Yves Saint Laurent's legacy in bloom with new museum at Jardin Majorelle

Story highlights

  • Yves Saint Laurent and partner Pierre Berge bought the Jardin Majorelle in 1980
  • Cultivated by French painter Jacques Majorelle, it's one of Marrakech's hottest attractions
  • A new museum dedicated to Saint Laurent and his connection to Morocco will open in fall 2017

(CNN)Driving to the Jardin Majorelle, there can be little doubt of its impact on Marrakech. It's not unreasonable to argue the garden is among the most famous in Africa -- certainly north of the Sahara.

Shops and cafes surrounding the garden riff on its name, their signs colored in a distinctive cobalt blue that became the trademark of its founder, French painter Jacques Majorelle. But while Majorelle's name is everywhere, so too is another: Yves Saint Laurent.
    Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge bought the property in 1980, 18 years after Majorelle's death, saving it from the bulldozers of an iconoclastic developer. The couple nurtured the garden into its current state, opening the nation's first Berber museum in the process, creating an attraction which draws almost 700,000 visitors a year. It's a debt the city has repaid by naming the adjacent road after the late fashion designer.
    Marrakech is preparing for those visitor numbers to soar in 2017 when the Fondation Pierre Berge--Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Jardin Majorelle opens the Musee Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech. Those in the know suggest it will be further evidence of the impression Morocco left upon Saint Laurent, and the nation's understated impact on the world of haute couture fashion.
    We'll have to wait until next fall to step inside, so instead CNN took a walk around the garden and asked what to expect.

    A Moroccan love affair

    Entering through a discreet doorway on Rue Yves St Laurent, the Jardin Majorelle is as tasteful as you'd anticipate. It's a world of many worlds: bamboo thickets sit alongside ginormous cacti; palms reach upwards, while clematises take hold in shady corners. Tying it all together is the ubiquitous presence of Majorelle blue.
    "[It's] a mix of Moroccan garden and European spirit," says Quito Fierro, the garden's public relations director. Cultivated out of a palm grove bought by Majorelle in 1923, the garden surrounded the artist's Art Deco studio, built 1931. Eventually the garden took on more varied botanical forms, influenced by Majorelle's childhood in Nancy.

    A photo posted by Tom Page (@_thpage_) on

    Like Majorelle, Saint Laurent, born in Oran, Algeria stood with one foot in France, the other in North Africa.
    "Yves Saint Laurent and I discovered Marrakech in 1966, and we never left," explains Pierre Berge, President of the Fondation Pierre Berge-Yves Saint Laurent and the late designer's business and onetime life partner. "This city deeply influenced Saint Laurent's life and work, particularly his discovery of color."
    Fierro concurs: "Immediately he was influenced by the local fashion, the local craftsmanship, colors, and really the garden and traditional Moroccan fashion."
    Saving the garden in 1980 bonded Saint Laurent to Marrakech even further.
    "Every collection he did was designed and sketched in his house while he was staying here," Fierro explains. "So really, it's an exploration of Morocco and Marrakech is his work."

    A/W 2017

    If Saint Laurent's "Le Smoking" suits had little in common with what you'd find in the souks, he took the silhouettes of the burnous (a form of cape) and the djellaba, translating them into designs adored by chic women the world over.
    This cross-pollination will be on show at the upcoming museum. Two hundred outfits from a haute couture archive of 5,000 will be shipped from Paris to the Moroccan capital. Alongside the permanent Yves Saint Laurent collection will be a temporary space for exhibitions beyond YSL, as well as a seated area for concerts, film screenings and symposiums, along with a library of 5,000 books on fashion, Yves Saint Laurent and Berber culture.
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    A cape inspired by a burnous at Saint Laurent last show in 2002.

    "The museum could not have existed without the Jardin Majorelle," says Fierro. For one, the garden's profits -- when not being used philanthropically -- are financing the project, designed by Studio KO.
    Karl Fournier and Olivier Marty of the architecture firm say their brief was for a building "anchored in both modernity and Morocco.
    "We designed the building like one would cut fabric for a dress, by composing curves and lines, in the fashion of the working drawings, white traced on black paper, that we discovered in the designer's workshops and archives."
    A rendering of the upcoming Musee Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech.
    Its curvilinear shapes are near completion, set in a brickwork lattice not unlike Tate Modern's recent Switch House -- "like threads in canvas or fabric," say the architects. Berge is impressed: "Their clean, uncluttered style recalls Saint Laurent's work," noting the firm's shared passion for Marrakech, the region and its culture.
    Yves Saint Laurent once quipped that "fashions fade, style is eternal." The Jardin Majorelle's assured status and the opening of Marrakech's latest attraction appear to show Saint Laurent's style -- and legacy -- remain in bloom.