Once back stage at an Yves Saint Laurent fashion show, I asked Pierre Bergé, the late partner of the designer and chief strategist behind the legendary fashion house, about the idea of designers acting as colorists. Bergé looked at me as if I had asked whether an ocean was made of water. “You must know that Yves Saint Laurent is one of the great colorists of the twentieth century,” he answered.
I definitely didn’t question his statement. His masterful eye has mixed a variety of combinations ranging from chartreuse, mauve, grey, claret, turquoise and other colors and patterns over the years.
His ability to bend and influence color stems not only from his appreciation of great works of visual and literary arts, but from the Jardins Majorelle in Marrakech, Morocco, which he credits as being the place that truly taught him about color.
Bergé and Saint Laurent discovered the exotic Majorelle garden in 1966. The duo would go on to travel to Marrakech frequently to gain inspiration, attend lavish parties, enjoy the scenery and more. However, as time passed the garden would become a place where Saint Laurent designed some of his most major collections.
The garden, which is in the center of Marrakech, is typically set under hard blue skies and behind thick pale blue walls.
Established by French painter Jacques Majorelle in the 1920s, Majorelle was the culmination of decades of hard work, resulting in a Moorish Art Deco style villa with a fountain and pools of water filled with lilies.
In addition to being a painter, monsieur Majorelle was a dedicated botanist. He acquired hundreds of rare varieties of trees, plants and exotic flowers and arranged the species between around a long central basin and meandering paths in the garden. The artist regarded it as his most impressive work.
Saint Laurent would often say that he discovered the power of color in Marrakech as a result of Majorelle’s work, up until that point he really only designed in black and white.
Bergé, would later go on to reinforce Saint Laurent’s feelings about Morocco in his book “Yves Saint Laurent, Une passion marocaine,” which recounts how the couple took to the garden, soon after discovering them.
“We quickly became very familiar with this garden, and went there every day,” Bergé said. “It was open to the public yet almost empty. We were seduced by this oasis.”
Eventually though, as time passed, the garden became unkempt, and a project arose that would result in the garden being sold and turned into a hotel. Saint Laurent and Bergé fought this plan, resulting in them buying the garden and making it their mission to restore the them to Majorelle’s original vision, with the help of American landscape designer, Madison Cox.
During this time one of villas on the grounds became their home. The villa, which was named Villa Oasis, became the place Saint Laurent loved to sketch his collections the most.
After Saint Laurent and Bergé’s death the garden were opened to the public along with the garden’s blue Art Deco villa which Bergé had transformed into a museum of Berber history, including a stunning collection of artifacts, jewelry and tribal costumes. The villa also displays Saint Laurent and Berge’s personal art collections.
What once was the inspiration for Saint Laurent has become one of the most visited places in Marrakech, the garden have truly become as magical and transformative of a place one can hope to visit. A true oasis. ■