Yves Saint Lau­rent first trav­elled to Mar­rakech in 1966 and would con­tinue to visit for the re­main­der of his life. With a new mu­seum ded­i­cated to the de­signer launch­ing in the Moroc­can city next month, Selina Den­man looks back at how a re­mark­able city imp

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Ahead of the launch of the Yves Saint Lau­rent Mu­seum in Mar­rakech, we ex­plore the city’s hold on the de­signer

Rue Yves Saint Lau­rent looks much like any other street in Mar­rakech’s “ville nou­velle” – if ever so slightly less dusty and di­shev­elled. It is only as you head up the road, away from the toot­ing horns of Av­enue Ya­coub El Man­sour, a busy thor­ough­fare that tran­sects this part of the city, and slip into the gates of Jardin Ma­jorelle, that it be­comes clear how spe­cial Rue Saint Lau­rent re­ally is. To es­cape into Jardin Ma­jorelle’s shaded, cobalt-blue en­vi­rons is to find an oa­sis of green­ery and quiet in a city des­per­ately lack­ing in both. It is not dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand why Yves Saint Lau­rent fell in love with it.

The famed fash­ion de­signer first vis­ited Mar­rakech in 1966 with his part­ner Pierre Bergé, with whom he co-founded the Yves Saint Lau­rent brand. They were greeted with a week’s worth of rain. But once the sun came out and they ven­tured out from La Mamou­nia ho­tel’s leg­endary con­fines, Saint Lau­rent be­came cap­ti­vated by the city, en­tranced, in par­tic­u­lar, by the qual­ity of the light that washed over it. He would go on to write of the city’s “benev­o­lent pink magic”.

By the end of that trip, he had bought a house there and would re­turn reg­u­larly for the re­main­der of his life. It has been de­scribed as “an ex­cep­tional case of love at first sight”.

In many ways, Saint Lau­rent was re­turn­ing to his roots. He was born in Al­ge­ria in 1936, en­joy­ing a priv­i­leged up­bring­ing in the port city of Oran. “Oran, a cos­mopo­lis of trad­ing peo­ple from all over, and mostly from else­where, a town glit­ter­ing in a patch­work of all colours un­der the se­date North

In Morocco, I re­alised that the range of colours I use was that of the zel­liges, zouacs, djellabas and caf­tans

African sun. It was a good place to be well off, and we were well off. My sum­mers swept by as if mounted on clouds, at a villa on a beach, where my rel­a­tives and friends with sim­i­lar roots formed an en­clave,” the de­signer said in 1983.

It was a world of wealth, coloured by that colo­nial ten­dency to ro­man­ti­cise the moth­er­land, so Saint Lau­rent al­ways had one foot in North Africa and the other firmly in France. “There were many lovely din­ner par­ties at our com­fort­able house in town, and I can still see my mother, about to leave for a ball, come to kiss me good­night, wear­ing a long dress of white tulle with pear-shaped white se­quins,” he re­called.

Long a er he moved to Paris and found fame, creat­ing cou­ture for Chris­tian Dior and then his own epony­mous brand, Saint Lau­rent would re­turn to Oran for a few weeks be­fore each show, work­ing on new de­signs at his old desk, and re­turn­ing to his ate­lier in Paris with a suit­case full of sketches. In 1962, a er Al­ge­ria’s in­de­pen­dence, Saint Lau­rent’s par­ents, Charles and Lu­ci­enne, and sis­ters, Brigitte and Michèle, moved to Paris, leav­ing most of their pos­ses­sions be­hind and re­ly­ing on him to rent them a tiny apart­ment. The ladies of the fam­ily were able to adapt to Parisian life, but Charles was filled with long­ing for the life he had le be­hind. Per­haps his son felt the same, and found a sub­sti­tute in Morocco.

In Mar­rakech, he could stroll anony­mously through the souqs of the old city, tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from the colours and clothes. The city had yet to be tainted by mass tourism, and was avant-garde enough to at­tract the likes of Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones and French philoso­pher Michel Fou­cault, who had been vis­it­ing since the 1960s.

It was also dur­ing that first trip to Mar­rakech that Saint Lau­rent and Bergé came across Jardin Ma­jorelle. The gar­den was the brain­child of French artist Jac­ques Ma­jorelle, son of the fa­mous fur­ni­ture de­signer Louis Ma­jorelle. Much like Saint Lau­rent, but 50 years ear­lier, Ma­jorelle vis­ited Mar­rakech and was im­me­di­ately be­witched by the city. In 1923, he bought a four-acre plot on a palm grove on the out­skirts of Mar­rakech, which promptly grew to 10 acres. He com­mis­sioned ar­chi­tect Paul Si­noir to de­sign a cu­bist villa on the grounds, and set up a stu­dio on the first floor. A pas­sion­ate am­a­teur botanist, Ma­jorelle cre­ated an in­cred­i­ble gar­den sur­round­ing the villa, which would ul­ti­mately be­come his life’s work.

“We quickly be­came very fa­mil­iar with this gar­den, and went there ev­ery day,” Bergé wrote in the book

Yves Saint Lau­rent: A Moroc­can Pas­sion. “It was open to the pub­lic yet al­most empty. We were se­duced by this oa­sis where colours used by Matisse were mixed with those of na­ture … And when we heard that the gar­den was to be sold and re­placed by a ho­tel, we did ev­ery­thing we could to stop that project from hap­pen­ing. This is how we even­tu­ally be­came own­ers of the gar­den and of the villa. And we have brought life back to the gar­den through the years.”

