Parisian brand Casablanca unveiled its FW23/24 ‘For the Peace’ collection at the Porte de Versailles Exhibition Center this season. During his stay in Damascus with his friend and Syrian creative Maya Chantout, Charaf Tajer had the opportunity to explore Syria’s contradictory reality between everyday beauty and war debris, leading to the creation of this collection.

Throughout his career, Tajer has emphasized optimism over dystopia. To the French-Moroccan designer, fashion is a tool for positive change, and it should spread joy and celebrate life with newness rather than dwelling on darker times that are irreversible.

Theme

Initially, the collection does not seem to be connected to our common notion of Syria; however, you can appreciate how the collection draws inspiration from everyday objects such as traditional Middle Eastern flooring, colourful mosaics, and the official Syrian flower, Jasmine, rather than employing overly literal motifs that can sometimes appear costume-like. Tajer’s focus on exquisite tailoring over plain t-shirts with slogans was refreshing, too, since that’s how designers usually express their political views.


To shape a new narrative, Tajer has reworked clothing associated with war to create fashion-forward pieces that exude power. The collection combines two disparate themes: the luxury of a ski resort-goer (quite common in the Levant) and a soldier’s military elements. There is a strong emphasis on aviators and soldiers, which can be seen in fitted officers’ jackets with gold buttons, military medals, bulletproof vests, and royal attire with an embroidered cloak.

The Set Design

Much like clothing, Tajer reinterprets war motifs through set design. In keeping with chess’s long association with war, a life-size fighter jet adorned with blush-pink flowers sits on top of a colorful stage shaped like a chessboard. With flags raised in the background, the setting also resembles UN conferences.

Courtesy of Flipboard

The Soundtrack

After opening with Kaloly Ansa by Syrian singer Mayada El Hennawy, the show transitioned seamlessly to Marvin Gaye’s I Want You and concluded with Malet Min El Ghorba (I’m tired of living abroad) by the late Algerian artist Warda Al-Jazairia. All songs contain a sonic yearning mood, creating the appropriate atmosphere for the collection.

The Palette

Tajer said in part of his speech, “It is easy to see the world in black and white, but in reality, we are surrounded by shades, colours and tints.” The collection mirrored this by opening with a black look and closing with an unorthodox-looking white bridal gown while introducing us to various colours and nuances between both.

Known for its colourful fusions and blocking, Casablanca took a turn this season with bolder and darker shades of yellow, blue, red, and green – usually found in vintage Middle Eastern cinema posters, vinyl records, and old magazines. For FW23/24, Tajer combined all these colours rather than opting for the usual duo-toned look specifically seen in FW21 and FW22.

Tailoring & Silhouettes

In Tajer’s designs, every detail is thought through, from the fabric’s movement to how it flatters a subject’s curves. Suits varied from relaxed to well-fitted. Dresses were just the right combination of sleek, boxy, and flowy in the dresses. The ski-inspired apparel was both mobile and chic. The collection’s silhouettes are angular yet soft, creating a pleasing visual contrast. By observing the relationship of the silhouette to the models, it’s evident that Tajer loves his subjects as much as his garments.

An individual in a Casablanca fit does not need to demand attention in a room; they already have it.

Detours

I am curious if the contrasting weather dressings for a FW collection relate to winter’s contrasts in Middle Eastern countries, such as snow in the Levant and breezy heat in the Khaleej. Either way, the colours marry well into the collection and since it includes a variety of Middle Eastern references, we’ll take the weather into account as well.

Middle Eastern References

It was interesting to see Casablanca’s FW collection bringing together different Arab influences. Dihyan, the Moroccan accessories brand founded by Youssra Nichane, designed jewellery for the runway.

The Swimmers’ Yusra Mardini, a Syrian refugee and Olympian who fled on a boat to Greece with her sister Sara, made her runway debut in the show.

Look 31

Look 43 references the 1954 Egyptian film “Bent El- Jiran” as well as the vintage style of Arab cinema posters.

Notes on Codes

Casablanca C’s went heart-shaped with this collection, incorporating it as the only monogram pattern. For their other brand staple, sunset gradients were brilliantly incorporated into the jeans looks and a few dresses – a refreshing take on a look that we usually see in their silk and knit-wear.

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Final Note

Setting aside the clothes and returning to the theme, it’s true – refugees don’t need opulent outfits. However, fashion politics is only a fraction of the broader political system and is mainly a vessel for dialogue through its choice of models, set design, playlist, and all the subtle references that initiate conversations, especially in a country such as France, where being Arab remains to be a challenging experience.

Tajer’s visit to Syria with Chantout allowed him to explore one of the many realities of how Syrians deal with their day-to-day by partying or participating in fun activities, even if they seem superficial to outsiders. Casablanca provided one perspective out of many from Syria, reminding us that people in crisis find ways to laugh and have fun. As Tajer concluded in his opening message, “I’m not saying that fashion is the solution, and some people might say it’s just clothes. But the idea is to use our voices to shout and to do anything we can to create a better world. The purpose of this collection is a piece of theatre, inspired by courage, reflecting the pain and the beauty that I witnessed in the war zone. I stand here in front of you, and if I talk about it, maybe you will be touched by what you see and talk about it too.”

Rand Al-Hadethi is an art, culture, and fashion writer who approaches all her creative endeavours with a penchant for storytelling. She explores the intersection of fashion, culture, and society and sheds light on talent and cultural movements across the Middle East and the world. Rand also publishes a bi-monthly themed substack newsletter called WebWeaver™. To reach Rand, email her at rand@khamsa5.com or follow her on social media @rundoozz.
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