The Bewitching City That Inspired Fashion Icon, Yves Saint-Laurent

Marrakech rooftop | The City that Inspired Fashion Icon, Yves Saint-Laurent Most

Morocco’s most fashionable city is without question Marrakech.

The bewitching city merges dualities harmoniously; old with new, tile with intricate wooden carvings, an abundance of colorful tones with stark white or a dusty Sahara backdrop.

Dynamic and dramatic cultures intersect in Marrakech with influences of Islam, French, Spanish, and traditional Berber, singing a melody of vibrancy. Here, the colors, light, and souks in the city brim with fertile life.

Marrakech man on laptop | The City that Inspired Fashion Icon, Yves Saint-Laurent Most
Marrakech tile close up | The City that Inspired Fashion Icon, Yves Saint-Laurent Most

Bordering the unforgiving Sahara Desert, Marrakech somehow offers a welcomingly soft presence in an unlikely, harsh climate with its mystical beauty, airy lounges, and chic roof terraces.

It comes as no surprise that Marrakech is the adopted city of one of the most celebrated fashion designers in the world, Yves Saint-Laurent.

Yves Saint-Laurent, born in Oran, French Algeria in 1936, always had an interest in fashion and began designing clothing for his mother by his early teens. At age 17 he moved to Paris to study at the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture where his designs were quickly recognized, and soon he was offered a position at Christian Dior. After one year of mostly menial labor like decorating the studio, he was able to submit designs for the haute-couture collection. By age 21, Christian Dior announced that Yves Saint-Laurent would succeed him as head designer at House of Dior. Just months later Dior passed away, making Saint-Laurent the youngest lead designer of a major fashion house.

His first collection for Christian Dior in 1958 was wildly successful. Instead of the traditional Dior synched waist, he opted for a higher waistline, wide hem and a more fluid silhouette, which would be known as the “Trapeze dress”.

This revolutionary notion of designing looks for women that were more comfortable and “ready to wear” would follow him over the course of his career.

In his storied career, Yves Saint-Laurent is credited as the first to design the pea coat, trench coat, tuxedo, and safari jacket for women’s fashion. Additionally, he created the jumpsuit and was the first to use sheer fabric in garments. He was convinced women wanted to wear pants, and his designs coincided with the liberation of women.

All of these are staples in a woman’s wardrobe today, thanks to Yves Saint-Laurent.

Yves Saint-Laurent’s love affair with Morocco began during his first trip to the country in 1966 with his partner, Pierre Bergé. They fell in love immediately and bought property in the medina of Marrakech, returning several times each year.

During that first trip, the pair discovered the Jardin Majorelle, which they would later come to own. Of the Majorelle, Saint-Laurent said, “We quickly became very familiar with this garden, and went there every day. It was open to the public yet almost empty. We were seduced by this oasis where colours used by Matisse were mixed with those of nature.'“

Over the course of his career, his designs were imagined under the influence of Marrakech. “Paris was his place of creation but Marrakech was his place of inspiration,” says Björn Dahlström, the architect of the newly opened Saint-Laurent museum in Marrakech.

Image credit:  Musee YSL Paris

Image credit: Musee YSL Paris

Marrakech taught Saint-Laurent about color. Before his first trip in 1966, his collections were dark and minimal. After Marrakech, life and vibrancy emerged in the forms of color and ornamental touches.

“On every street corner in Marrakech, you encounter astonishingly vivid groups of men and women, which stand out in a blend of pink, blue, green, and purple caftans. It’s astonishing to realize that these groups, which seem to be drawings or paintings and which evoke Delacroix’s sketches, are really just improvised from life.”

Marrakech, Morocco | The City that Inspired Fashion Icon, Yves Saint-Laurent Most

The pair bought another home in Marrakech in 1976, called Dar Es Saada. Soon after they were informed that a property nearby was threatened by a real-estate development project. They purchased the Majorelle garden and villa in 1980.

“And when we heard that the garden was to be sold and replaced by a hotel, we did everything we could to stop that project from happening. This is how we eventually became owners of the garden and of the villa. And we have brought life back to the garden through the years.”

The Jardin Majorelle was built by French painter, Jacques Majorelle. In 1923, Majorelle bought a four-acre plot of land on the border of a palm grove, already planted with poplars, revealing the existence of water. Majorelle would spend the next 40 years of his life to creating a luxuriant garden that would become his most dazzling work.

Throughout Majorelle’s travels, he acquired hundreds of rare species of plants to include in his extraordinary gardens.

Majorelle blue | The City that Inspired Fashion Icon, Yves Saint-Laurent Most
Jardin Majorelle | The City that Inspired Fashion Icon, Yves Saint-Laurent Most
La Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech, Morocco | The City that Inspired Fashion Icon, Yves Saint-Laurent Most

The garden opened to the public in 1947, 15 years before the death of Jacque Majorelle, and 33 years before Saint-Laurent and Bergé would purchase the property.

Saint-Laurant and Bergé restored the Majorelle garden to its former glory, and then some, bringing the total number of plant species in the garden to 300. Saint-Laurent would say that he found endless inspiration in the Jardin Majorelle, dreaming of its unique colors.  

Bergé recounts, “Morocco was where we were the happiest”. The ashes of Saint-Laurent are scattered at the Jardin Majorelle.

Today, the spirit of Yves Saint-Laurent lives on in Marrakech.

There are two major ways to honor YSL’s legacy in Marrakech; at the Jardin Majorelle and the Yves Saint-Laurent Museum, recently opened in 2017.

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