I apologise if a) this is all old news to those that have been to Marrakech and b) if it all reads like a hackneyed travelogue stereotype.  I can only write it how I see it and the truth is… I’ve come back genuinely extolling the sort of cliches that a city like Marrakech inspires.  To me, the city was “magical”, “mystical” and “mysterious”…  any other words beginning with M that fit the bill?  Those words are fully warranted.    A rudimentary Google search on Marrakech though is enough to convince any vague aesthete of its virtues – the saturated colours, the pride in craft and and its inherent ties with design evident in almost every nook and cranny of their buildings and interiors.  Why it’s taken so long for me to visit a city that is drenched in colour and print is probably down to my own laziness.  I therefore have to thank my sister Louisa, who happens to be the art director of Black Tomato, the boutique travel agency which arranged this trip.  A three day trip to Marrakech blind would not have been half as enjoyable as the well researched one that we enjoyed.

I hope you’ll allow me to go a bit “lifestyle” and a bit “travel” on you.  It’s my opportunity to indulge in a bit of Trip Advisor-esque critique minus the tedious comments on cleanliness.  But in case you’re wondering if this is a little bit tenuous, a quick scroll through the pics might convince you of Marrakech’s mystique (oh look, another one…) and connection to style.

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We arrived into town and were immediately picked up by the wonderful staff of Riad Farnatchi, on the edge of the souks and in the heart of the Medina.  Or should I say hosts.  It was my first riad experience and I’m now loathe to go back to conventional hotels as you are welcomed in as though it was somebody’s private home (which they were, designed to create privacy and protection).  Any one of the nine suites at Riad Farnatchi is a treat with private balconies or roof terraces attached to the lavishly decorated rooms.  I have no other Riad experience to compare with but the Farnatchi is pretty hard to beat in my mind – every little detail from the nightly canapés, the fruit arrangement at breakfast and the thorough hammam experience was well thought out.  I especially liked the personal tidbits in the information guides, written by the owner James himself.  Nothing felt standardised or systematic.  Had it been hotter (rain and 15 to 22 degree temperatures didn’t dent my experience), i probably would have wiled away hours on the rooftop or in the lush courtyard pool.

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IMG_0668Joe enjoying brekkie on his private balcony

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We got a bit carried away with our complimentary fez hats and djellaba robes.  Breakfasts and baths are way more fun when you’ve got a Fez hat on.

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We then went over to The Fellah, twenty minutes south of Marrakech to have lunch and to get a tour around what would definitely be my alternative choice of accommodation if I wanted to be away from the bustle of the Medina (a combo of an in-town Riad and something like The Fellah would make sense to me if I came back for a longer trip).  It’s a cool, slightly “hipsterfied” retreat-driven counterpart to the authentic and traditional Riad, with plenty of Insta-friendly interior details.  It’s not all about surface though as the community, eco and cultural exchange aspects are quite impressive You can brew tea, train in a boxing ring or milk a goat with a local Berber villager.  You can also learn about Arab literature or see an artist in residence at its cultural centre Dar Al-Ma’mûn.  Or else, just enjoy the poolside view overlooking the Atlas mountains.  

IMG_0634Louisa, Joe and I buddying up at the Fellah

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IMG_0036   141121_Joseph_Piper_Marrakech_Portraits_IMG_9811Photograph by Joseph Piper

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IMG_0616Wearing Kemissara ruffled top, vintage slip dress, Monki leggings, Salvatore Ferragamo shoes, Jerome Dreyfuss bag

Thanks to my super duper organised sister, the next day, we headed out for a day trip to the foot of the Atlas Mountains in the Imlil Valley passing through several Berber villages backgrounded by the surreal sight of snow-covered Toubkal (the highest mountain in the Atlas mountains), next to autumnal leaves and lush greenery.  Another “Awesome, Immense, Dose of Nature!” ticked off the bucket list.

En route we stopped off at a female cooperative producing argan oil and like the good tourists that we were, bought a needless amount of the stuff (both for eating and cosmetic use) as souvenirs.

