Souk, riad, Jardin Majorelle: the hallowed trio of any trip to Marrakech. Well now there’s a new must-do in the Moroccan city: the Musée Yves Saint Laurent, which opens this week, moments after its big sister museum arrived in Paris.
The red brick beauty was created by architectural firm Studio KO, and is a soft, organic space with an entrance inspired by both James Turrell and Moroccan courtyards and their unobstructed views onto big skies (practically always blue here).
The new museum is on the same site as the Jardin Majorelle and the Berber Museum, creating a seamless fashion, culture and botanical complex of easy pleasure. There are rooms for YSL’s haute couture, archive sketches, old photos and his stage and film work (from the ballet to French screen and pop idol Johnny Hallyday). There’s also a rotating exhibition space (faithfully showing the artwork of the original garden owner Jacques Majorelle from the off, even though Saint Laurent and Bergé seemed to have been more of a fan of his planting than his painting), an appointment-only library, a terrace café and an oak-panelled auditorium that’s set to become a centre of cultural life in the city through talks, concerts and screenings.
The classic YSL logo and one of the designer’s Mondrian dresses welcome you into the main room, then there are images from his sketchbooks, magazine covers and fragrance campaigns. Turn the curve and you come upon hundreds of the French designer’s exquisite gowns, from the slick black early pieces to the more riotously colourful ones – something explicitly shaped by Saint Laurent’s time in Morocco with his partner Pierre Bergé (who sadly died last month).
“In Morocco, I realised that the range of colours I use was that of the zelliges, zouacs, djellabas and caftans,” Saint Laurent once said. “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 absorbing it; I took, transformed and adapted it.”
This is perhaps the most challenging thing about the museum: the idea of transforming someone else’s culture into your own has never been more contentious than now, but Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech is an unabashed celebration of the joys of cultural crossover. Still, in 2017, it’s hard to enjoy the pure aesthetic joy of Saint Laurent’s dresses without wondering whether they’d be acceptable if created today. Done now, would his Russian, Asian and African collections be celebrated, or pulled apart?
The first hotel Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé stayed at in Marrakech – the place where their love affair with the city began – was La Mamounia, but were they to visit now, they’d probably want to try out the Royal Mansour, a palatial paradise of private riads centred around a beautiful, big pool. (If you want to swim and sunbathe in Marrakech, take note: accommodation tends to be either small-scale, boho guesthouses with tiny pools and plenty of shade, or else grand, classic hotels with larger pools and loungers).
Individual riads at the Royal Mansour are an impressive four storeys high with terraces and plunge pools on the roof and butlers just a phone call away. You’re pretty much entirely surrounded by the world’s discreet milli/billionaires, and if you choose to walk out of the grounds instead of getting a chauffeur to drive you, be prepared for baffled looks from the staff.
The Royal Mansour’s restaurants are sublime, with menus created by multi-Michelin star winning French chef Yannick Alléno for the Moroccan restaurant (La Grande Table Marocaine, where they serve pastillas, couscous and tagines), the French (La Grande Table Française, where you can get blue lobster ravioli, roasted pigeon and foie gras), La Table (where you’ll breakfast on countless cakes, but also Moroccan pancakes and breakfast soup) and Le Jardin (the informal poolside spot which serves up sushi and cocktails and has the best buzz of all). Work off the indulgence in the well kitted-out gym, or by doing early morning lengths of the pool before the crowds come.
At the other end of the luxury market is El Fenn, a bold, bright boho situation in the thick of the medina from Vanessa Branson (Richard’s sister). It’s more intimate, social and buzzy than the Royal Mansour, with half of West London living it up on the rooftops and in their highly individual quarters. Have a lovely lamb supper with local red wine or some Casablanca beers, then catch a deep sleep in their blissful beds. The feeling of your first outdoor breakfast here the next morning – with a view of the Atlas Mountains – is about as inspiring as it gets and great fuel for a day exploring the city. Make sure you come back for the afternoon mint tea and cakes though.
You’ll probably want to nab the entire contents of El Fenn, and luckily for you, there’s a store packed with desirables. Since you’re a step away from the souk, you should definitely get out and haggle for cheaper local crafts, but you might find yourself returning here for the sheer quality, rarity and added modernity of design.
Besides these, if you’re trying to find somewhere to stay in the city, try out La Mamounia, L’Hotel Marrakech, Beldi Country Club, Palais Namaskar, Riad Mena & Beyond and Dar Zemora.
Royal Mansour, Prices start from £907 per night, based on two people sharing a room royalmansour.com
El Fenn el-fenn.com
Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech is open every day except Wednesdays 10:00am – 6:00pm. Rue Yves Saint Laurent, Marrakech. Admission fee: 100 DH (approx £8) museeyslmarrakech.com