The brilliant 20th century French designer Yves Saint Laurent made a second home in Marrakech. Following the opening of the Yves Saint Laurent Museum in the city, Nathalie Grainger Bradbury uncovers a side of Morocco that is forever Saint Laurent
When Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé first visited Marrakech in 1966, it rained solidly for about a fortnight. Rather than despair, they holed themselves up in their hotel, La Mamounia, and luxuriated. Then, one morning, after two weeks of rain, they awoke to find the sun shining and the scent of jasmine in the air. That contrast sealed Saint Laurent and Bergé's decision to make Morocco their home-from-home. Their love affair with Marrakech had begun.
Years later, in 1980, the couple got the chance to buy the Cubist-style Villa Oasis and its adjoining, rather neglected garden, the Jardin Majorelle. Saint Laurent, who was born in French Algeria, had been upset at the prospect of the property being knocked down to make way for a hotel, and saved both the building and the garden. He and Bergé moved in and made it partially for their own private use. They transformed the ruins into one of the most popular cultural sights in Morocco, attracting more than 700,000 visitors a year to its public areas.
Now, nearly 40 years later, the late French fashion designer's Moroccan legacy lives on. So deep was Saint Laurent's affinity with Marrakech, in fact, that the road on which the Jardin Majorelle is located, outside the city's medina walls, was renamed Rue Yves Saint Laurent.
The Jardin Majorelle is just as fragrant – a kaleidoscope of purple bougainvillea, pink water lilies and lush orange blossom. The inner walls are a striking shade of blue, known as Majorelle blue, which Saint Laurent used in his collections.
Following his death in 2008, the designer's ashes were scattered in these gardens. Last October, the Yves Saint Laurent Museum opened next door, complementing an equally new sister museum in Paris, founded on the site of YSL's old atelier.
The 4,000-sq-m Marrakech building, co-created by cutting-edge French architects Studio KO, is a tribute to the sandy colours of the city, and a fitting homage to the fashion designer whose work was so deeply influenced by Morocco.
There is a comprehensive collection of Saint Laurent garments and accessories (visitors should note the contrast between his pre- and post-Marrakech work – after Saint Laurent comes to Morocco, colour abounds) as well as sketches and assorted objects on permanent display.
There is space for carefully curated temporary exhibitions, featuring local and international arts and culture, as well as a café and restaurant, spaces for concerts and film screenings, attractive outdoor terraces and a library containing everything from Arabic and Andalusian poetry to Berber culture. It is exactly how Saint Laurent would have wished it. And it is great place to visit, come rain or sunshine.
Nathalie Grainger Bradbury is the Editor-in-Chief of Quintessentially & Co.