A Lasting Legacy for Yves St. Laurent in Morocco

Sylvia Smith


Almost a decade has passed since the untimely death of Algerian-born, French couturier Yves St. Laurent whose ashes are buried in the Jardin Majorelle, the garden that he created next to his house in Marrakesh. A new museum will show how the designer drew on the traditional colours, designs and shapes of Moroccan clothing, the rather louche ambiance of the city and the freedom from the manic Parisian couture scene – a combination that resulted in the creation of ground-breaking haute couture.


Although Yves had visited Morocco before he was struck by the twelve-acre botanical garden and artist’s house that belonged and was designed by the expatriate French artist Jacques Majorelle in the 1920s and 1930s.

The style of the house attracted the French designer, and as his muse Betty Catroux says in the video, one can trace Yves St. Laurent’s sophisticated hippy look back to the impact of Morocco and his time in Marrakesh.  Loulou de la Falaise, another of his close friends comments on his love of Matisse, born out by the colours of the garden and his fondness for the Art Deco style

Yves St Laurent’s directional designs sprang from his ability to transform everyday local garb with the refined craftsmanship expected of a couturier and to wow the wealthy ladies of the day with a number of fashion innovations. Although Paris may have inspired the sophisticated evening “smoking” suits, the vivid colours and draping can only be down to Marrakesh.

Speaking in the Jardin Majorelle, Yves’s partner and business guru Pierre Bergé tells us that more than anything Morocco gave Yves his innovative colour palette, freeing him to place shades that previously would have been considered to clash next to one another on the same garment. Yves captured the spirit of the moment – a time when the mood was vibrant, slightly anarchic and definitely forward-looking.

However with the passing of the era when fashion designer dressed wealthy European aristocrats who regularly attended formal events requiring a different dress code for each, Yves withdrew from couture. Although his work will be on display in Paris at a brand new museum, Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris, in the designer’s former atelier on 5 Avenue Marceau Marrakesh has its own monument.

The street outside the Jardin Majorelle has already been named in his honour. Now some 50 years after the designer first set foot in Morocco, the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves St Laurent is finally celebrating with a purpose-built museum. It houses thousands of haute couture outfits and accessories that were chosen by Pierre Bergé and Yves himself to demonstrate the connection between designer and place.

The 43,000-square-foot building presents a retrospective of Yves’ couture alongside a bookshop, research library, auditorium and a cafe open to all. Though there will be videos of the most memorable of Yves St. Laurent’s fashion shows in Paris, there is another historical reason for the museum.

Yves and Pierre planned this permanent exhibition, I suspect, to show the very fine, painstaking handiwork that is becoming ever rarer as the world of couture shrinks. A tantalising reminder of an era when Paris was imbued with the glamorous spirit of Morocco thanks to Yves St Laurent.

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