Morrocan city inspired fashion icon

16:00, Nov 30 2013
Morocco Landscape
INSPIRATION: The Spice Market in the old part of Marrakech, where it is crowded with shoppers in the evening.

The colours and textures of Marrakech proved an unlikely source of inspiration for fashion powerhouse Yves Saint Laurent.

A prosperous Islamic capital from the 11th to 13th centuries, Marrakech, one of Morocco's most popular tourist destinations, retains traces of its traditional culture. To Yves Saint Laurent, a designer known as the "king of French fashion," the city was a source of inspiration.

Walking through the Medina, an old part of the city, one can see colourful ethnic clothing, carpets and accessories at storefronts on the narrow, mazelike streets. Women veiled from head to toe in deep blue walk along the street.

One can smell a distinct aroma in the air. Although the Medina is a place where ordinary people carry out their daily lives, it is an extraordinary place for foreigners, giving them a mysterious uplifted feeling.

Saint Laurent, who had already gained a reputation in Paris for his work, visited Marrakech for the first time in the 1960s. He was attracted to the mood of the city, which was reminiscent of his hometown of Oran in western Algeria which was under French colonial rule when he was born.

He moved to Paris at the age of 18 and started working in the field of fashion design as an assistant of Christian Dior.


In 1980, Saint Laurent and his partner, industrialist Pierre Berge, bought a mansion with a 10,000-square-metre garden in Marrakech. Saint Laurent worked there as his second base after Paris. The mansion had once been owned by French painter Jacques Majorelle. Saint Laurent always stayed at the mansion for a while after Paris Fashion Week, which was held twice a year.

"For him, the mansion was a place to relax and gain inspiration for new designs," said Quito Fierro, 51, head of the administrative office of the Majorelle Gardens.

When he was a child, Fierro used to visit Saint Laurent with his mother, who was an interior designer. Reminiscing about Saint Laurent, Fierro said, "He was very shy, but he used to joke a lot."

Clothes designed by Saint Laurent in the late 1960s to the early 1980s clearly reflect traditional Moroccan culture as seen in the Medina.

For example, in a dress that was made with white cloth and embroidered with colourful thread for Paris Fashion Week in 1982, one can see the influence of ethnic costumes of the indigenous Berber people of northern Africa.

To learn more about Berber culture, Saint Laurent used to visit rural villages. His deep curiosity about different cultures broke fresh ground in the field of fashion design.

These days, as many as 700,000 tourists visit the Majorelle Gardens every year. Many of them go to the Berber Museum in the garden, where about 2000 items including ethnic costumes and ornaments that were collected by Saint Laurent are on display.

One can see that aspects of traditional Moroccan culture have spread through their use as an essence in Saint Laurent's creations.

Moroccan fashion designer Fadila El Gadi, who works mainly in Paris and Marrakech, found a direction for her career after seeing Saint Laurent's creations.

When she was still relatively unknown as a designer, she visited Saint Laurent several times and learned the beauty of traditional Moroccan ethnic costumes and ornaments.

From this experience, she adapted designs and techniques unique to her country into her own creations. "I owe him for always giving me a supportive push," she said. Saint Laurent's sense of beauty still influences the local fashion scene.

In 2002, Saint Laurent retired. After his death in Paris, some of his ashes were scattered at his mansion in Marrakech.

- The Washington Post