When we connected via Zoom, Charaf Tajer was in his car, wearing pearls over a black knit sweater. It’s difficult to imagine a more fitting scenario to speak about his fall 2021 collection, which takes inspiration from Monaco by day and night. Formula One racing—or, as the designer says, a “kid’s dream” of it—represents the former, and the casino, illustrated by playing-card motifs, the after-dark theme. That’s not the only duality at play here: with this collection, Tajer officially debuts a full line of women’s wear.
This development, he says, comes sooner than expected because of demand, arriving on the heels of a women’s capsule with Net-a-Porter. Watching the collection video, what struck me was seamless expansion of the brand into lifestyle via luggage, bags, jewelry and accessories. It’s easy to see homewares following.
Like Emilio Pucci, Casablanca has made proprietary prints a brand signature, but whereas the aristocratic Italian designer segued from activewear to ready-to-wear, Tajer has intriguingly chosen après-sport as his niche. Up to this point, the magnetism of the brand has derived from this in-betweenness, which Tajer takes beyond place and gender and applies to masculinity. His male models wear pearls, cardigans, and pleated blouses. “When we play with pearls, with prints, with silk and all of that, we [take] the macho man into a situation of more softness,” he says. In the “moment when you show your sensitivity, you can show your strength as well.”
Tajer has largely taken the opposite approach to dressing women, in defiance, he indicates, of patriarchal stereotypes of femininity and weakness. The danger in underlining a woman’s strength is that it can move her toward a stereotype of an assertive dame, rich bitch, and the like. There’s a complexity to a woman wearing Casablanca’s “soft” menswear that doesn’t exist when she’s wearing the sexy evening wear. The cut-out playing card dresses lack subtlety, in part because there is a sometimes too literal take this season on the gambling theme. In contrast, Tajer’s suiting for women is ace. In terms of prints for women, a faux-fur harlequin coat is a keeper statement piece; a skirt-suit printed with playing card clubs and diamonds feels of the season, rather than like a collectible.
Tajer, who notes that his brand’s “eternal muse” is Aristotle Onassis, celebrates the “material girl” in all of us, symbolically and literally. Onassis (like Jay Gatsby, for that matter) was a self-made playboy. Similarly the Casablanca man is the toast of the town not because of who his father or grandfather might be, but because of his talents and beauty. Just as the Casablanca character is centered in self, so Casablanca products are distinguished by their materiality. Tajer transformed the ubiquitous tracksuit, for example, by taking comfort to new levels of luxury and making it from a proprietary cashmere terry cloth. This collection includes materials that are bonded, and others enhanced with essential oils. The dramatic red-quilted to-order coat is hand-worked. Tajer’s focus on quality is an indication that he’s in this for the long haul. “I don’t drive fast, but I love the idea of the extremeness of the sport of Formula One,” says the designer, whose well-made pieces deliver more than passing thrills. Slow and steady wins the race.