Design Destination: Marrakech
Where to source Moroccan chic on your next Marrakech shopping spree.
Marrakech has been enticing adventurous wanderers for decades with its combination of easy access and exotic surroundings. But the past few years have seen its already iconic style explode as fashion designers, architects and other creatives mine the city’s rich traditions for inspiration. Here are the must-visit spots for the traveller looking to bring back a slice of Moroccan chic for their own castle.
The city is cheek to jowl with high-end properties: there’s a Fairmont, a Four Seasons and even the king-owned Royal Mansour. But even in this rarefied air, the classic La Mamounia stands alone. The original luxe lodging, it had its pick of locations back in 1923, and its unheard-of 20 acres directly adjacent to the medina provide instant access as well as a calming respite after a day (or an hour) of haggling. And the refresh by famed French designer Jacques Garcia only underscores the site as a design lover’s dream locale. “It is one of the most beautiful places in the world,” declared Winston Churchill when he described La Mamounia to Franklin Roosevelt in 1943.
Once you’re inside the medina, we wish you luck. There’s nothing quite like its mix of residences, small hotels (riads), restaurants and shops, shops, shops. Part of the fun is getting lost in the endlessly winding alleys and coming across a vendor who calls to you—likely literally and repeatedly. But for those on a mission for fashion and decor, here are a few good starting points. Chabi Chic offers ultra-contemporary ceramics (tricky to find)—just be prepared to pay (quite) a bit more than for traditional Moroccan ware—and the store can be trusted to ship your purchases home. Karim Bouriad has a similarly modern take on traditional Moroccan dresses and caftans. Expect beautiful embroidery and colours that will kick-start your dark wardrobe. Artisan El Koutoubia makes for a great introduction to the charms of the traditional silver and brass lamps and serving vessels that are everywhere in the medina.
While ambling through the market, make sure you stop at one of the riads, or courtyard houses, for a bite or even just to look around. In the past few decades, dozens of them have been turned into stylish boutique hotels that allow the visitor to find a quasi-oasis of calm within the medina. One of our faves for lunch is El Fenn, where owner Vanessa Branson (she’s Sir Richard’s sister) cultivates an aura of art, film and culture, making it a great spot for a leisurely patio lunch while you recharge your batteries. A little less expensive, but high on design, is Riad Goloboy, whose eight rooms each channel a different local aesthetic. And while there’s no food for non-residents, it’s worth checking out if you want to live chicly on a budget.
Yves St. Laurent and his partner, Pierre Bergé, perhaps did more than any other foreign residents to help raise the city’s design profile when they purchased a home here in 1966, and their abode on the Jardin Majorelle has been recently transformed into the splendid YSL Museum. For one part of your visit, you can stroll the expansive gardens and tour the house that so inspired the designer, and for the other you can explore the brand-new building that’s an ode to YSL’s genius, from his early Piet Mondrian-inspired dresses all the way to his last collection in 2002.
While you’re in YSL’s old ’hood, stop by 33 Rue Majorelle, a gallery/concept store that’s equal parts Muji, Céline and Gagosian. It’s a mecca for stylish Moroccan goods—from lamps to fedoras to embroidered tunics—in a beautiful and carefully curated two-storey locale. The quality is very high compared with that of the souks—but so is the price, so grab a coffee and some chocolate fondant next door at 16 Kawa while you contemplate your purchases.
Atika is a store dedicated to Tod’s “inspired” loafers, and there are hundreds of colours and styles. Expect to pay $70, but the workmanship is very good. While you’re there, stroll the modern and hip Gueliz neighbourhood, where the beautiful people of Marrakech shop, eat and party (they don’t spend a lot of time in the tourist-choked medina). Hit the exquisite Yahya for ultra-high-end home decor, where mirrors and sconces crafted in traditional brass designs are statement pieces (there’s also a smaller outpost in La Mamounia).