There was a time when a trip to northern Africa was the promise of perfect exoticism, the answer to the everlasting quest of elsewhere. This was when only the privileged could toy with airplanes, when its journey took hours, sometimes even days and when the entire world was not roaming the planet like electrons on speed.
Today a trip to Morocco and more particularly to the iconic city of Marrakech might still leave a first time-comer all happily baffled. Undeniably, souk lanes and roads are still overflowing with shambolic chariots pulled by tired donkeys, most men and women are wearing long-established outfits while traditional houses (Dars, riads or others) are still predominant in the old part of town. For the ones not paying attention, Marrakech could look the same as ever, as if somewhat frozen in a distant past.
And yet, after a few days in the city, anyone will surely realise that beyond the obvious chaos, the palpable pandemonium, ancestral know-how and dust, which products have haunted our lounges for decades, lays a genuine modernity. Yes, Marrakech is full of modern creativity and it’s probably never been so obvious than it is today.
"Marrakech is full of modern creativity"Take food for a start. No doubt you will find a large amount of places serving typical Moroccan cuisine such as couscous, tagine, pastillas or hariras or the more casual kebab in honourable fashion, like they do in pretty much every single snack place around town. And yet, if some places, Dar Moha or La Mamounia Moroccan restaurant among others, have for years excelled in mastering ancestral recipes, using the most refined ingredients to exquisitely further-develop texture and balance (La Mamounia is just about to produce and sell their own olive oil), others have followed in their footsteps to push the trend forward using home-grown vegetables, organically-produced olive oil or organically-fed cattle… A true commitment of impeccable quality, like, at Riad 72 restaurant where fruits, vegetables and spices (and soon beef) are (and will be) purchased through specific suppliers who are organic and quality conscious. Just try their green peas and beef to taste the difference!
Riads, fashion and style. If Marrakech was for a long time a true style inspiration – putting a bit of Moorish and Arabic twists in our lounges – it has nowadays overgrown its own approach to clothing and home decoration. Akbar Delights boutique was probably one of the first to pretend to such exquisiteness by providing our wardrobes with Arabic gowns with a slight twist; colours were new, finishes faultless, cuts sharper than gowns found in the souks where sophistication was not always – and still isn’t - the first prerogative.
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Evidently Akbar Delights, among some others, has nourished creative minds and new shops have popped up in both the old and new areas of the town. Go to Max & Jan or Salima Abdel Wahab shop or to the uber trendy 33 Majorelle and Hadaya next door, everything is here at reach, ready to be introduced into our homes whether that’d be in New York, Hong Kong, Mexico City or Paris. Not like in the old days when Moroccan objects were stamped with their original place of fabrication as a true evidence of their origin, but rather, as an object with a more refined and universal design – with Moroccan expertise and twist.
The same is noticeable in riads (hotels nested in traditional mansions), which have for years led the trend with an ever more modern approach to style than anything else in the city. Responding to travellers’ tastes, modern Moroccan spruced-up style got bigger year after year and there is today no country style unrepresented in Marrakech. From the exquisite Riad Due to Dar Kawa or the newly-opened and surprising Riad Elise (the list is actually endless), from Scandinavian to Italian, English or French, it seems the red city has absorbed world design influences to give travellers a place to suit their demands and tastes.
"Go to Max & Jan or Salima Abdel Wahab shop or to the uber trendy 33 Majorelle"But it would be rather simplistic to consider the rise of design shops or places a true trend if quality and style were not part of the equation. As it seems to be going on in restaurants kitchens, the approach to fashion and home style, and more generally design, is also inclined to flawless excellence. Take Amina Agueznay, ex-American-based architect turned jewel designer, or product designer Myriam Mourabit, who have both pushed, in their own way, Moroccan creativity forward. Their work could confirm that if the skills were always here, style and sometimes techniques were always more of a challenge. And yet not impossible, as both of them, with determination and high expectations proved it years ago, when now new entrants are joining in, and exhibited on the most fashionable shop shelves.
With more travellers roaming the planet, and therefore with more ideas mixing together, it was going to be a compulsory phenomenon which Marrakech – and more globally Morocco - has embraced with all its authenticity and enthusiasm. And it is certainly no wonder why art galleries like Voice Gallery, David Bloch Gallery and Galerie Tindouf are now springing up in both the new and old parts of the city. This even before the country gets its own National Museum. So forget the disillusioned and enjoy Marrakech’s ever-spinning creative wheel, as it is surely anchoring the old Lady, its style and savoir-faire, in the 21st century.
For inspiration, check out:
Amina Agueznay, aminaagueznay.com
Myriam Mourabit, www.myriam-mourabit.com
La Mamounia, www.mamounia.com
Dar Moha, www.darmoha.ma
Riad 72, www.riad72.com
Riad Due, www.riaddue.com
Dar Kawa, www.darkawa.net
Akbar Delights, www.akbardelightscollections.com
Max & Jan, www.maxandjan.ma
33 Rue Majorelle, 33ruemajorelle.com
Voice Gallery, www.voicegallery.net
Galerie Tindouf, www.gallerytindouf.com
David Bloch Gallery, www.davidblochgallery.com