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141122_Style_Bubble_Joseph_Piper_Marrakech_IMG_0721Photograph by Joseph Piper – Me and my super sis Louisa

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Guided by Noureddine, we got an insight into Berber village culture and also got a lot of inquisitive.  In manner of Sue Perkins in the Mekong, it does feel a bit odd to be trekking through a village with inquisitive kids and cats scampering about everywhere, as though it could be intrusive.  Noureddine assured us though that the reliance on tourism in Morocco means we are welcome by the villagers so long as we don’t point our cameras at them.

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Instead we pointed them at the imposing and mighty Toubkal… and my *ahem* interesting choice of hiking gear.  Yes you can trek with three different prints on…

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IMG_0879   141122_Joseph_Piper_Marrakech_Portraits_IMG_0876Photograph by Joseph Piper 

IMG_0915Wearing scarf from Bali, Fancy Shit paisley jacket, Nike hoodie, Romance was Born t-shirt and trousers, Nike Flyknits, Ally Capellino rucksack, Miu Miu sunglasses

Around the corner from our Riad, is Medersa Ben Youssef, the former Islamic college built in the 14th century, which is just as impressive up close as it is from afar.  We managed to catch the famous courtyard, surrounded by marble and stucco carvings and rich geometric tiles, with nobody in it but the cleaner.  I love that you get these moments of real tranquility shielded by high walls and adorned by courtyard pools, that contrast with the madness of the souks beyond.

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Another place of far-removed tranquility is of course the Jardin Majorelle, which I talked up yesterday.  It’s hard to convey in pictures, the incredibly intense saturation levels of the “Majorelle” blue of the Villa Oasis, contrasted with bright yellow accents.  As we approached the building, I believe we did do a collective squeal.

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141123_Joseph_Piper_Marrakech_Portraits_IMG_1210Wearing vintage Celine cardigan, Low Classic dress, Nike Gyakusou leggings, Christopher Kane sandals, Jerome Dreyfuss bag

Another note about the Boutique Majorelle, where I purchased the Yves Saint Laurent “Love” inspired leather slippers: it’s really not just another gift shop.  The selection of caftans, blankets, slippers, jewellery and other ornamental gifts are sympathetic to the Jardin’s connection with Saint Laurent, as exemplified by the orange and pink satin kaftan and turban combo below as well as to traditional Moroccan craftsmanship.

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Just across the road 33 rue Majorelle, Marrakech’s first and (only?) concept store, there’s more evidence of a new generation of designers wanting to place Moroccan craft into a contemporary context.  I loved the pieces like a Berber wrap skirt by Bakchic, designed by Moroccan fashion blogger Sofia El Arabi and the dyed leather bags by Fez-based label Mouhib.

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Back in the Medina, Norya Ayron is updating traditional kaftans and aybayas in a range of modern fabrics at her Pop-Up Shop at the restaurant Le Jardin.

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I’ve left the best and the most “relevant” until last.  Souks galore of course!  I was actually setting myself up for a disappointing browsing experience as having been to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, I was pretty much disillusioned by all the tourist tat and vaguely sexist/racist yelling.  The souk sellers in the Medina do try and lure you in but it’s less hardcore than their Turkish counterparts, unless you stop and make eye contact and enter into a bartering position.  And the actual products on sale – away from the main drags running off the main square Jemaa el-Fnaa – is definitely worthy of your attention (and your dirhams!).  Without even buying anything it’s worth spending many an hour walking around, connecting up colour and pattern seen in every shop and its merchandise.

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IMG_0106Breakfast fruit plate at Riad Farnatchi

IMG_0051Tiles at Cafe de France – the spot to grab a terrace view of Jemaa el-Fnaa

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IMG_1374Woodworker making traditional handles 

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IMG_1369Bric a brac shop in the souk

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IMG_1365Marble solitaire anyone?

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IMG_1357Silk thread shop – the seller tried to convince me that I needed all of these colourful spools of thread in my life.  I almost believed him.

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We had walked two minutes into souk on Sunday and we were immediately told by an overly enthusiastic guy that they were dyeing the silk and wool and after ducking in and out of several alley ways, we found ourselves in the dyers’ souk where natural pigments and spools of yarn are processed in a large vat.  The owners of the accompanying scarf stall were trying to lure us into buying something, wrapping Steve up in Yves Klein blue but in the end, once we said it was a firm no, they did let us go without any aggression.

