Inside Casablanca, The French-Moroccan Menswear Brand Up For The LVMH Prize
It's not often that the GQ fashion team comes away from the menswear shows in Paris and Milan feeling like we've seen something really new. Sure, the big brands that punctuate the schedules in those cities are excellent at churning out high-octane, expensive newness season after season, but when it comes to fresh young brands with a super-creative edge, the continent isn't necessarily always where it's at. London, yes. The aforementioned fashion capitals, not so much.
In recent seasons, however – before the current lockdown – Paris had started to become a a bit of a fledgling ideas centre for some of the world's more commercially minded bright young designers. Case in point Charaf Tajer, whose brand, Casablanca – which has been going strong for just over a year now – recently caught our attention for it's jolly-yet-wearable silk shirts and off-key approach to high-summer tailoring.
Tajer – who cut his teeth as the cofounder of Pigalle and as a consultant for Virgil Abloh – conceived of Casablanca as an homage to his dual French and Moroccan heritage (the designer spent his early years living in the former country) and the brand's easy breezy, swagger-laced collections neatly straddle the void between streetwear and tailoring.
Combining fluid cuts and sharp tailored items with easy sportswear inspired pieces, the Spring/Summer 2020 collection (Só Alegria!, which is available to buy now) is a high-colour symphony of slinky pastel trousers, drop-shouldered suede jackets, waspish tweed suit jackets and plenty of the printed silk shirts with which Casablanca has made its name.
Here, we speak to Tajer exclusively about who Casablanca is for, what's next for the brand and why you should be wearing it.
For those not in the know, what is Casablanca all about?
“Casablanca is a lifestyle, a community. My designs come to life through our uniquely vivacious colour palette, accented with fresh tennis whites and pops of pastel. Casablanca’s leisurewear-inspired silhouettes are refined but relaxed and presented in silks, cashmeres, plush terry cloth and bespoke cottons and made specifically to achieve the highest quality using unique fabrics. The brand seeks to influence beauty in menswear.”
You worked at Pigalle and Le Pompom prior to forming Casablanca. What did working at those brands teach you? What have you've transferred into your output at your own brand?
“Pigalle was like my school. Casablanca is my personal vision; it’s my point of view of the world. Casablanca was always something I dreamed of creating as it’s inspired by my beginnings and evolves through my journey, but I wanted to wait until the right time to start the brand. Through my experiences at Pigalle and Le Pompom, I learned a lot about how to create a brand, the fashion business and how cultural experiences can build a community. It all crystallised early last year as I knew at that point how I was going to bring the vision to life.”
You are of both French and Moroccan descent, so I guess your brand is too. How does that duality influence your seasonal brand?
“Paris will always be the portrait in my mind, but Casablanca frames it. Casablanca was the city where my parents met and fell in love, where my story began. But I was lucky to be brought up in Paris, a city of beauty. It holds the heart of the enlightened. We, as Parisians, push for creative excellence and that drives me as a designer. Casablanca is the start of my journey. I guess it’s like a guiding light in many ways; I will always be able to see the light from the port at the back of my mind.”
Where do you see Casablanca sitting in the wider fashion landscape? What are your ambitions for the brand?
“I hope to contribute in a positive way to shaping culture, fashion and art. What I see in my dreams is a world of beauty, as there is so much. It makes me sad not everyone can see it, so if I can express a little of what I see maybe it can spread a little hope. I also think we will continue seeing menswear evolve with society and I think men will continue to become more confident to take risks, experiment with fashion more. Society and our attitudes to societal norms are changing rapidly and that will influence the direction of fashion a lot for the future. I am excited to see where we go.”
Who would you most like to see wearing Casablanca and why?
“I think Casablanca has no specific target demographic. What is important to me, for example, is that a 60-year-old man could walk into a shop and see a tracksuit, a shirt or a jacket and understand the product without the hype and a 20-year-old could also do the same. The kind of brands that I have grown up loving have this all-encompassing style, because they were based on the product not on the hype. That is what really defines the big brands of the world. If you think about your favourite classic brand, most people could probably buy an item from them.”
Where do you find inspiration for your seasonal collections, SS20 in particular? Do you travel much, for instance?
“Travel is a large part of Casablanca’s DNA. I think it reflects a lot of my lifestyle as I find myself to be travelling most of the year. I spent a lot of time in hotels and planes! I hang out with my friends from childhood and growing up in Paris when I am there and, in London, people that work with me, friends from music and fashion. And of course my girlfriend, who owns a Brazilian matte company, which is doing very well. I live between London and Paris.”
And how about films or music? Do they influence your work?
“Music is a big influence too. It is a soundtrack to many creative emotions. Music triggers many reflections I have. I listen to Jorge Ben and a lot of Brazilian music. It connects with the part of my mind that renders the visions for the creative aspects of the brand. Having spent a lot of time in Brazil recently, I feel that I can connect these feelings with the essence of where it was created.”
What, to your mind, are the key pieces from the SS20 collection and why?
“Our silk shirts are huge for summer, because the prints are so uniquely Casablanca. What makes them special is the prints, each one hand-painted by our in-house water colourist at the studio. I’m from an architectural background, but showing the beauty of nature is really at the centre of my work. If you look at any of the Casablanca shirts, you’ll find a combination of architecture and nature in the prints.”
What's next for Casablanca?
"We’re currently in the finals for the LVMH prize. Just being selected is already a victory for us and the association with LVMH is an honour. We are about to launch a collaboration with New Balance, our first design partnership. The brand works with few fashion houses, so to be chosen to do this with a new silhouette is so special and unique for me. It’s already been worn by the likes of Kendall Jenner and we expect to see more of the Casablanca community in them very soon. Our SS20 collection is dropping now and we’re already getting amazing feedback. We’re constantly developing and refining our collection offering. Each season we introduce something new; for AW20 ski was an important addition. With each season, the brand gains more momentum and popularity. We have a really dedicated following."
The SS20 Casablanca collection is available now at Selfridges. selfridges.com