For all the noisy charm of Marrakech’s old city, with its twisting souks, grand La Mamounia hotel, and stately Koutoubia Mosque, one of the most popular tourist destinations remains the Majorelle Garden—once owned by, (and now the eternal resting place of) fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. Hordes flock to the magnificent walled oasis of lush trees and sculptural cacti to pay homage to an artist who found a place in haute couture for the motifs of his beloved Morocco.
Visitors hoping to bask a bit longer in YSL’s afterglow are well advised to nip just across the street to 33 Rue Majorelle, a concept shop that has certainly embraced something of Saint Laurent’s spirit. Founded in 2010, this thoroughly modern trio of spaces—a boutique specializing in housewares and clothing, a snack bar, and a salon offering furniture, art, and a place to repose—is dedicated to the union of contemporary design and Morocco’s famed craftsmanship.
Though the shop represents over 60 designers, mostly from Morocco, co-owner Yehia Abdelnour is quick to turn the focus to the local maâlems, or master craftsmen, who make the majority of what’s on view. Asked what inspired the shop’s tight edit of furniture, linens, apparel, and objets, he cites Morocco’s “abundance of skilled artisans, the vibrant and bold colors, the rich hues, the geometric ornaments, and the handcrafted textures.” And at the risk of sounding unduly brash, he asserts, “There’s no other shop quite like this in Marrakech. In all Morocco.”
When people shop in Morocco they often head straight to the souks. 33 Rue Majorelle strikes a pretty different tone.
The souks are the antithesis of what we wanted at 33. Abundance in our view makes things go unnoticed. Too much stuff and too many colors and you get dizzy very quickly. I used to be dazzled by the souk, but you don’t know what’s going on. Here, you can appreciate each piece without being bothered by the noise coming from the left and the right.The shop is much better organized than what you find in the medina.Thanks to Monique Bresson. She has a talent for displaying and exhibiting product that is far greater than just finding nice stuff. Each month we might have two or three new designers, and we are always rearranging the store so you constantly have the sense of evolution.
I’ve heard Morocco described as a “handmade nation” when it comes to the decorative arts. Our objective at 33 was to unite, under one roof, all the vibrant talents that exist in Morocco, whether foreign designers who have moved here or local craftsman working in traditional ways. All of the designs we sell have a distinctive modern flair and share, to a great extent, their sources of inspiration from the classical elements of the past.Do you see yourselves as preserving traditional Moroccan making?Yes. There is a French designer, Ludovic Petit, with a brand called Lup31, who moved to Morocco ten years ago, and we sell his versions of classic tea glasses. Morocco has never been that strong in glass, unlike Iraq or Tunisia, and there is just one place to get handblown glass in the country, in Casablanca. Ludovic makes his glasses there, and without him and others who support that large workshop, we’d lose handblown glass here.
We also sell products from a company called Khenfouf, which is run by a German countess who lives out in the countryside and who wanted to help the community she lives in. She started a company in the village whose proceeds support the community; she does designs and the local women produce these vibrant pillows (which are popular sellers), bags, and toys.
Tell me about the two other spaces at 33 Rue Majorelle, le Salon and the snack bar Kaowa. Le Salon, which I designed, is supposed to continue the shopping experience from 33; any chair you sit in you can purchase, any picture on the wall you can buy. Le Salon is an extension of the little cafe, too. So you should feel as comfortable grabbing a salad and sitting down as you would browsing for art or furniture. Is there any chance you’ll expand your inventory to include goods from outside Morocco?The Arab Spring unleashed a big wave of energy throughout the region, and a young generation of Arab artists and designers is changing the face of Middle Eastern design. Lebanon and Egypt are the design capitals—apart from Morocco—in the Arab world, and there is a new freedom that has come with the revolutions. We stock the work of a couple of these artists, but I want to tap into that market because it’s very much in line with what we’re doing.