Souk chic meets Barbarella in Marrakech
To step inside Carmen Haid’s Marrakech home is to be immersed in a sunset palette of Sahara brown, ochre and burnt red – the same tones that define so much of the ancient city’s architecture. Haid, who embarked on a career in fashion and worked alongside Yves Saint Laurent in the 1990s handling his PR, spent a substantial chunk of last year grounded in the city, taking the time to plan a new design venture. Apart from restorative afternoons at Riad Mena and Howell James and Vanessa Branson’s rooftop restaurant El Fenn (which became a kind of clubhouse for stranded friends from London and Paris), her focus turned to furnishing the house she bought as a shell three years ago. The first bespoke, monochromatic-themed pieces – vases, bowls and tableware – will be launched as part of her resurgent Atelier Mayer label, alongside vintage furniture. Priced from £100, the collection will be available online from May.
Haid first came to Marrakech 25 years ago. Like her old boss, she immediately fell in love with the idea of owning a home in the city and becoming part of the growing, diverse international cultural scene. “Marisa Berenson and Romeo Gigli have homes here, but so do people like Daox, the co-founder of the Moga festival, and the art activist Touria El Glaoui,” she says. “Marrakech has changed over the years and a new generation of dynamic businesses and artists are emerging. It has unparalleled joie de vivre and creative buzz.”
Haid’s creative venture is a huge part of her heritage – Atelier Mayer was founded by her late grandmother Klaudia Mayer in Austria in the 1920s. Haid relaunched the brand in 2007 as an online portal selling luxury vintage fashion, years before circularity was a sustainability buzzword. “We expanded fast and shipped to 104 countries,” says the Austrian-born entrepreneur, who splits her time between Marrakech, London and her family base in Paris. “I closed it all down in 2014 to refocus, so the new Atelier Mayer is broader in scope and about lifestyle and interiors: there’s a mix of vintage design pieces, made-to-order items from our studio in Marrakech and interior-design services. Repurposing and celebrating craftsmanship is at the core of the brand’s philosophy, and it’s what I’m still doing. Everything is transported in fully recyclable packaging and new items are made to order, so there’ll never be overproduction.” Haid believes her line is an exceptional curation. “Anyone can come to Marrakech and go shopping,” she continues. “But I’m editing a special collection showcasing hand-craftsmanship.”
While her product launch next month is all monochromatic, she has already envisioned future collections in which she will add colour to the range. Each will be informed by different regions of the country: Fez, for instance, is known for its Ottoman influence and shades of green. “The patterns of ceramics and weaving are all significant in Moroccan craft,” Haid explains. “They tell stories and I find the provenance fascinating.”
Some of Haid’s objets have already found a place in her home, which she has decided to open up to paying guests. “They’re very much based on the work that came out of the Vienna Secessionist movement, a group of Austrian artists at the turn of the 20th century that included Gustav Klimt, Otto Wagner, Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser,” she says of the simple, graphic silhouettes (see also “Collecting: The Wonder of Wiener Werkstätte”). “I like their modernity, the materials and clean lines, but mix in the futurism of 1960s fashion.”
There is more than a dash of retrofuturism in her home, notably in the upstairs lounge, a kind of north African piano nobile, drawing inspiration from Pierre Cardin’s bulbous Le Palais Bulles house, remodelled by the architect Antti Lovag in the early 1990s. The sweeping lines of the room, finished in polished terracotta-coloured tadelakt plaster, are accentuated by a huge Sputnik-style chandelier. It’s a Barbarella moment.
Most of the spaces in the house have a loose theme based on key pieces that Haid has sourced from markets in Marrakech and abroad. Woven textiles and exaggerated draping set the restful tone in her African- and Indian-inspired bedroom suites, while jolts of bold colour bring other bedrooms to life. Throughout, the interior doors have been handpainted by the restaurateur from Marrakech’s Islamic Art Museum. The main front door is the exception: an ornate carved wooden monolith salvaged from India that had to be sunk into concrete to fit into the façade.
Elsewhere, modernism feeds into Haid’s eclectic aesthetic. Her huge bespoke dining table is surrounded by split cane chairs inspired by Pierre Jeanneret’s classic designs for Chandigarh in the 1950s, which she also had made. A vintage drinks trolley, originally from the historic hotel La Mamounia, can be wheeled out for refreshments by the pool. The modernist references are more overt in her office, where two Le Corbusier chaises longues and a pair of Josef Hoffmann Thonet chairs are married with Bauhaus furniture pieces and a giant desk from the 1920s, originally made for an airport in Kenya. The look is softened by accessories: ceramics, a variety of black-and-white Atelier Mayer baskets, and vases and candlesticks by the designer Lara Bohinc, who is a friend of Haid.
The most time-consuming part of the new house project and product launch has also been the most pleasurable: finding and forging relationships with different makers. There’s a transparency about craft in modern Morocco on a scale unimaginable by big fashion brands. Beni Rugs, for instance, has recently opened a showroom just a short drive away (Haid is planning a future collaboration); those visiting will see dozens of women at looms in its studio. The finished products are washed and dried in the yard, appearing like graphic artworks on a patch of Marfa, and there’s a bar in the attached showroom. It has to be a highlight of a sightseeing tour – alongside, of course, Saint Laurent’s Majorelle Garden.
It’s for this reason that Haid’s reinvigorated Atelier Mayer is as much about experience as design. Those who stay at the house will find she’s planned menus with chefs incorporating fresh organic produce and Moroccan wines. Each bathroom has beauty products made with natural, hand-harvested ingredients by local maker Botanika, and there’s a masseuse on hand should extra pampering be required. Her attention to detail extends to a collaboration with Marrakshi Life, who created the staff uniforms at the house, and a showroom in the peaceful grounds, with flowerbeds punctuated by cacti, orange trees, geranium, lemon verbena and luminescent blue agave. The idea? Once you’ve lived the lifestyle, you can order anything from a hand-embroidered cushion to a hessian-covered modular sofa – or commission Atelier Mayer to totally restyle your own house.