Since October, Marrakesh has been home to a new museum celebrating the life and work of Yves Saint Laurent. The French fashion icon was so inspired by the ocher-colored city that he made it his second home and left his unmistakable mark upon it. This is a travel into the heart of his legacy.
“Marrakesh was an exceptional love at first sight” said the late Pierre Bergé, the lifelong partner of pioneering French designer Yves Saint Laurent, before he passed away last September. Since their first visit to Marrakesh in 1966, the duo returned often for the unique atmosphere of the red city and the inspiration it fuelled Saint Laurent with. Marrakesh became intrinsic to their lives, so for Bergé a museum in the imperial city devoted to the designer’s life and work, was only too fitting a tribute to the designer, but also to the city that fascinated him so much.
A pioneering couturier, the Algerian-born Yves Saint Laurent started his career at Christian Dior before opening his own couture house with Pierre Bergé in the late 50s. Saint Laurent revolutionised women’s wardrobes with the first tuxedo, trouser suit and jumpsuit. By referring to male codes of dress, the designer gave women much needed confidence, and boldness through symbols of power while still channelling femininity.
The designer passed away in 2008, but his legacy still remains very much alive through the surviving fashion house, but also through two museums founded by Bergé. The first inside the former Yves Saint Laurent atelier in Paris, and the second in Marrakesh, a city that bewitched Saint Laurent, who may have found a refuge here that recalled his beloved Oran in Algeria.
The city’s influence ran deep in his designs of flowing silhouettes inspired by the local jalabiya, as well as his use of colour. “In Morocco, I realised that the range of colours I use was that of the zelliges, zouacs, jalabiyas and caftans. The audacity seen since then in my work, I owe to this country, to its harmonies, to its bold combinations, to the fervour of its creativity. This culture became mine, but I wasn’t satisfied with just absorbing it - I took it, transformed it and adapted it,” he said.
The Marrakesh Yves Saint Laurent Museum sits on Rue Yves Saint Laurent a stone’s throw from Majorelle Gardens, the Moroccan home of the designer and Pierre Bergé. Lovingly revived by the duo, the gardens are a haven of lanes shaded by towering trees and ponds sprinkled with lilies, and are one of the country’s major draws for visitors.
The new museum, and its earthy red stone exterior blends with the Marrakesh cityscape, echoing the walls of its labyrinthine medina nearby. The swooping curves of the walls appear woven like cotton, while inside the walls are smooth, like the lining of the designer’s tuxedo jacket. “The allusions to his work remain subtle. Sometimes it’s a floor that curves up like a cape trailing along the floor,” said Studio Ko’s Olivier Marty and Karl Fournier, whom Pierre Bergé tasked with designing the museum.
Key pieces of Saint Laurent’s career are showcased, highlighting the dichotomy between masculine and feminine, black and white, and Europe and Africa. They, like the museum itself – cotton caftan on the outside and smooth silk tuxedo jacket on the inside – illustrate the two sides to the designer.
“Marrakesh was an exceptional love at first sight”
Sadly, Pierre Bergé passed away weeks before seeing the museum open its doors to the public. But as his final goodbye to his life partner, the museum will allow the Yves Saint Laurent story to continue, making the designer’s last wish for people to study his work for years to come, a reality.
For readers planning a trip to the imperial city, it has something to offer for all tastes in the way of accommodations :
- One of the most alluring within the medina, is the intimate Villa des Orangers. A typical riad with leafy courtyards and shimmering pools, the lavish yet cosy interiors highlight Moroccan craftsmanship, while the rooftop terrace affords breath-taking views of the city and snow-capped Atlas Mountains.
Guests of the hotel can opt for a special pass giving them access to the Yves Saint Laurent Museum, the Majorelle Gardens and the Berber Museum.
- For guests wishing to stay within a short distance of the medina bustle, the very smart Ksar Char-Bagh is the perfect retreat for unwinding. A Moorish palace nestled in the palm groves 10 minutes from the medina, it’s like staying in your own private oasis. With just 15 suites, some with their own private pool, it’s a haven of peace and tranquillity.
To plunge into Yves Saint Laurent's Marrakesh, guests can book the package "Le Ksar & Yves Saint Laurent universe" from December 17th, 2017 to January 7th, 2018. Prices from 975€.