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Staying in the Riad Farnatchi, we were lucky enough to be a stone’s throw away from many a craftsman.  It’s a world that exists not just for tourists but as a nod to local traditions – there’s a weaver, a tannery, a lamp welder (no candlestick maker…).  It’s not craft for craft’s sake but a concrete way of making a living here.  And I’ve never been in a city where practically every street has a seamstress/tailor working for local trade.

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IMG_1291Weaver and scarves at Bennouna Faissal

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IMG_0019Courtyard of a tannery – the stench of the bird poop to make the skins supple is truly heinous…

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I was expecting the hard sell to be harder and so in the end, was pleasantly surprised.  Save for the food sellers on Jemaa el-Fnaa, who seem to think us Brits would be sold in with a spot of Cockney slang and bad impressions of Jamie Oliver, the people in the souks were quite helpful and eager to talk about their wares once you got past the initial cat calls of “Konichiwa”.  If I had more time, I might have gotten carried away with the shopping but on our first souk experience, we came away with a few wooden cooking utensils, some spices that we needed in the pantry anyway, a vintage tile and my primary target of purchase – two boucherouite rugs. 

Yes, they flood every savvy interiors blog and yes, they’ve been “on-trend” for a while.  I always felt they’ve been sold at inflated prices on eBay, Easy and interior shops so I thought it was better to go to the source (well at least the same country) to buy them.  Once you’ve seen these rugs, made out of fabric scraps, in the humble homes of Berber villages and on the backs of donkeys and mules used as saddle covers, it’s hard to see them as a bijoux interior item priced at a trend-led premium.  That said, it was a joy to see so many to choose from in every carpet shop.  No two are the same which just meant I ended up in a rug quandary everywhere I went, frustrating both the sellers and my travel gang.  In the end I chose two small ones that would fit my tiddly bedrooms and paid a price that didn’t insult the seller and in my mind, was well worth the trip to Marrakech.

141123_Style_Bubble_Joseph_Piper_Marrakech_IMG_1435This particular rug was pretty expensive but the dense weaving of a huge variety of rags warrants it… except I’d probably prfer to wear it as a skirt rather than have it on my floor…

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141123_Style_Bubble_Joseph_Piper_Marrakech_IMG_1464Photographs of carpet sellers by Joseph Piper

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IMG_0024Marrakech – a cat lover’s paradise.  Kitty kitty kitties everywhere…

I know I say this after every travel post that I’ll be back.  I’m keeping my promise with Marrakech and other parts of Morocco will be on the agenda soon enough…

Experience Morocco with Black Tomato

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>> The title of the post is how the imaginary postcard would have gone if I had gotten my wish to stay on… and on… and on… It will surprise nobody that I’ve returned from my too short first-time trip to Marrakech in Morocco longing to go back.  The natural oohs and aaahs that the intensely vibrant yesteryear city incites are fully warranted.  I’ve just had to wait a while to experience it.  Despite my tardiness to the joys of Marrakech, I’ll still be rounding up my three day stay, with much thanks to Black Tomato Travel, with a hefty post once I’ve sorted through the bajillion of pics we took.

05_STOLEN_MOMENTS_Yves_Saint_Laurent-4Yves Saint Laurent in Marrakech in 1969

For now, I’m keeping it short and sweet.  Let’s kick it off with “Love”, the theme of Yves Saint Laurent’s greeting cards, which he would create out of collage every year to send to close friends and clients to ring in a new year.  Their designs are on displayed at the Galerie Love Saint Laurent within the beautiful Jardin Majorelle, which Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé rescued in 1980 and used as his Marrakech bolthole.  It felt like a pilgrimage of sorts, visiting the beautifully landscaped gardens on Rue Yves Saint Laurent, a tranquil world away from the dusty bustle of the Medina, where Saint Laurent’s ashes were scattered when he died in 2008.  Except instead of feeling sombre like you would at a grave, it was celebratory of Saint Laurent’s love of this garden, carefully restored, cultivated and maintained by Berge and Saint Laurent, and of his overall love of this mysterious city, where he felt the creative freedom to dive into an extremely colourful oeuvre in the 1970s, furiously sketched out in felt tips, and fuelled by his tight knit circle of muses wafting around.

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The exuberant and often witty graphics that Saint Laurent designed as greetings cards, exploding with colour and fun, moments of frivolity captured in his turbulent emotional life.  The beautiful merchandise in the Boutique Majorelle (no normal souvenir shop) – took inspiration from the cards and so it is I came home with a pair of embroidered leather slippers, spelling out LOVE, the only emotion I was ever going to feel for this city.

