, whether it’s working on the creative concepts for the next collection or installations for the AW19 release.
Before we move onto the AW19 collection, I want to take you back to the beginning. I’ve read that the name Casablanca comes from the fact your parents met at an atelier in the city – what’s the story there?
They both worked in a design studio. In Casablanca, roles are a little more fluid than Paris or the UK. You learn to sew and design patterns, so your days are filled with anything from a couture dress to a suit. My parents are a big inspiration to me as their attention to detail when it comes to style, taste and fashion shaped me as a person. After they had a family and we moved to Paris, they spent time raising the family, but we were always surrounded by a wealth of people from the art and fashion worlds.
I was exposed to fashion shows at an early age. Friends and I would even take small jobs to help with the runway show productions. They were some of the best memories of my childhood as we saw the greatest French designers working in their prime. We understood early on the standards of creativity and excellence that they stood for. In terms of idols, Gianni Versace is near the top of the list. His colourful and diverse expression of luxury is unique, and he created a mood that was rare in the traditional houses.
“I think at midnight we are at our most reflective, and the collection embodies that feeling of nostalgia – the beauty of a memory.”
You originally studied architecture – how did you make the leap into fashion?
The plan was to design houses and buildings – one day I will build the Casablanca Villa, but all in good time. From architecture, I learned a lot of principles of design and artistic invention. It also allowed me to research the regional and historical movements of art and design, which I think has influenced my international view. I see myself as a creative director as much as a designer. The aim is to create a universe that is representative of the brand across numerous elements. One of my earlier projects as an art director was for my nightlife brand Le Pompon. It was a concept evening where I built a world within a nightclub, bringing together a community of artists, designers, musicians.
Tell us about some of the other projects you worked on pre-Casablanca?
I spent a lot of time on (French fashion label) Pigalle where I worked on collaborations with the likes of Nike and Missoni. It represents a different point in my life, one that I am so proud of and will always be in my heart. Separate from that, I’ve worked on a collection for Off-White, which was very cool. I will do the odd art direction job now and again – say when friends are shooting music videos – but right now I’m focused on Casablanca. I felt like I had more to say and, early last year (2018), I knew it was the right time to share my vision of what fashion is.
On that point, what was your inspiration for the AW19 collection, ‘Midnight in Casablanca’?
It’s Casablanca’s first runway collection, so it will always be special. It was the culmination of so many things I was feeling when starting the brand. From the first memories of seeing the waves crash against the rocks at the port of Casablanca, to walking through the Place Vendôme, to having my heart in two different places – Paris and Casablanca. I think at midnight we are at our most reflective, and the collection embodies that feeling of nostalgia – the beauty of a memory.
One motif I want to ask about is the orange as it features in so many of your prints. If you’ll excuse the pun, where does it stem from?
Haha! Well, the orange is the national fruit of Morocco and it grows on the trees of Marrakesh for everyone. It’s the colour of the sun and I believe it represents life, prosperity. The prints are the nucleus of the brand. Art is a passion of mine and I am blessed to have a talented painter who works alongside me to bring the pictures in my mind to life. It’s my way of inviting everyone into the world of Casablanca.