The YSL Museum in Marrakesh

June 13, 2018


I think the reason I’m fascinated with the North African city of Marrakesh is because I’ve watched the movie Casablanca so many times – after all, these cities are only 140 miles apart.

My interest in Marrakesh extends to the point where I’ve even picked out the hotel we’d stay in, namely: La Mamounia. I have bookmarked it on my computer and when I’m in the mood for armchair traveling I click on it, lean back and enjoy the magic of “the Oriental atmosphere of a beautiful Moroccan home with all the comfort of a palace.” That’s how the hotel describes itself and I think it sounds fantastic.

The grand La Mamounia palace hotel – photo courtesy of AFAR magazine, June 2018

But there’s more: they describe it as offering, “Delights for the nose, with fragrances of jasmine, orange blossom, cedar and powerful leather.” Okay, I’ll take their word for this, since the Mac doesn’t have Smell-o-Vision.

But then they add, “Enjoy a lush garden of bougainvillea, prickly pears, palm trees – a total of 1,200 plant species with the snow-capped Atlas Mountains as a backdrop. This is heart stopping and even more so when the hotel reveals the names of their famous guests: Charlie Chaplin, Marlene Dietrich, Ray Charles, Elton John, Paul McCartney and yes, Yves Saint-Laurent. This brings us to our main topic: the newly opened YSL Museum.

The exterior of the $17 million terra cotta YSL museum – photo courtesy of Condé Nast Traveler, September 1017


Yes, this is a direct quote from the designer who bought a cobalt blue villa in Marrakesh and made it his vacation home. The idea for the museum came up in 2010, when a St. Laurent-themed exhibition was hosted at Marrakech’s Berber Museum. “It was such a success, it made sense to build a museum,” says Björn Dahlström, director of the St. Laurent museum. “When nearby land for the museum came on the market, Pierre Bergé bought it.” The property is next door to the Majorelle Garden and steps away from the villa.

The Jardin Majorelle – photo courtesy of Condé Nast Traveler, September 2017

The museum spans the late designer’s 40-year career, from 1962 until his retirement in 2002. (He passed away six years later.) Bergé died on September 8, 2017. However he was able to visit the museum before it opened and see the result of all his time, effort and money.


What can one expect to see when visiting this museum? It starts with the Mondrian collection from 1965, which has cocktail dresses printed with the abstract paintings of French artist Piet Mondrian. There are also dresses inspired by Pablo Picasso and a hand-embroidered jacket inspired by a Vincent Van Gogh painting. “Everything is linked to art,” notes Dahlström.

The museum captures St. Laurent’s career from his first Life magazine cover to his last runway show in 2008. It begins in 1957 when he took over Dior to 1961 when he started his own business at 25. Karl Lagerfeld remembers St. Laurent as “being full of life, full of sparkle at that time.”

Yves Saint Laurent in Marrakesh – photo courtesy of the New York Post, 10/25/17

His “Le Smoking” creation, the first tuxedo for women, (and a bold alternative to The Little Black Dress) was introduced in 1966. It was so controversial that hotels and restaurants wouldn’t allow women to wear it. This changed in 1975 when it appeared in French Vogue magazine. It only took nine years.

Marrakech-inspired pieces are shown in the permanent exhibition, which shows 50 of St. Laurent’s most iconic looks on mannequins. We’ve said everything we wanted to say – except one. Remember: if you decide to visit the museum, block out time in your itinerary to see Marrakech itself. And make sure you go camel riding in the Sahara.


Sotheby’s in Paris will auction the Pierre Bergé Collection (800 lots from four homes located in Paris, Provence, Morocco and Normandy) on October 29 to 31, 2018.

Shaun Nelson-Henrick

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