Sitting down with the Parisian designer following Casablanca's AW20 presentation, END. and Charaf Tajer discuss the importance of sincerity in menswear, the confluence of nature and architecture, and why Casablanca subscribes to the school of the beautiful.
Embodying elegance and beauty in contemporary menswear, Charaf Tajer's Casablanca dictates its own sense of luxury from the perspective of heritage and a deep understanding of mature, directional style.
Founded in 2018, the label has become renowned for its comfortable and high-quality take on leisurewear. Terry cloth tracksuits and silk shirts pay homage to Tajer's youth spent in the Moroccan city, while the brand's overarching concept fuses the influence of travel, nature and architecture into a joyous and positive manifestation of the designer's own uplifting outlook.
Bursting onto the Parisian circuit with their FW19 collection, Tajer exhibited his dedication to his personal aesthetic ideal - a sincere and refined sensibility he titled the "après-sport mode". Born from those moments where “the days exertions are done, but the night has not yet begun," the brand offers a resounding depiction of refined garments perfected for moments of pure decadence, relaxation and anticipation. Fusing nostalgia and a romantic outlook on memories of the past, Casablanca distils impressions and vignettes of moments in time into wearable artworks - a true representation of Tajer's belief that we must live in the moment.
Having cut his teeth as the co-founder of the legendary Parisian streetwear outfit Pigalle, alongside Stéphane Ashpool, the designer has become well known for his blend of an old-school French luxury sensibility and his sincere approach. A student of architecture, the founder of the seminal Parisian club Le Pompon and now at the helm of a luxury menswear brand with a bright future, the designer sits down with END. to discuss the importance of sincerity, the confluence of nature and architecture, and why he is showing that menswear can be truly beautiful.
To me, Casablanca has a romantic and nostalgic essence, presenting a fond look towards a distant but happy memory. What memory of yours has inspired Casablanca the most?
I named the brand after the city where my parents met and fell in love, so it has that connotation of romanticism. But it is also the city where I used to spend my summers when I was growing up. During that time I felt that people were living like it was the last day of their lives, every day. The flamboyance of the people living there in the ‘90s really inspired me – they were all riding motorcycles and wearing silk shirts. The powerful colours of their Lacoste tracksuits and the luxury of the Hermès scarves and Cartier sunglasses they wore really resonated with me. All of these memories have inspired me a great deal, so in some ways Casablanca is an interpretation of my memory of that, but also it is inspired by my own idealism. I don’t want to channel or use darkness and negativity – I understand that some people want to express themselves that way, and I respect that, but my personal instinct is to move towards the lighter and sunnier side of things.
Casablanca is described as being for those moments where “the days exertions are done, but the night has not yet begun.” What is it about this specific moment in time that excites you?
Life is short and every moment should be lived to its full potential - I hope that the clothes I’m making can accompany those moments. If music can be seen as the soundtrack to your life, I want Casablanca to be connected with those moments of beauty, of freedom, of living in the moment, in the here and now.
What led you to create a menswear label that centred around this form of luxury?
I’m from the culture of streetwear and my past work was more aligned with that school of thought, but my true love and passion in fashion is for French heritage luxury brands. I couldn’t find the same feeling that I found in women’s clothes in menswear, so I wanted to synthesise my French culture of fashion and pull it into a type of menswear brand that doesn’t really exist at the moment. With Casablanca I decided to do all the things that I was looking for but couldn’t find anywhere in the retail space. It really comes from my desire to wear those clothes, but being unable to find them in the market.
You’ve discussed the idea of the ‘école of cool’ and the ‘école of beautiful’ before – what is it about Casablanca that makes it fit in to the école of beautiful rather than cool?
It is my personal instinct based on the beauty of the product. My biggest inspirations all come from the school of the beautiful, and those brands - Chanel, Hèrmes and Cartier - are fundamentally based on the beauty of the garment and their storytelling. I feel like my journey started by looking at those brands, even though I grew up in streetwear. While some modern brands are inspired by Raf Simons and Rick Owens, for example, I’m inspired by those classic French brands instead. Both schools are valid, but there is a transparent difference in style. My disposition naturally moves towards the beautiful. I love those other designers, but it is a different tone and perspective that I don't connect with on a personal level.
Life is short and every moment should be lived to its full potential - I hope that the clothes I’m making can accompany those moments.
Casablanca evokes a certain decadence that resonates with a distinctive stylistic intent. Who is Casablanca designed for?
I think that 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.
All of your designs are hand painted at the studio in Paris – what inspires your choice of prints?
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. This is my biggest inspiration - how humanity can live with nature – but it is also a way to show the younger generations that nature is beautiful, that nature is something to appreciate and protect. Of course, for each collection there is a theme and a specific direction – last season was inspired by Brazil, this season is inspired by Lake Garda. I spent some time there last summer, and that combination of nature and architecture is really present in the way they live.
To me, sincerity is the first thing and most important thing to consider when expressing yourself through your art.
Your brand is brimming with a sincerity that is sorely missed in the contemporary menswear circuit – where irony continues to reign supreme. Why is this sincerity important to you?
The opposite of sincerity is irony, and there is a lot of irony in fashion. When you’re an artist, in any form, your job is to show an emotional response to something to the rest of the world. How can you do that without being sincere? A lot of people use irony as a shield, as a way to protect themselves. If you let yourself go and listen to yourself, you should be sincere at all times. When you’re making art you are showing your emotions to someone else, so if you aren’t delivering them sincerely, then what is it worth? I also understand when people shy away from sincerity because they are scared to express themselves fully and openly. Being sincere is difficult as it is easy to worry about what other people will think. I’m a bit older now and have learnt a lot from my past experiences, so I’m no longer afraid of showing my own emotions. To me, sincerity is the first thing and most important thing to consider when expressing yourself through your art.
Do you think we’re seeing a shift away from irony in menswear now generally?
It is already happening! Many people in fashion are sincere, but the way they express themselves is different. There are always leaders and followers, so when something works well - like the Balenciaga Triple S sneaker - everyone wants to do the same thing and it becomes a trend and loses its sincerity along the way. I think that when Demna Gvasalia made that show, it was super sincere. But then everyone wanted to replicate it and do their own version. It is in the repetition of the idea where sincerity is lost. Sincerity doesn't lie – people know instantly when something is sincere. Even if you don’t necessarily like a product, it is clear when someone has been true to themselves. That’s why someone like Rick Owens is still here, doing what he’s doing, because he’s so sincere and focussed in what he does. Sincerity has always been important to fashion and any kind of art.