Eager visitors line up at 5 Avenue Marceau, creating a colorful caterpillar of umbrellas that extends around the corner. The drizzle is discouraging no one, as this is currently the hot ticket in Paris. Roughly 1,600 miles to the south, another museum is generating similar levels of enthusiasm, though the impact couldn’t be more different: In place of grand beaux-arts buildings are sleek, sand-toned spaces. Set amid brilliant blues and greens, they perfectly complement sultry, exotic Marrakech.
The Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris and the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech recently opened within days of each other, and both celebrate the life and work of the French designer. “Marrakech came first, based on an exhibition there in 2010 that was a huge success,” explains Olivier Flaviano, director of the Paris museum. “Between 2004 and 2016, the Paris foundation presented approximately 24 exhibitions that showcased various aspects of Saint Laurent, and always with a link to his love of art. But in this small space, they were always rather intimate. The time came to transform the foundation into a true museum and broaden its offerings.”
Born in Algeria in 1936, Saint Laurent gravitated to Marrakech in 1966, five years after founding his eponymous label. He was instantly struck by the vibrant tones of the North African city, while the serenity he found there made it an ideal escape from the frenzy of Paris. “In a certain way, he was returning to his roots,” says Björn Dahlström, director of the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech. “It is here that he discovered color, so integral to his work, and where he designed many of his iconic collections. There is a profound and reciprocal bond between Yves Saint Laurent and Marrakech.”
Saint Laurent died in 2008 at age 71; both museums were passion projects of Pierre Bergé, the designer’s longtime business (and former personal) partner. Bergé also did not live to see the opening of either space, passing away in September 2017. His influence, though, can be seen in countless details, ranging from interior design to the pieces on display. “He was involved just as if it was another collection of the couture house,” Flaviano says. “He was never nostalgic about anything, but he had a wonderful quote, that he liked to transform memories into projects. He was always looking at new ways to promote the heritage of Yves Saint Laurent. These two museums are a wonderful legacy.”
At the Paris museum, details of Saint Laurent’s atelier have been lovingly preserved, including his desk, where you’ll find his favorite pencils for sketching and a pair of his glasses, just as he left them. The museum’s inaugural exhibition, on view through September 9, features a retrospective of his iconic designs, from his 1965 Mondrian dress and 1968 Saharienne, or safari jacket, to the more opulent 1980s creations. Also on display are many iterations of the tuxedo look he dubbed Le Smoking, which 50 years after its creation continues to be a staple of a chic wardrobe.
While the Marrakech museum likewise offers a comprehensive look at Saint Laurent’s designs, visitors also find a deep well of inspiration, starting with the adjacent Jardin Majorelle, the garden oasis conceptualized by painter Jacques Majorelle. After his death in 1962, the garden and its Moorish-style home fell into disrepair; Bergé and Saint Laurent bought the property in 1980 and restored it to its original splendor. The museum’s new building, meanwhile, also includes an auditorium for concerts and conferences. Dahlström says the intention is to create “a cultural and social channel available to all and, above all, to Moroccans.”
Ultimately, these two disparate tributes were needed, Flaviano says, to comprehensively illustrate the designer’s life and work. “Yves Saint Laurent didn’t just change fashion; he also changed the way we look at fashion,” he says. “With all the pieces that have been preserved, all the designs and the art that inspired him, we are able to understand him a little more. The stories are ready to be told.”