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Since debuting in 2018, Charaf Tajer’s Casablanca has carved out a unique space for itself in the luxury fashion market. Taking cues from traditional French and Italian styling, the brand’s colorful wardrobe provides a stark contrast to a landscape often dominated by dark and earthy tones. Casablanca’s motifs have become a signature and Tajer prints them across silk shirts, cashmere sweaters, and accessories. The brand’s most recent presentation for Spring/Summer 2021, “After the Rain Comes the Rainbow,” is inspired by the Hawaiian islands. And as one could expect, the tropical destination has resulted in some of the most beautiful prints the brand has produced thus far.
Each watercolor print is drawn in-house by one of two full-time artists. Tajer says the process takes roughly 100 hours from the initial painting to the creation of the final garment. In some cases, it takes even longer. A colorful image described by Tajer as a “psychedelic view of Hawaii” features rainbow-colored ocean waves, a sky, and monogrammed beach towels draped over a window railing. It appears on the back of a silk button-up and was displayed on the presentation’s invitation. It took nearly 200 hours.
The process always begins with the general idea behind the collection and usually leans heavily on nature and architecture. In this case, it was Hawaii. He's referenced places like Lake Garda in Northern Italy in previous collections. From there, the paintings are executed. Tajer says that each painting is created with the specific garment it will appear on already in mind, making the process from canvas to clothing a bit more seamless. He also says he is very particular about the exact images he wants, meaning he rarely makes any edits. Most of the items are produced in Lyon, France, a region known for its high quality silks.
“Each shirt represents a moment, a souvenir. Everything is handmade in our studio. Then we go into the process of determining the details, go into placements, making the pattern merge with the garment itself,” says Tajer. “I've always been fascinated by French and Italian fashion. So it's something that's existed for a very long time, printing silk in general. I was creating a new classic. I always want to incorporate classic techniques, but also womenswear techniques into modern fashion.”
Tajer compares the feeling of finally seeing the artwork on a piece to Christmas morning. When asked if he has a favorite, Tajer says, “Each print is like my child. I love them all.”
A standout from the most recent collection is a cashmere sweater displaying a rainbow arching over a cruise ship in front of an orange gradient skyline. It signifies the arrival and departure from Hawaii. Tajer says he was inspired by vintage advertising campaigns for the islands he came across in his research. Other prints feature things like surfers, hula dancers, and flowers found across the islands that nod to Hawaii’s rich culture.
“After the Rain Comes the Rainbow” is a literal nod to Hawaii’s beautiful rainbows, which inspire the brand’s latest work, but also an optimistic outlook for the future. The year 2020 has been full of “rain”—the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous incidents of police brutality and racial injustice against Black people in America, and beyond. Tajer wants to send a message of positivity.
“I find it to be a good message to the world, because of the pandemic, after the rain comes the rainbow, just to say that there is something fantastic coming after, and there is beauty in the world and you don't forget that. Everything that's happening is part of a process,” Tajer tells Complex.
A collection inspired by Hawaii is something Tajer says he’s wanted to do for a long time. To hone in on all of the state’s nuances, his team even traveled to the islands earlier this year.
“I think Casablanca is a brand about the beauty that you can find in the world. What I care about is going to meet and understand different cultures and human beings from all around the world,” says Tajer about the collection’s Hawaiian inspiration. “The nature is so strong. We saw turtles. We saw whales. Fantastic stuff. And the contrast in between the American culture and their own culture is so together now. It's full of poetry.”
Due to the pandemic, Tajer and company ended up having to quarantine there. It was the first of many curveballs the Casablanca team had to deal with. Even producing the collection was affected by the pandemic. He says a task that usually took a day now took three or four. Italy shutting down also halted production and sampling. Tajer had to pivot away from his initial plans for a runway presentation in Paris as well. He says it was going to immerse people in real-life rainbows with light and water that the models would be walking inside of.
In place of Tajer’s original runway idea was a nearly five minute video presentation soundtracked by Idris Muhammed’s “Could Heaven Ever Be Like This” that whisked viewers away to the tropical island with models showing off their looks in front of a beach backdrop highlighted by a colorful sunset. Memphis, an Italian art movement from the ‘80s was also used as inspiration for the wave patterns seen across the collection in particular. While the designer acknowledges how special it is to have people come from all around the world for Paris Fashion Week, he says he welcomed the challenge of the new format he was forced to utilize to present his latest work.
“We play a lot with colors, with rainbows, and with a psychedelic view of Hawaii. So all of that meets together,” says Tajer. “We want to give hope and we want to give another vision of the world that fashion has in general. Most of the time, like everything is quite dark. Sometimes we think because it's dark, it's deep. And I believe that you can be deep but still be on the light side of things. So this collection is like another way of saying that.”
Pieces showcased in the collection ring true to the brand’s past efforts with items like brightly-colored silk shorts mixing pastel shades like pink with bright oranges, pearl-buttoned suiting, all-over print quilted liner jackets, sweaters, and scarves. The brand’s popular Tennis Club theme has also been reinterpreted to represent the new location and its cashmere tracksuits make an appearance too. New iterations of Casablanca’s often-used orange graphic and new colorways of its New Balance 327 collaboration are among other highlights. A previously-unseen collab with New Balance, the 237, was showcased for the first time complete with Casablanca’s monogram detailing.
Casablanca’s latest work is yet another step in the right direction for the young brand. It’s also further proof that Tajer was more than deserving of the LVMH Prize honors he received earlier this year which he says, “give [him] the power to keep doing what [he does].” Altered by quarantine, the Moroccan designer also has a great sense of pride in the final outcome of his latest presentation, his own personal rainbow after the rain storm, so to speak.
“We pushed our own creativity to create something new, it's fantastic,” he says. “You feel like your team can work with different challenges. So to have a final result that is as good as a show, or probably better, it's very rewarding.”