YSL – A Moroccan Love Affair.
Travel and fashion go well together. We like to look the part while conquering the world with our camera and designers have always looked to travel for inspiration. Sometimes they travel through time, visiting ancient places with ruins long lost and bustling skirt hems long shortened and replaced by trousers. Sometimes they travel through the world, either literally getting up close or from afar via recounts of adventurers, anthropologists or Travelettes.
Some inspiration is seemingly mundane like the colours of an evening sky and some incredibly exotic like foreign architecture, unfamiliar to our eyes with shapes, materials, and patters we have never seen. The same applies to a country’s people and their fashion: from everyday garb which to us already looks wonderfully foreign to traditional ceremony gear made out of materials we didn’t even know to exist. Taking these inspirations and incorporating them into something for our mundane or exotic lives, fashion designers have always brought the big world a bit closer to home. Someone who was a master at this and a personal favourite of mine was Yves Saint Laurent.
My mother has always loved fashion and he was one of her favourites long before he became one of mine. While buying complete outfits were out of her price range, she would make her own clothes inspired by his designs and finish the look with some original accessories. Other girls would wear their mother’s pearls while I literally stepped into her shoes. Albeit a good few sizes too big, they were YSL and while I didn’t know what that exactly meant, I knew a good thing when I saw it. I would put on a red silk caftan my mother had sewn herself to complete the outfit and dream myself into a far far away land. Whether I was a princess in India or an African warrior, a piece of Yves’ would find its way into my imaginary temples and very real German mud. I don’t think he would have minded much, because his designs were always meant for travelling, literally and figuratively, and when you travel, you sometimes have to get down and dirty.
He conjured images of Russian tsars, Spanish bull fighters, and Arabian nights, all romantic, decadent, and alluringly foreign. But one of his favourite countries was without a doubt Morocco. As an Algerian native he came here from Paris not only for inspiration, but for a refugee from everyday life. He and his partner, both in business and personal life, Pierre Bergé, first arrived in Morocco in the 1960s and fell in love with Marrakesh.
Anybody who is been there will agree that falling in love with Marrakesh is easy: every sound and every smell oozes sensuality and the eyes are feasting on colours, patterns, and shapes. A dream come true for most, especially a designer, seeking inspiration. Morocco not only made an impression on him and his work, I dare say he made an impression on Morocco as well. A street still bears his name and over the years he owned not only two houses in the city, but also the now famous Jardin Majorelle.
It was the artist Jacques Majorelle who first bought the land in 1923 and built a house, later called Villa Oasis, a workshop, and the garden. He was an artist and that’s how he arranged and sculptured his garden over the years – like a composition on a canvas. It was also him who first came up with the bright, aquamarine blue, which became known as Majorelle blue, and was used in many of Yves Saint Laurent’s later designs.
When Yves and Pierre first came across the garden they found a green oasis in the middle of busy Marrakesh with it and daily visits became their ritual. Jacques eventually died penniless and the garden fell into neglect. In 1980 it was supposed to be turned into hotel complex, but Yves and Pierre decided to save it from its fate and bought the whole property. They restored the garden back to its former glory and finished Jacques’ vision for it.
Today you will find an eclectic mix of plants, flowers, and many cacti, ponds with fountains and lilies, hidden nooks and walkways, leading to new surprises just around the corner. And everywhere touches of that refreshing, bright Majorelle blue that makes the green of the plants stand out even more.
In the middle the old workshop which Pierre Bergé eventually turned into a Berber museum, filled with pieces from their own collection. You will have a tough time finding a better curated, more beautiful museum and it is a must for any fashion and history lover. Go inside to escape the fragrant heat and you will be mesmerized by the most beautiful Berber costumes and jewellery displayed under a ceiling of twinkling lights.
When Yves Saint Laurent died in 2008 his ashes were scattered in the rose garden around the Villa Oasis and a monument reminds of him, a column at the end of one of those hidden walkways, surrounded by green. Seems like he wanted to be part of his paradise on earth forever or as Pierre Bergé wrote in his Yves Saint Laurent, Une passion marocaine “It’s a way for artists to live on…”
Images 1 and 11 from Fondation Pierre Bergé Yves Saint Laurent
Images 2, 3, and 4 from Jardin Majorelle