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>> You know how I said I wasn’t one for recommending Christmas gifts and that I’m not into pushing out offers, competitions and special promotions?  Well, I’m eating my words.  I’d only do it for a special few and Sharmadean Reid, all-round awesome founder of WAH Nails definitely falls into that category.  I remember writing up copy on ye olde Dazed Digital about Reid back in 2008-9 just before she had opened her salon.  A picture of a fresh-faced sassy stylist accompanied the text just as she was on the cusp of starting what would be nail art revolution.  Now she’s conquered Topshop Oxford Circus, put out two books extolling the virtue of cool nails along with a cool attitude and now she’s busting out with mega hit ranges at Boots and basically well on her way to nailing it as nail art queen bee .  All on her own terms of course.  It’s very easy to crush hard on the likes of Sharmadean and Alex Brownsell of Bleach as they carve out their own alternative paths in what is a crowded and cut throat beauty sphere.

Back to the offer at hand.  I do believe spreading the word about a steal when I see one.  WAH London Ultimate Nail Art Kit is down from £85 to £40 for a one week flash sale at Boots.  It comprises tutorial cards, eight nail polishes, four nail art pens and all the usual manicure gear.  It taps into my kit loving past – be it Fimo, friendship bracelets or hair beading – as long as there are instructions written in a friendly tone, I’ll be there conscientiously following every step and getting immense satisfaction out of ensuring that the kit remains as intact as possible so as to not ruin the shiny veneer of full-kit perfection.  Likewise, I sat down with my WAH London Ultimate Nail Art Kit and proceeded to try three different combos of WAH’s signature leopard print with varying degrees of success.  I promise you these are my first stab, no practise attempts and I *think* they’re just about passable, if a little on the painterly side.  I’ll perfect ROARING WAH Leopard over Christmas holidays when I’ve had consumed too much animal fat and roast potatoes and the only thing I can face looking at are my non-pudgy fingers.  Can’t wait.

WAH London Ultimate Nail Art Kit available now at good old Boots for £40 for one week only, down from £85 (and you’re essentially getting £115 worth of kit) 

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>> When Gmail did that very clever tab separation thing and everything “important” would be Primary and all that junk that you used to have to huff through would be put aside under the disposable labels of “Promotions”, “Social” and “Updates aka the tabs that you will never ever look at again because it’s all supposedly a lesser extreme degree of junk, I rejoiced.  Only momentarily though.  Because then actual important stuff would get into those tabs and every once in a while, a real email from a real important person as opposed to an automated bot would also end up there.

Therefore sporadically, I’ll have a peek at “Promotions”, “Updates” and “Social” just to double check that I haven’t missed, say an email from Dame Judi Dench asking me to come to tea (still waiting for that invite Judi…) or the like.  The other day under the Promotions tab, I struck email gold.  Or blog gold.  I saw something cool, colourful and a little bit like Henri Matisse’s excellent cut-outs work GIF-ing away at me and the email read “Get your hands on some silky psychedelic goodness.

Sold.  A few clicks down the line and I found out more about ELOI, a very new silk scarf label set up by Paige Russell, an artist based in Austin, Texas.  These “deranged technicolor ramblings on silk” are all based on Russell’s construction paper cut-out collages that owe much to the likes of Stuart Davis, Sonia and Robert Delaunay and of course Matisse, but only by method and perhaps colour combinations.  The subject matter of her collage work definitely comes from Russell’s head, as she peppers her designs with odd characters, psychedelic fun and in her own words, “doses of crazy”.

From selling 2-D artwork that hang on walls, Russell has ventured into the world of silk scarves.  It’s a crowded one for sure as every day on average, I receive five emails about new scarf labels.  There needs to be a real point of difference to stand out and ELOI is definitely has that from the designs to the visuals.  Russell started off with five designs where dripping eye balls, flora and fauna and abstract monsters are rendered in the brightest of hues.  She’s just released four more scarves with curious names like “Narcissus”, “Footie Garden” and “Sheebean Queen”.  They’re designs that shy away from the requisite that silk needs to merely just be pretty.  They’re awesome looking of course but they’re not needlessly girly as is often the case with a lot of silk scarves.