As it was then, the gar­den to­day is a maze of shaded lanes and tow­er­ing trees. Bam­boo thick­ets nudge against enor­mous cacti; birds flit from the tree­tops; and bur­bling streams lead to pools laden with lo­tus

flow­ers and wa­ter lilies. At the heart of the gar­den stands a build­ing in vi­brant blue.

Saint Lau­rent came here twice a year to de­sign his haute cou­ture col­lec­tions. On June 1 and De­cem­ber 1, he would travel to Mar­rakech for two weeks at a time, and it is here that he found the space, clar­ity and in­spi­ra­tion to cre­ate. The city’s in­flu­ence can be seen in the clothes them­selves, as the de­signer drew from lo­cal fashions, cra s and colours, and by the bil­low­ing sil­hou­ettes of the jal­abiya and the burnous cape. It is o en said that it was here that he “dis­cov­ered colour” and there are ob­vi­ous ex­am­ples: a cape in silk faille em­broi­dered with bougainvil­lea flow­ers from his spring/sum­mer 1989 haute cou­ture col­lec­tion; the bur­nished or­ange and hot pinks of a silk-satin off-the-shoul­der dress from his au­tumn/ win­ter 1987 col­lec­tion; and the elab­o­rate tur­bans sported by many of his mod­els.

“In Morocco, I re­alised that the range of colours I use was that of the zel­liges, zouacs, djellabas and ca ans. The bold­ness seen since then in my work, I owe to this coun­try, to its force­ful har­monies, to its au­da­cious com­bi­na­tions, to the fer­vour of its cre­ativ­ity. This cul­ture be­came mine, but I wasn’t sat­is­fied with just ab­sorb­ing it; I took, trans­formed and adapted it,” he said.

Saint Lau­rent’s life in Morocco was cap­tured in an iconic shoot for the Au­gust 1980 is­sue of Vogue, by the leg­endary pho­tog­ra­pher Horst P Horst. One par­tic­u­lar im­age sees a hand­some Saint Lau­rent re­clin­ing in the grounds of Jardin Ma­jorelle, sur­rounded by all the ac­cou­trements of a tra­di­tional Ara­bic home – colour­ful Ber­ber rugs in shades of rust red, deep yel­low, or­ange and green; floor cush­ions em­bla­zoned with geo­met­ric pat­terns in rich shades of turquoise and pink; and over­sized plat­ters and bowls brim­ming with brightly coloured citrus fruits. Jardin Ma­jorelle was the site of key events in Saint Lau­rent’s life – and a er he passed away on June 1, 2008, in Paris, his ashes were scat­tered in the gar­den. A me­mo­rial was set up here, in the form of a Ro­man pil­lar on a pedestal with a plaque bear­ing his name.

Saint Lau­rent’s ties to Mar­rakech are to be fur­ther ce­mented next month when, 51 years a er the de­signer first vis­ited the city, a mu­seum cel­e­brat­ing his ca­reer, de­signs and life will open just up the road from Jardin Ma­jorelle. An ini­tia­tive by the Fon­da­tion Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Lau­rent, which was es­tab­lished to safe­guard the cou­turier’s legacy, the Yves Saint Lau­rent Mu­seum in Mar­rakech will span more than 4,000 square me­tres, and fea­ture a per­ma­nent ex­hi­bi­tion space, a tem­po­rary ex­hi­bi­tion gallery, re­search li­brary, au­di­to­rium, book­shop and cafe. A re­ported 50 cou­ture out­fits will be on show in the Mor­ro­can city at any given time, while the li­brary will hold about 6,000 books on fash­ion, Yves Saint Lau­rent and Ber­ber cul­ture.

“I don’t think that peo­ple fully un­der­stand that the up­com­ing Yves Saint Lau­rent mu­seum is not just any other fash­ion mu­seum; it is the largest cul­tural project hap­pen­ing in Morocco,” says Stephen di Renza, creative di­rec­tor for re­tail op­er­a­tions at Jardin Ma­jorelle, who vis­ited Abu Dhabi ear­lier this year. “There will be tem­po­rary gal­leries for dif­fer­ent ex­hi­bi­tions. Pierre Bergé owns the largest col­lec­tion of Moroc­can and An­dalu­sian manuscripts, which will be avail­able for ref­er­ence. There is an am­phithe­atre for sym­po­siums. And at the mo­ment, we are dis­cussing what kinds of cul­tural pro­gram­ming we’ll have – the idea is to have mu­sic, dance, arts etc.”

With its clear, un­clut­tered lines, the ar­chi­tec­ture of the mu­seum echoes Saint Lau­rent’s work. And its open­ing on Oc­to­ber 19 will come a cou­ple of weeks a er the launch of an­other Yves Saint Lau­rent mu­seum in Paris, in the pre-ex­ist­ing Fon­da­tion Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Lau­rent at 5 Av­enue Marceau. That this re­mark­able de­signer will be hon­oured by two mu­se­ums is a mark of the im­pact that he had on fash­ion in the 20th cen­tury, but is also, ar­guably, a sign of the ris­ing stature of fash­ion as an art form in it­self. Ei­ther way, much like it did in his col­lec­tions, Mar­rakech will take cen­tre stage.


DE­SIGN EVO­LU­TION Above, Yves Saint Lau­rent vis­ited Mar­rakech at least twice a year to de­sign his haute cou­ture cre­ations. Le , the Yves Saint Lau­rent Mu­seum in Mar­rakech will open on Oc­to­ber 19, and will dis­play about 50 cou­ture pieces. Be­low, a cape...

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