Pierre Bergé & Yves Saint Laurent's Moroccan Legacy

By Peter Carr

W hen Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent first visited Marrakech in 1966, little did they know what impact they would have on the city. So much so that the recently opened musée YSL Marrakech (mYSLm) sits on Rue Yves St Laurent, a moment’s walk from the beautiful Jardin Majorelle, which they famously saved from demolition and from where Saint Laurent took inspiration until his death.

YVES SAINT LAURENT museum in Marrakech. © Nicolas Mathéus.

The Jardin Majorelle has itself had a fascinating history since its conception in 1923, by the artist Jacques Majorelle. The spectacular garden was Majorelle’s life work, where he spent almost 40 years cultivating its luxurious flora and otherworldly cacti. In addition, the villa and studio is a cubist masterpiece, designed by Paul Sinoir.

An expensive garden to upkeep, it was opened to the public to fund its upkeep. But after a series of tragic incidents for Majorelle, it was sold in 1961. The gardens fell into disrepair and were neglected until rediscovered by Saint Laurent and Bergé, who set out to resurrect the garden and make the villa (renamed Villa Oasis) their home.

View of Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech. Photo ABDELHAK SENNA/AFP/Getty Images.

The couple bought the Majorelle complex in 1980 following the death of Mme Majorelle, and following Saint-Laurent’s death in 2008, Bergé gave the property to the non-profit Fondation Jardin Majorelle. When Saint Laurent and Bergé restored the villa, it was painted in the alluring cobalt blue evermore associated with Jardin Majorelle. The studio was restyled and turned into a museum of Berber and Islamic arts. The featured collection was donated by Bergé himself, who during his time in Morocco had amassed a considerable cache of extraordinary objects.

Pieces designed by Yves Saint Laurent in the Musee YSL Marrakech. Photo © Nicolas Mathéus.

In October 2017, the museum dedicated to the life and work of Yves Saint Laurent, who considered Marrakech his muse. It is somehow fitting that his vast collection of haute couture is preserved in the city that inspired it. Sadly, Bergé died weeks before the project was complete but, as with anything he did, it was overseen with a keen and meticulous eye. The museum and research library should be seen as a tribute to both of them; to Saint Laurent’s talent and vision, and to Bergé’s undying devotion to Moroccan culture and heritage. Bergé said: "It feels perfectly natural, fifty years later, to build a museum dedicated to his oeuvre, which was so inspired by this country.”

Fernando Sanchez, Loulou de la Falaise, Jacqueline Foissac and Yves Saint Laurent in the garden of Villa Oasis, 1970. © Fondation Pierre Bergé.

When they first visited in 1966, Marrakech much reminded Saint Laurent of his childhood and upbringing in Oran, Algeria — the sights and sounds of the medinas, souks and markets. Creativity could be found on every corner. Indeed, after just one week in Marrakech, the couple left with the keys to their first home Dar el Hanch (the House of the Snake) near Jemaa el Fna square. This marked the beginning of their love affair with the city.

Pierre Bergé, Talitha Getty and Yves Saint-Laurent in Marrakech © Fondation Pierre Bergé.

Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé had a sought after label in YSL, and they quickly became a linchpin in Marrakech’s bohemian circles. People would meet at their beautiful homes, designed for lounging and relaxing, instead of going to bars or restaurants. Saint Laurent and Bergé brought Paris’s social scene with them —
the likes of Loulou de La Falaise and Hélène Rochas, among others.

Andy Warhol photographed in Marrakech by Pierre Bergé. © Fondation Pierre Bergé.

Saint Laurent returned to Morocco to rest after each Paris show, and to begin create his next collection; often sitting in the Jardin Majorelle or wandering the medina seeking inspiration from the array of colourful clothing and intricate patterns found there. “Marrakech taught me colour”, he once said. “Before Marrakech everything was black”. This enlightenment transformed his work, and also Bergé’s collecting approach.

The two museums in Marrakech form part of the legacy the two men left, Pierre Bergé said: “I always believed that works of art do not belong to one individual, they belong to mankind.”

Auction in association with Pierre Bergé & Associés.

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