Good thing Google didn’t send ELOI into my dreaded Forums tab, which is definitely the out of sight, out of mind forgotten email fodder.

ELOI’s first collection 1-5: 

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download (1)Paige at work in her studio

ELOI’s second collection 6-9:

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In the spirit of being all grown up and hanging proper “art” on walls, I’m seriously contemplating commissioning Russell on a piece as her own illustration and graphic artwork is so brilliant.

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UK peeps clicking on to the blog will be wondering why an ultra polished me with super pro make-up is peeping out from the sides of the page where the ads normally are, it’s because specifically for Style Bubble, I’ve worked with Nars to explore their new Audacious Lipstick collection… in the only way I would know how to – to pile on the colour and run with the idea of wearing lipstick shades from head to toe.

Longtime Style Bubble readers will know that I’m normally beauty averse., not “beauty” per se but beauty products, or the sheer abundance and technicality of it all.  I don’t “get” a lot of it and keep my own routine to a minimum so as to not disrupt the sensitive skin status quo.  The realm of beauty starts to interest me when colour is involved – as in the high impact stuff that you can instantly see.  With my lack of deft skills, my default route to colour tends to revolve around the lipstick, and specifically Nars’ jumbo crayon lip pencils which I discovered a year and half ago on a shoot and have since been a loyal devotee.

For brand founder François Nars, it all began with the lipstick in 1994 when the acclaimed make-up artist created a range of 12 richly-pigmented lipsticks in soft-touch cases.  The brand has of course expanded to a full make-up range since then but for their 20th anniversary this year, they have returned to their lipstick roots with an “Audacious” 40-shade collection which delivers a pigment-rich and a mega saturated finish.  Looking at the forty shades in Nars’ Audacious collection, named after women who have inspired François Nars, I was up for playing around with their super intense shades with a special shoot that matches up lippy to outfit, based on the coincidental fact that there does seem to be an array of deep reds, plums and pinks running throughout the AW14-5 collections.

The Audacious collection runs the gamut from neutral nude shades to deep deep aubergine.  I picked out six contrasting shades to use on the shoot to match up with outfits that, like I said, were somehow serendipitously in tune with your classic lipstick shade umbrellas like reds, pinks and plums.  When I was browsing lookbooks to pull in outfits, it was actually surprising how many similarities you could draw between shade and outfit from the shocking pink of Michiyo matching up with Thakoon’s hot pink accents to tangerine Geraldine tallying with a pre-fall skirt by Roksanda Ilincic.  And you know how I love colour co-ordinated matchy-matchy ness…

On set, Anna Priadka, Nars’ stylist was incredible in schooling me on all kinds of nifty tricks that means the Audacious lipsticks are versatile, beyond their saturated and moisturising characteristics.  We tried out techniques like using a darker liner on the edge of the lip with a paler shade inside (aka the “Chola” lip) or playing up the matte and glossy qualities.  Without the help of a clever make-up artist, the Audacious lippies  are excellent as a single stroke (as in, no multiple dabbing) straight-from-the-stick kind of lipstick, that withstand even my dubious application technique (often involving a moving vehicle and a smudged mirror).  I may not necessarily be “audacious” in my own beauty norms, but once in a while, it’s nice to be able to team up with the pros and let them show me the light.

““Embrace the audacious in everything, especially your lipstick color, it’s liberating, exhilarating, empowering.” François Nars

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NARS-161Nars Audacious shade Janet – Thakoon dress and wrap, Burberry coat (my own), Sophia Webster shoes (my own)

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NARS-228Nars Audacious shade Rita – House of Holland skirt and top, Tome satin top, Tabitha Simmons shoes (my own)

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NARS-302Nars Audacious shade Greta – 3.1 Phillip Lim coat, Jonathan Saunders dress, Emma Cook x Topshop boots (my own)

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NARS-347Nars Audacious shade Geraldine - Michael van der Ham jumper and Roksanda skirt

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NARS-421Nars Audacious shade Anna - Tome dress, Claire Vivier sunglasses (my own), Whistles shoes (my own)

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NARS-470Nars Audacious shade Jeanne -  Erdem dress and Mother of Pearl coat

This is a commercial post courtesy of Nars… just in case the ad wraparound wasn’t a dead giveaway.

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