Marrakech and Yves Saint Laurent

Since the opening of the Yves Saint Laurent museum in Marrakech, Morocco, people’s opinions have changed when exiting the new cultural institution, realizing how important Marrakech was for Yves Saint Laurent’s collections.

To understand Yves Saint Laurent’s work, it requires going back to his childhood in Oran at a time when Algeria was a French department. In his memoir, Saint Laurent recalls memories of his family living in a lavish villa and his acculturation to the North African life. Saint Laurent is not only French, he is also Algerian, as he and his family were only deported back to France after the Algerian war. In Paris, the designer gained recognition on account of his drawings showed to the editor of Vogue Paris, Michel de Brunhoff and the skills he learned at the Chambre Syndical de la Haute Couture granted him the right to become the art director at Dior. Before the outbreak of the war, Saint Laurent would often go back to Oran to find inspiration for his future collections.

In 1966, Saint Laurent and his companion, Pierre Bergé went on a trip to Marrakech to escape Paris and look for inspiration in a city and country full of colors and a distinct architecture. During his Moroccan trip, he discovered a dazzled city in which he and Bergé bought a villa called Majorelle doomed to be torn down in order to be replaced by a resort. Prior to that, the villa was owned by the famous French designer, Louis Majorelle. Designed by architect Paul Sinoir who mixed cubism with Moroccan architecture, it was surrounded by a lush vegetation.

According to Bergé, Marrakech was the only city where Saint Laurent was at ease and inspired by local sewers, craftsmanship and the use of colors yet, unseen in the late 1960s in Paris. Saint Laurent was a trailblazer by introducing new shapes and colors that ravished his peers and critics. The obvious examples would be his silk faille embroidered with bougainvillea flowers from his Spring/Summer 1989 haute couture collection or his turbans. “In Morocco, I realized that the range of colors I use was that of the zelliges, zouacs, djellabas, and caftans. 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,” Saint Laurent said.

The relationship between the French designer and Marrakech is the result of a missing puzzle piece in order to regain the balance he needed after the departure of his family from Oran. Marrakech was his inspiration and muse that transformed a man for the greater good of fashion.

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