In April I attended the seventh Design Leadership Summit—an annual conference of architects, interior designers, and landscape architects from across the United States and around the world—which this year was held in Marrakech. There were 150 American attendees, including Joan and Jayne Michaels, Brad Ford, Holly Hunt, John Danzer, David Scott, Richard Mishaan, Jeffrey Alan Marks, Shawn Henderson, Susan Ferrier, and Bobby Dekeyser. It was a lively and interesting crew. The theme for this year’s conference was “Defining and Discovering Value,” and speakers included WSJ. magazine editor-in-chief Deborah Needleman; fashion designer Ralph Rucci; and Frederick Vreeland, the former American ambassador to Morocco, and son of Diana you-know-who. We toured the Majorelle Garden, designed by the expatriate French artist Jacques Majorelle in the 1920s and 1930s, bought by Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent in 1980, and now a memorial to the great French couturier. Other activities included shopping in the Medina; dinner at a fabulous riad, an old courtyard style house that’s now a bed and breakfast; a trip to the Berber region (awesome!); and another dinner in the desert—imagine a caravan of 50 four-wheel-drive vehicles heading out for a dinner under the stars in a setting like Malcolm Forbes famous 70th birthday party in Tangier. Here are some photographs I took during the trip.
There is no grander or more legendary hotel in Marrakech than La Mamounia, which opened in 1923 and has played host to Winston Churchill, Catherine Deneuve, Hillary Clinton, Gwyneth Paltrow, and other luminaries. It recently underwent a complete makeover by French designer Jacques Garcia.
The front steps of La Mamoulia are a wonderful expanse of mosaic tile.
The hotel is like a palace out of the Arabian Nights. As Garcia himself said, “La Mamounia is to Marrakech what the Louvre is to Paris: everybody comes to see it. Only here, some can stay. It’s like spending a night at the museum.”
Former Parisian lawyer Meryanne Loum-Martin, who first visited Morocco in 1985, is one of Marrakech’s leading style gurus. A self taught interior designer, she’s the creator of the secluded Jnane Tamsna—a fabulous hotel comprising several houses set in lush Moorish gardens planted by her ethno-botanist husband Gary—which has featured in Architectural Digest, The New York Times, Town & Country, and Vogue.
Jnane Tamsna is a boutique hotel comprising three properties set on nine landscaped acres, which include five pools surrounded by aromatic plants, a hammam, and a clay surface tennis court.
Jnane Tamsna adopts a minimalist approach to Morocco’s heritage of sumptuous design. Elements of traditional Marrakech style and color have been adapted to achieve a peaceful, contemporary look.
Glenn Gissler was particularly taken by Loum-Martin’s sure-handed juxtaposition of various African and Moroccan decorative elements with an upholstered Ruhlmann spoon-back chair.
The Marjorelle Garden, begun in 1924 by the French expatriate artist Jacques Marjorelle (1886–1962), is one of Marrakech’s most famous attractions. Open to the public since 1947, the property was purchased in 1980 by Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent, who lived in the artist’s villa and undertook a major restoration of the garden. Saint Laurent’s ashes were scattered there after his death in 2008.
Marjorelle painted the garden walls, fountains, features, and villa an intense shade of blue, for which he trademarked the name Majorelle Blue. He had noticed the color in Moroccan tiles, in Berber burnouses, and around the windows of buildings such as kasbahs and local adobe houses.
Water, an important feature of the Majorelle Garden, flows evocatively over blue and green tiles; nasturtium leaves and flowers have the intensity of a Matisse painting.