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inside the new yves saint laurent museums in paris and marrakech

Ahead of the two openings this year, we caught up with Pierre Bergé and the architects responsible to talk about preserving the legacy of one of fashion’s greatest designers.

Nadja Sayej

Nadja Sayej

Yves Saint Laurent © Pierre Berge

Yves Saint Laurent and his lifelong partner Pierre Bergé first discovered the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech in 1966. It was their first visit in the city. They were taken with the sprawling botanical garden lined with exotic cacti and square fountains. "It was open to the public yet almost empty," Bergé recalls. "We were seduced by this oasis where colors used by Matisse were mixed with those of nature."

Upon hearing the garden was going to be demolished and sold to a hotel, they acted quickly. "We did everything we could to stop that from happening," Bergé says. "This is how we became owners of the garden and of the villa."

Now, the garden's premises will soon become one of two sites housing a museum dedicated to the memory of Yves Saint Laurent museum set open September 2017. The other is located in Paris.

Dedicated to shedding light on the life of the French designer, the Paris museum will open the doors of his former studio, whilst the Marrakech space will include a library, a concert hall, and a sprawling exhibition space inside of a terra cotta building.

Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech, exterior (c) 2016 Studio KO Fondation Pierre Bergé Yves Saint Laurent

Then there's the clothes. The museums will be home to 5,000 haute couture garments and 15,000 accessories, thousands of drawings, collection boards, and photographs - like Polaroids of the designer's legendary women's tux - as well as original couture sketches, design prototypes, warehouse records and retailing books the designer collected since he founded his couture house in 1961.

They're all from the Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent Foundation, as Bergé was Laurent's lifelong partner who was his stronghold in tough times. "Everything I didn't have, he had," Laurent said of Berge in 2001. "His strength meant I could rest on him when I was out of breath."

The new Marrakech museum costs €15 million (roughly $16 million) and is designed by Parisian architecture firm Studio Ko, who recently designed the new Balmain flagship store in New York City. "Bergé made the statement to choose us without any preliminary sketch," said Studio Ko architect Olivier Marty. "He said he wanted the museum to be anchored in both modernity and Morocco and that was the reason he wanted us to do it - in a layered, intimate way."

The unique style and shape of the building was informed by patterns which Saint Laurent established throughout his work. "Looking at a fabrication sketch pattern or a few white straight lines on black paper inspired us," Olivier explained.

The new museum is built of terracotta, concrete and Moroccan stone and marble. It has brickwork lattice that is meant to look like threads in canvas or fabric, a simple style that recalls Saint Laurent's work.

Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech, entrance courtyard (c) 2016 Studio KO Fondation Pierre Bergé Yves Saint Laurent

Photos on Instagram show that the museum is almost completed; the red brick exterior is in place. The architects chose industrial clay and terracotta, as well. "We wanted earth to be the most essential material of the museum," explains Studio KO architect Karl Fournier. "We also wanted a modular material that we could work like the threads of a canvas and create a geometrical rhythm."

Inside the 4,000-square-meter museum, there will be an exhibition space showcasing Saint Laurent's work alongside a 130-seat auditorium, a bookshop, a café and a research library with over 5,000 books on fashion, Arabic history, the Berber indigenous group of North Africa, geography, literature, and botanical books.

The goal for the design was to reveal an element of contrast. "We wanted this building to be very rigorous but with a certain softness," said Fournier. "It is an ode to Morocco, which Yves Saint Laurent cherished as much as we do."

Jardin Majorelle ©

In Paris, the Yves Saint Laurent Foundation - which was founded in 2004 - will turn his former couture house into a museum. The space was designed by Nathalie Crinière - who has designed exhibitions for the Centre Pompidou and the forthcoming Louvre Abu Dhabi. She will be working on the layout alongside the renowned interior designer Jacque Grange, who was the interior designer for Saint Laurent's 19th century neo gothic mansion, where he replicated a Monet painting on the walls of the living room and filled the place with old Turkish rugs, flowered ottomans, and crystal chandeliers.

Crinière explains how the museum will show exhibitions, as well as a rare peek into the designer's former studio. "It will be exactly as it used to be at the time of the couture house and only a few people have ever stepped foot in it," she said. "It is in that room that all his collections were born. It's a very emotional space because we're keeping the original layout."

The mannequins aren't going to be behind glass vitrines, they'll be on podiums so they can be viewed up-close. "The design of the museum follows his oeuvre and how he revolutionized the women's wardrobe," Crinière explains. "It also shows his inspiration, his specific use of color, the elegance of his style either for daytime and evening ensembles. We want to present Yves Saint Laurent's creations in the very place they originated."

© Didier Févre

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Text Nadja Sayej