In order to escape the frenzied world of haute couture in Paris, Yves Saint Laurent would often retreat to Morocco with his long term partner, Pierre Berge. In 1967 they purchased a house in Marrakech, Dar El Hanah (‘’House of the Serpent’). Decorated modestly with furniture from a local souk, it would be where Saint Laurent spent 3 months of the year, December and June when he designed his collections, and August for vacation.

Drawing by YSL at Dar El Hanah.

It was around this time that a “la dolce vita” social set was establishing themselves in Marrakech, which included Paul and Talitha Getty, Bianca Jagger, Loulou de la Falaise and Andy Warhol.

Drawing by Fernando Sanchez

Also part of this group was American decorator, Bill Willis, whose signature style was an intoxicating mix of hedonism and Scheherazade -inspired extravagance. Willis would later be credited as founder of the Modern Moroccan Design Movement, and Saint Laurent continued to work with him in future projects..

Example of the work of American decorator Bill Willis.

Meanwhile, back in Paris, Saint Laurent’s success as a designer continued to rise, and many attributed his new confidence and tranquility to his sojourns to Marrakech. “Saint Laurent and I discovered Marrakech in 1966 and never left” says Berge. “This city deeply influenced Saint Laurent’s work, particularly his discovery of color.” Betty Catroux, a muse and frequent companion to Saint Laurent, explained, “Paris is the mirror of anxieties, Marrakech is the place where he is happy.”

Berge and Saint Laurent in Marrakech

Saint Laurent with muses, Betty Catroux and Loulou de la Falaise.

Saint Laurent and Berge later went on to own what is now one of the most visited sites in Marrakech, the Majorelle Gardens. Originally built in 1947 by the French painter, Jacques Majorelle, the estate was known for it’s diversity of botanical plantings. After the painter’s death the property fell into disrepair, and was purchased by Saint Laurent and Berge in 1980. Extensive renovations were undertaken and, in addition to the gardens for which it was famous, the striking cobalt blue color of the exterior walls was maintained. It later became known as “Majorelle Blue”, said to be inspired by the skies above the Atlas Mountains. The color would later show up in Saint Laurent’s fashion collections.

Jardins Majorelle with the signature cobalt blue.

Majorelle Blue continues to appear in his collections, several years after his death.

After Saint Laurent’s death in 2008, his ashes were scattered at Majorelle, and Berge went on to establish the “Foundation Pierre Berge-Yves Saint Laurent.” With the purpose of preserving Saint Laurent’s legacies in Paris and Morocco, the Musee Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech and the Musee YSL Paris will open later this year. The $16.8m museum in Marrakech, designed by the firm Studio Ko, is composed of several cubic forms, intended to create a pattern resembling threads of fabric.  Both museums will showcase items from the extensive collections of Berge and Saint Laurent, including 5,000 pieces of clothing, 15,000 haute couture illustrations and several thousand sketches.

Musee Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech.

To further commemorate Saint Laurent’s time in Marrakech, a street has been named in his honor to reflect the love and passion he held for the place.


Sources: “Yves Saint Laurent, A Moroccan Passion”  Pierre Berge. “The Private World of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge”  Robert Murphy & Ivan Terestchenko.