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Serge Cajfinger talks success

Meet any designer the world over and you'd expect to be talking about lines, shapes, cut and colour before you know it. Meet Serge Cajfinger - the man behind fashion label Paule Ka - and you won't.

  • By Kelly Crane, Staff Reporter
  • Published: 00:06 May 27, 2008
  • Tabloid

  • Image Credit: Karl Jeffs/Gulf News
  • Bold colours, bold prints and bold cuts were the order of the day at the recent Paule Ka catwalk show at Harvey Nichols, Dubai.
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Meet any designer the world over and you'd expect to be talking about lines, shapes, cut and colour before you know it. Meet Serge Cajfinger - the man behind fashion label Paule Ka - and you won't.

A warm handshake to begin with made me reconsider my preconceptions about this man being yet another quirky, insincere money maker.

It turns out his heart was equally as warm as his initial greeting as he began telling me his story.

"Clothes come from somewhere within me and I honestly believe I was put on this planet to make women feel good about themselves.

"They are not about lines and looks but about personality and warmth - the kind possessed and exuded by mothers, daughters and best friends."

Ok, so it sounds simple and believe me there was that moment when I sat there and thought "well that's easy - not exactly rocket science" but the sincerity of his words has been proved the world over.

Passion for fashion

Settled in France from his Brazilian homeland in 1968, Lille to be precise, Cajfinger, passionate about arts, fashion and architecture, did not intend to wait for success.

At fifteen, Cajfinger was merchandising Yves Saint Laurent's (YSL) shop windows as well as those of the neighbouring stores. After months of telling his parents he didn't want to go to school, in 1974 he opened a multi-label boutique called Paule Ka with his mother and aunt Paule, carrying all the future fashion greats - such as Alaïa, Montana, Theirry Mugler and Kenzo. The influence of these Parisian labels and his relationship with clients sharpened his knowledge of the female body and educated him about women's wants and desires.

He added: "My earliest memories of clothes are from when I was about six years old. I would go shopping with my mother and my aunt and look at women's clothes. Even at that age I used to see more than just the piece of clothing staring back at me. I knew I could see what was beautiful and what wasn't and I loved pointing it out. We would shop all day - which was my only interest."

Timeless chic

Cajfinger started creating elegant and alluring womenswear of his own since 1988. A celebration of timeless chic, Paule Ka rings like a dance on rhythmic beats, inspired by the colours of his Brazilian childhood.

He continued: "Aged just 15 I moved to France with my mother and decided I wanted to start my own shop. I didn't like going to school and thought it was pointless because I just wanted to design clothes. I feel like I've been studying clothes my entire life and by 17 nobody could stop me. We opened a small boutique and that's how it all began.

On the label's unusual moniker, Cajfinger says it's all about family: "Paule is my aunt's name and Ka our family name, so that's how the name came about."

The autumn-winter 2008 collection is a summary of all the decades and their emotions, imagined by Cajfinger after a lifetime of travel.

"Much of my inspiration is created by the places I visit and the people I meet. I know it gives my clothes a heart all of their own and makes them more than just pieces of clothing. It's something deeper than that.

"I didn't think I would be particularly inspired by the Middle East but I have been mistaken. The architecture and landscape has really taken me by surprise. I even found myself awake in my hotel room at 3am and I knew I just had to sketch. Lamps and tables and glasses can inspire me to design and Dubai is full of interesting shapes.

Compare and contrast

"But the female form is the best inspiration. Women are beautiful in all shapes and sizes and I simply love designing for such an amazing muse."

But it's not only architecture and the ladies. Drawing inspiration from films Sue Lost in Manhattan to Grey Gardens, the silhouettes from the latest collection have many faces, contrasting between poor materials and luxurious clothes, purity and eccentricity assumed.

Cajfinger's looks are a game of compare and contrast. Silky, nude-coloured fur melts into a grey felt wool pencil skirt, a grey gauze-and-wool dress flickers with sumptuous orange velvet, while a leopard print muslin gains strength from jersey piped shoulders.

He said: "It is a collection for the classic ‘bourgeois', faithful to the spirit of Paule Ka. It pays tribute to the eccentric, spiritual and sensual personalities of the likes of Faye Dunaway. Whether in flannel or organza for the evening, the pleated low slung pants take on a masculine dimension with an evident Katherine Hepburn appeal. Supple materials mixed with structured forms. I love it all and am glad it is here in Dubai."

But between mat and shiny effects, tamed nuances, a palette of camel, nude and grey, Cajfinger explains the challenges of designing for the Middle East.

He said: "It's an interesting market because of the mix of people here, but it can be a real challenge due to the heat and that is something we are really starting to focus on. Using lighter and cooler materials is a must and we are also taking into consideration the religious constraints here. We should respect that too."

Famous black dress

There is use of black and white, which evolves throughout the seasons from monochromatic flashes to pastel tones. The skirt suit, the bow, the use of organza and the famous black dresses have remained the signature of Paule Ka for the past twenty years.

So who does he look up to?

"My mother goes without saying, but I am a lifelong admirer of Jackie Kennedy, Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly. Their beauty speaks for itself, as I want it to in my clothes."
Already firmly established in Paris, London, Brussels, Antwerp, Hong Kong and Tokyo, Paule Ka continues to develop internationally as a controlled expansion. Since 2000, sales outlets have tripled and the latest shop is about to open its doors in Cannes, France.

He said: "My mother was in Cannes for the film festival and she saw the store. She called me straight away and said it was next door to YSL and I couldn't believe it. It was one of the first times I accepted success because YSL was a label which inspired me so much and now I am their neighbour - amazing."

Bold colours, bold prints and bold cuts were the order of the day at the recent Paule Ka catwalk show at Harvey Nichols, Dubai.

Serge Cajfinger, designer for Paule Ka. "The collection pays tribute to the eccentric, spiritual and sensual personalities of the likes of Faye Dunaway," he says.

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