Majorelle Gardens and the Musee Berbere

When you live to a certain age, life events start to become circular… 

I became a fan of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent at a very early age, and was especially enamored of his ethnic-inspired collections. Yves was born in Algeria in 1936 and studied haute couture in Paris. He became Christian Dior’s assistant, and the artistic director for the House of Dior in 1957. He opened his own fashion house in 1962. Yves traveled to Morocco for the first time in 1966, and fell in love with the culture. By several accounts Marrakech is where he learned about color and was influenced to develop a line of ethnic-inspired women’s wear.

You can imagine my excitement and utter joy when an exhibit of his work: Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style came to the Seattle Art Museum in October 2016. Seeing this landmark exhibit was like revisiting my childhood. Some of my personal favorites from this exhibit are here. Little did I know that a few months later, I would visit Morocco and find Yves Saint Laurent’s memorial in Marrakech, and a museum devoted to a culture that inspired some of my favorites from his ethnic-inspired collections.

Marrakech is considered one of Morocco’s four Imperial cities, founded in 1062 by the Almoravids, a dynastic Berber tribe. The Berbers are among the oldest indigenous peoples of North Africa, with a history stretching back about 9,000 years. Under the Almoravid leader Yusuf ibn Tashfin, Morocco became united, as did much of Spain and Algeria and Marrakech became a center of culture and learning.

It was here that Jacque Majorelle, a French Orientalist painter, bought a piece of property in 1923 that would become known as the Majorelle Gardens. Over the following decade, he built a house which he named the Villa Oasis, and surrounded it with an eclectic collection of specimen plants and trees, some of which he brought back from his travels. Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge purchased the property in 1980 to prevent it from being bulldozed. They restored the gardens and turned Jacque’s painting studio into a museum.

I did not find the gardens ‘breathtaking’ as the guidebooks state, but they did contain some interesting cacti and succulents. I found the color scheme garish, with its buildings painted in bright green, lapis blue, yellow and orange. The plantings were sterile and matched the color scheme of the buildings! Even the koi matched the orange pots set around the edge of their formal pond. Much of the gardens felt contrived.

Marrakech garden
PHOTOGRAPH BY Heather Daveno

There’s a memorial here for Yves, designed around a Roman pillar, which was brought from Tangier. I paused to pay my respects and laid a kiss, lip to finger to stone, before proceeding to the museum.

The museum housed an incredible collection of Berber clothing, jewelry and accoutrement. Yves’s partner Pierre Berge established the Musee Berbere after Yves's death in 2008, to honor Yves’s legacy and the culture that inspired some of his most iconic works. In 2011, the museum was officially inaugurated under the royal patronage of the King of Morocco. More than 600 objects collected by Pierre and Yves Saint showcase the vibrancy of the Berber culture that both men loved so well.

Of all the places to not allow photographs!!! It’s a compact space, set under a dark ceiling pierced with lights that seemed to simulate stars, under which were mannequins displaying ethnic clothing, cases of jewelry and walls lined with household implements.

Musee Berbere interior
PHOTOGRAPH BY www.museeyslmarrakech.com

There was a dazzling array of jewelry and headdresses which I noted bore similarities to Mongolian jewelry. In both nomadic cultures, women wore their wealth in the form of finely crafted silver, studded with coral. Where Mongolian women also used turquoise, the Berber women used amber and amazonite. I recognized some of the pieces as being talismans, including fibula whose design I would find on doors throughout the country, and which I would work into a hat design when I returned home.

Fibulae
PHOTOGRAPH BY www.museeyslmarrakech.com

Beyond the cases of jewelry, were displays of clothing and accoutrements, including rugs and musical instruments.

I circumnavigated the exhibits twice before one of the curators noted that I was lost, and helpfully pointed me towards the exit, which led me straight into the gift shop. I spent a half hour buying books about Berber culture, although I failed to find a catalog for the pieces I had just perused.

For the scholars among us, the Jardin Majorelle Foundation has published three journals (Les Cahiers du Musee Berbere) on a variety of topics relating to Amazigh culture. I came home with Editions I and II, published in both English and French, and found Edition III as a downloadable pdf on their website.

The garden and museum are open daily from roughly 8 AM-5 PM and are wheelchair accessible, although I would find it difficult to navigate the museum in a wheelchair if it was crowded. Admission to the garden is 70 Dhs, to the museum 30 Dhs.

Jardin Majorelle

Rue Yves Saint Laurent

Marrakech, Morocco

Phone +212 (0)5 24 31 30 47

info@jardinmajorelle.com

*    *    *

Heather Daveno

Heather Daveno is from Seattle, Washington, where she works as an office manager by day and a self taught hatmaker by night. Her travels inspire her hats, which she handcrafts from reclaimed textiles and found objects. You can find her hats and full texts of her travel journals at August Phoenix Hats, with links to additional travel photos at Daveno Travels.