Casablanca Royale on the Champs-Élysées
Casablanca, the upbeat party-hearty French brand enjoying explosive growth, debuted its first womenswear collection this weekend with a Casino Royale-style after-party video shot on the Champs-Élysées.
"It’s my image of the team of season: Formula One in a Casino in Monaco – all dressed in Casablanca," explained founder and designer Charaf Tajer, who shot his show video inside the Traveller's Club, a 19th-century mansion built by a courtesan on the Champs-Élysées, with rooms for gents and a tony casino.
Shot on Monday, and edited over several nights, the show video was unveiled Saturday night and featured a cast of fictive Grand Prix pilots, lovers and glamazons.
For women: capes in red checkered flags, saucy black and white checkered cocktails, silk blouses with stocks, or snazzy 70s pantsuits. All the gals guzzled on champagne; one combed the hair of a giant white poodle. The boys poured the bubbly constantly.
There was even a groovy Greta Garbo figure, in a skull cap and a Vionnet-worthy pale green cocoon coat, secretly whished through the marble foyer to her suite. The gals sported green eyeshadow, the same shade as the scores of tropical plants placed around the club.
Casablanca guys – a diverse cast reflecting contemporary France – donned male versions of the Chanel suit, but with pants and made in colander-weave cotton; preppy yellow and pink Ralph Lauren pants and trompe-l’oeil tuxedos.
It was all almost an enormous pastiche, were it not for the fact that Charaf is a first-rate print specialist – mingling Art Deco gothic, race-car illustrations and retro card designs. In a word, he is the Roberto Cavalli of the Côte d’Azur; or maybe the Versace of the Atlas Mountains.
Last summer, Casablanca debuted a women’s capsule collection on Net-a-Porter to test the market and it was a major success, encouraging Charaf to launch a full line. In the end, there were 50 looks each for men and women in this big party, which was shot respecting Covid rules.
"I love every look. They are all like my kids. It’s a real pleasure to create a Casablanca wardrobe for women for our first co-ed show. She is stronger than the man," smiled Charaf, speaking from a studio in Paris, in the 18th-arrondissement neighborhood of Barbusse, rented for casting and fittings.
Asked which women he would most like to dress, Charaf replied – Jackie Onassis, Sade, and Gabrielle Chanel. Sounds like another great party. As indeed was this show video, named "Grand Prix," the name of probably the greatest sporting feature film made, that managed to include both Françoise Hardy and Juan Manuel Fangio in its cast.
Strong women clearly appeal to Charaf, who only launched his brand with a Spring/Summer 2019 collection in June 2018. His opening showroom was his mother’s living room in Belleville, the bustling neighborhood in northern Paris. Now, barely five seasons later, Casablanca retails in over 200 doors, including top-line destination retailers like Browns, United Arrows, Maxfield, Smets and Isetan. The likes of Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner and Hailey Bieber have all been seen wearing Casablanca.
Quizzed about his company turnover, he responded: "I’m French and don’t like to talk about my money, just my dreams."
Though based in Paris, half his creative team and management live in London, bringing further logistical headaches.
"Technically we have been harder hit due to pandemic. Most of the team couldn’t come to Paris – as most have UK passports. Deliveries are late and several factories closed," he shrugged.
Nonetheless, the Covid crisis didn’t alter the Casablanca aesthetic. "What did change was that we are dreaming harder and loving more and dreaming bigger. As I believe that today the notions of dreams; putting on clothes, freedom and travel are amplified," he insisted.
Charaf is such an uber-focused marketing man, he plastered his interlocking double C logo over most anything – negligee dresses, leather weekend bags, silk mechanic’s shirts. Talk about gall – Charaf made a mock Marlboro cigarette packet, inserted the word "Casablanca," and made that into a silk playboy shirt.
His next dream is to open a flagship, even as the web grows more important.
"I only want a few stores, five or six in major cities like Tokyo, Paris, London, New York, LA and Shanghai... oh, and Casablanca. Where each would be more like a Casablanca embassy. More an experience or a retail moment than just a shop," he explained.
Alfred Hitchcock style, Charaf even managed to make a brief appearance in his own fashion film, playing the piano. Bow your head, John Frankenheimer, Yves Montand and Toshiro Mifune too.
"Yes, I take risks yes but wearable risks. If not, it is not interesting. Because people want to feel part of something in important moments in their life – vacations, meetings or family," concluded the ever-smiling designer.
Like it or not, Paris fashion establishment, Charaf is the next big thing in French fashion.
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