Morocco, particularly the ancient desert city of Marrakech, was a place of particular resonance for the late Yves Saint Laurent. During his life, the designer – himself born in neighbouring Algeria – spent large swathes of time in the country, first travelling there in 1966 with partner Pierre Bergé. They stayed at the then-dilapidated La Mamounia, now one of the city’s most luxurious residences, beginning a love affair which would last until Saint Laurent’s death in 2008. Of waking up in Morocco on that first day, Bergé wrote: ‘the birds were singing, the snow-capped Atlas Mountains blocked the horizon, and the perfume of jasmine rose to our room. We would never forget that morning, since in a certain way, it decided our destiny.’

Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello S/S 2023 menswear in Morocco

Indeed, Marrakech would become the house of Saint Laurent’s spiritual second home, the pair first purchasing Dar el-Hanch, a small house in the Medina, and later Sar Es Saada, close to the blue-walled Jardin Majorelle (by then it was the 1970s, when an influx of bohémiens arrived in the city from around the world). Marrakech began to seep into the house’s collections; Saint Laurent found growing inspiration in the cuts of traditional Moroccan dress, and the colours of its landscapes. ‘Once I grew sensitive to light and colours, I especially noticed the light on colours…  on every street corner in Marrakech, you encounter astonishingly vivid groups of men and women,’ he said.

This past weekend – half a century on – current Saint Laurent creative director Anthony Vaccarello staged a return to Marrakech, inviting attendees to view his S/S 2023 menswear collection in a special runway show (following in Saint Laurent’s footsteps, guests stayed at the now-transformed La Mamounia, while also invited to view the various landmarks of the designer’s time in Marrakech during their stay). Taking place in the Agafay desert just outside the city, it was a dramatic spectacle befitting Vaccarello’s tenure at the house – in Paris, his womenswear shows take place in front of the Eiffel Tower, often timed for the landmark to erupt into flashing lights at its finale. 

Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello S/S 2023 menswear set by Es Devlin

In the Moroccan desert, a different monolithic form provided an equally dramatic finale – a vast disk created by London-based artist and designer Es Devlin, which rose from the ground at the show’s end, emitting clouds of smoke onto the circular outdoor runway (the runway itself circulated a pool of water, like a desert mirage). The house noted that the show’s set was a reference to Paul Bowles’ 1949 novel The Sheltering Sky; ‘a ring-shaped luminous oasis amid the vast, arid unknown.’ In Bowles’ own words: ‘We think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really… How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.’

The collection itself referenced what Vaccarello said was the ‘elegant dissolving’ of masculine and feminine codes, which he linked to the city of Marrakech, and Saint Laurent’s own inspirations from the city. The tuxedo – an intrinsic element of the Saint Laurent wardrobe – was reinterpreted across the collection, ‘imbued with possibilities’. He said it drew inspiration from his women’s collection earlier this year: sharp and wide across the shoulder, single or double-breasted, shapes also riffed on in boxy outerwear. Befitting the setting, the silhouette was louche: diaphanous shirts open to the naval, an elegant shawl-collar jacket and matching trousers in silk, tops which crossed over at the chest or tied at the neck with a pussy-bow. 

But there was also a more personal element for Vaccarello, too, a look backwards not only into the house’s rich history, but his own life, and the clothes he wore as a student in Belgium. ‘It was how I dressed in 2000,’ he said of the collection’s elongated tailoring, trousers which sat high on the waist and wide on the leg. ‘It was a look that I loved, and I wanted to recreate that spirit; I was missing that.’ § 
 

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