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Luxury travel

Hip Marrakesh: more than medinas to admire these days in Moroccan city

Boutiques, art spaces and now the Yves Saint Laurent museum have expanded the appeal of Marrakesh; here’s what to look for in the historic city’s style revival

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 December, 2017, 7:17pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 December, 2017, 7:46pm

Marrakesh has long been an exotic tourist destination, but Morocco’s fourth-largest city has a lot more to offer than bustling bazaars, bowls of tagine and endless photo opportunities.

Mushrooming boutiques and art spaces, and designers like rising fashion star Amine Bendriouich reveal an unexpectedly hip side to the historic city.

Old Marrakesh always had the colour and madness of souks, the mosaic-tiled walls and welcoming spaces of its riads, the traditional Moroccan houses and palaces with interior gardens and courtyards. Travellers would haggle at stalls for jewellery or slippers, and crowd into the famous Medina Jemaa el Fna.

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The latest attraction in Marrakesh’s chic rejuvenation is the Yves Saint Laurent museum, opened in October. The late fashion designer was obsessed with the city, and the museum is a must for fashion fans.

Serving a wave of wealthier visitors are five-star hotels like the stunning Amanjena, just 20 minutes’ drive from the old town and offering sanctuary from the city hustle. You can dip into modern Moroccan culture at chic hotspots like El Fenn Riad, or artsy, conceptual hang-out Riad Yima.

Bendriouich champions eclectic, unisex fashion.

“Thank you for your stereotypes, I am building my own aesthetics,” says the designer, whose edgy Couture and Bullshit collections appeal to the younger Moroccan generation and to fashion fans from Paris to New York, Amsterdam, Berlin, Tunis and Lagos. With pop and urban style elements, Bendriouich lifts Moroccan style to the next level.

Visual artists Hassan Hajjaj (see below) and Kehinde Wiley, a New York-based portrait painter, and musician Keziah Jones often produce work and hold creative events in the city.

The boutique Max & Jan, selling a blend of top fashion and traditional Moroccan wear by Marrakesh-based Belgian designer Jan Pauwels and Swiss designer Maximilien Scharl, is worth a visit.

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Max & Jan recently showcased the work of French-Swiss fashion designer Marius Edmond Borgeaud, the designer behind American pop singer Lana Del Rey’s stage outfits, who has founded his own “Araborock vintage” brand, Le Bronx Deluxe.

Then there’s 33 Rue Majorelle, just across the street from the famous Jardin de Majorelle and its electric-blue riad that belonged to Yves Saint Laurent. The small concept store has a well-curated selection of up-and-coming Moroccan brands and designer products.

From homewares, clothing, and accessories to a large collection of beautiful jewellery, this is the best place in Marrakesh to discover craftsmanship with a twist, or to find design gifts.

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Where to stay

The Amanjena

A vision in turquoise and terracotta, this is the most luxurious property in Marrakesh. Nestled between tall palms and olive trees, its impressive arches and Moorish architecture blend traditional and contemporary design. A quiet, ultra wealthy clientele slink around the property, which is designed for privacy: romantic when lit by candlelight and majestic during the day.

Guests stay in one of 32 rounded pavilions or multilevel villas, each with a walled private courtyard, and some with private pools.

What to see

Yves Saint Laurent Museum

Near the Jardin Majorelle (acquired by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé in 1980) the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech occupies a new 4,000 square metre building, inspired by North African and European architecture, which includes a permanent exhibition space devoted to the essentials of Yves Saint Laurent – think the pea coat, the Mondrian dress, ‘le Smoking’ and the safari jacket – and the city’s influence on his designs and lifestyle.

There’s also a hall for temporary exhibitions, a research library with more than 5,000 volumes, an auditorium, bookshop and terrace cafe.

Riad Yima

Riad Yima is Hassan Hajjaj’s brainchild and a true cultural oasis – an art gallery, tea-room and shop hidden in the middle of the medina, close to the spice outlet Rahba Lakdima. Every detail was carefully planned by Hajjaj, who divides his time between Marrakesh and London. The riad features his artwork, furniture design and products, which have been exhibited worldwide at venues including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris.

CM Gallery

CM Gallery is an abbreviation for “Comptoir des Mines” Gallery, an arts space in the industrial building of the Moroccan Company of Works and Objects of Art (CMOOA) that has served as an exhibition venue for the Marrakesh biennial. CM focuses on the work of young contemporary Moroccan artists.

El Fenn

Sundowner sweet mint tea or cocktails at El Fenn are highly recommended. Founded by the British writer, art lover and actress Vanessa Branson (sister of the more famous Richard), this renovated riad is known for its hidden interior gardens, its concept store showcasing the best of Moroccan design and craftsmanship, and its rooftop bar and restaurant. The view is everything.