“Marrakech is the door to Africa,” said Christine Alaoui, a French photographer whose inner circle in the city included Yves Saint Laurent and the American interior designer Bill Willis. “From here everything changes. It’s the start of another world.”
Even back when the city’s souks were a maze of tea glasses, lanterns and embroidered slippers, it was always an adventure to get lost in its labyrinthine alleyways. But in the last decade a new generation of young artists and entrepreneurs – international and Moroccan– have moved to Marrakech, and it’s increasingly possible to find independent boutiques and design emporiums that are reinventing the country’s crafts. A major source of this seismic shift has been the recent rediscovery and appreciation of Morocco’s rich artisanal heritage, from zellige and encaustic tiles to ceramics and rug weaving.
“Anything is possible here,” says Vanessa Branson, who herself attracted a fair share of contemporary artists to Marrakech after opening the chic El Fenn hotel in 2004 and founding the prestigious Marrakech Biennale a year later. “Artists get excited with all the resources here, the sheer numbers of talented people working with their hands.” Many of today’s successful Marrakech-based businesses, from the accessories designer Laetitia Trouillet of Lalla to Caitlin Dowe-Sandes, co-owner of the tile company Popham Design, embrace working with skilled local craftspeople. Dowe-Sandes’ tiles can be found everywhere from the Soho House in Miami to Jade Jagger’s house in Formentera, and for her the key to the city’s enduring appeal is simple: “Authenticity is a guiding principle for most creatives, and Marrakech has it in spades.”
To see how spectacular Moroccan craftsmanship can be, make your way to the Royal Mansour hotel
The personal shopper: The polite and amiable Mustapha Chouquir is well acquainted with what international style-seekers are looking for, and comes recommended by the dapper GM of El Fenn, Willem Smit. He charges MAD300 (£24) for up to four hours.
The hit list: When 33 Rue Majorelle debuted a few years back, it was heralded as the city’s first official concept store. The two-storey boutique features wares from almost 100 artisans and is curated by the plugged-in stylist Monique Bresson and Yehia Abdelnour. Within the Majorelle garden itself is an excellent boutique overseen by the American creative director Stephen di Renza, who commissions accessories, from leather bags to tasselled shawls, from Morocco’s most talented makers.
Jadrin Majorelle is home to Stephen di Renza’s beautifully curated boutique CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES
In the medina, it’s worth searching out the atelier of Ministero del Gusto (by appointment) to ogle co-owner Alessandra Lippini’s collection of vintage women’s clothing and costume jewellery. Kate Moss recently filled her suitcase here.
The star buy: There was perhaps no bigger home-design trend in the last decade than the black-and-white woven Beni Ourain carpets created by weavers in the Atlas Mountains. Visitors to Soufiane’s carpet warehouse, on the edge of the medina, will find them alongside many other options.
The pit stops:The Nomad is a restaurant with a roof terrace and stunning views of the Spice Market. On the ground floor is the HQ for Chabi Chic, the one-stop shop for modern Moroccan-inspired tableware. Just two minutes away is Riad Yima, a very insider-y gallery, tearoom and shop, owned and curated by the artist Hassan Hajjaj.
The stylish stays: There is no greater showcase for traditional Moroccan craft than the palatial Royal Mansour, a collection of stand-alone riads commissioned by King Mohammed VI. The lobby alone is a dizzying, mix of zellige mosaics, carved cedar wood and plasterwork. Riads from MAD11,099 (£890). El Fenn is still one of the most stylish riads in town. It recently saw the addition of a shop, with a mix of products, from clothing to blankets, produced by local talents. Doubles from MAD2,540 (£205).