Sitting in a deck chair on the balcony of a member's club after a game of tennis, perhaps with a negroni in hand, watching the summer blue sky fade to red - that's where you'll find the OG Casablanca man or woman. Casablanca have got the art of relaxation down to a T. Founded in 2018, a high-flying lifestyle inspires the deliciously loose tailoring, hand-painted silk shirts and intarsia knitwear which make up the French brand's aesthetic DNA. Casablanca is fundamentally a study in beauty, and of what that should feel like in a contemporary wardrobe today. Tying together his three loves of travel, architecture and nature, self-taught designer Charaf Tajer is dreaming up a legacy which we're all invited to share in. With rumours swirling in Paris that he is tapped to take over either Versace men's or Kenzo, Tajer is on a roll. On the eve the Andam prize, for which Casablanca was a finalist, we caught up with the hottest fashion ticket in town.
What is luxury fashion in 2021? Ultimately, everyone has their own concept of what luxury means to them, but high quality fabrics and an inclusive vision are up there when preparing to part with your hard-earned cash these days. Post-lockdown, the feel good factor is more important than ever - 'fashion is pain' is so last year - which is what makes Casablanca a brand worth investing in.
Debuting as Casablanca Tennis Club with their 'Collection 0' in 2018, before hosting a star-studded runway in Paris for A/W 19, après sport attire and clothes that demand for you to kick back and live the good life are a season-to-season must for the brand. These garms are not to be confused with the WFH loungewear or golf and tennis gear trends of the past year or so; Casablanca is about the lifestyle, not the sport. Old school tracksuits have always been a mainstay for the brand, but today, the collections are cut through with double-breasted sharply tailored coats, denim two-pieces and retro-fitted trousers alongside the staple silk shirts and quirky knits. The Casablanca uniform is part reality and part dream, and is inspired by Tajer's own youth in Paris, where him and his mates would wear Lacoste tracksuits, Hermès scarves and designer glasses at the weekend to emulate the upper classes. 'We said we want to look like a doctor on a Sunday...a bit sporty, a bit polo', Tajer explains over the phone from France. 'Fashion, the way that I see it, is a window. It's a window for you to dream, to travel. To me, that's the best way to look at it, because it's not necessarily for the people who already live that lifestyle. It's for whoever who feels to be part of this conversation...who love this aesthetic, whether they play tennis...or travel to Hawaii...or love surfing or not. It's a genuine vibe.'
Cheering motifs alluding to heavenly vistas are key to the Casablanca story each season, from palm trees and sunsets, to snow-topped mountains and packs of Dalmatians. Campaigns are set on location, whether that be an aprés ski setting or pre-surfing - what says you're living a life of good old indulgence more than a branded surfboard you have absolutely no intention of using? Runway shows and collection reveals have taken place outside the Café de Flore, on a desert island and in a grand hotel in Monaco. The label reflects Tajer's own globe trotting lifestyle going from Paris to Hawaii to Morocco and the city of Casablanca where his parents met and fell in love. 'Even when I'm not travelling, I'm very inspired by travel', Tajer explains. With jumping on a plane a little more difficult in the pandemic era, Tajer says that he also uses the dream of travel 'to travel within the clothes, to dream of places that I miss.' One of these places is Japan, which he has been visiting since 2004. The fact he couldn't add another tally to his 26 previous visits, formed the basis for Casablanca S/S 22.
Named after an old waiter friend with an impeccable sense of style, this season's fashion film Masao San, directed by Nathalie Canguilhem, escapes to nineties Japan with a stop off in the Italian Memphis design movement of the 1980s. 'I find that [fashion film] says more about the collection than the catwalk, so you can push the details to be where you want to be', says Tajer. Taking the graphics of Japanese consumer ads from the likes of Panasonic and Sony, the set design shifts from black and white stripes reminiscent of glitching television lines, to a gradient of rainbow coloured light which mirrors this season's palette. Pastel pinks, purples, blues and yellows are cut through with tennis lawn green and crisp whites, sprinkled with embroidered Mount Fuji and shell motifs. A ping pong ball forms the centre of this season's take on the Casablanca monogram, with Memphis-style zig zags and swirls running throughout, and table tennis-inspired silhouettes tease an upcoming collaboration with Butterfly.
Music is another cornerstone in the foundations of Casablanca, whether it be musicians on the front row, or a popping soundtrack for the runway. As well as a gig consulting for Virgil Abloh's OFF-WHITE and co-founding the label Pigalle, Tajer was the art director of the iconic nightclub Le Pompon in Paris, and music played a central role in his formative years as a designer. Masao San is set to the addictive pop sound of Japanese musician Taeko Onuki's '4am'.
As a finalist and joint winner of last year's LVMH prize, a finalist of the International Woolmark Prize 2021 and the Andam Grand Prize 2021, Casablanca may be one of the hottest brands in Paris but Tajer tells me he's always thinking about the long-term. Hype can disappear as swiftly as it arrived, so broadening Casablanca's horizons is a wise move. 'You know, my dream is to create the new French house. I want Casablanca to be as important as the big houses in 20, 30 years time. To arrive at this goal, this dream I always dreamed of, the way you look at the brand has to be long term', he says.
Initially launched as a menswear brand, Casablanca has been worn by women from the start - whether that's Anna Trevelyan, who styles the shows, or Kendall Jenner on the front row. In 2020 Tajer launched a women's capsule of 15 pieces with luxury online retailer Net-a-Porter, before introducing womenswear into the main collections from A/W 21. This season, around half of the 61 looks were modelled by women, but pieces are increasingly interchangeable, particularly due to their luxe and flattering loose fits. This season Tajer also upped the anti on suiting, cocktail dresses, outerwear (note the must-have rainbow rain mac and Memphis artwork-inspired collarless jacket), and accessories. Leather totes, weekend bags and lacquered numbers take the Casablanca story up a notch, and provide that all important entry-level accessory central to any luxury brand. After a bumper couple of years, will Casablanca live beyond the hype and secure a long-term future in the luxury sector? We think so.