In the heart of London’s Shoreditch, around the corner from the Ace Hotel and rubbing shoulders with a clutch of independent boutiques, is a vibrant slice of Morocco. Larache is named after the birthplace of its owner, the Moroccan-English artist Hassan Hajjaj, who moved his studio to Calvert Avenue in 2005. “I was looking for a space to work, not a shop,” says Hajjaj, seated on one of his installations comprising a traditional Moroccan-style low table, its surface emblazoned with the Coca-Cola logo, its legs fashioned from souk-found teapots. “But in the past few years I have opened my workspace to the public. It showcases the eccentricity of my creations.”
Hajjaj’s oeuvre includes sculptures and installations but also video and photography, including his best known work, a series of colourful glossy portraits called Kesh Angels depicting women dressed in traditional djellaba robes posing, fashion magazine-like, atop motorcycles. It’s a striking juxtaposition; the outfits made by Hajjaj in a combination of traditional prints and counterfeit brand-name fabrics, and the photographs framed with found objects, such as cans of soup.
This trademark bricolage style abounds at his colourful London base, but can also be found in the Paris bar Andy Wahloo, which he designed; his Marrakech Riad Yima, which is also a shop and tea room; and in museum collections of his work, including that of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. “The inspiration for all my work comes from Morocco,” says Hajjaj, who moved to London with his family when he was 12 and worked as a fashion designer before taking up photography. “I want to show my culture in a contemporary, global light.” In the shop itself, this means a vibrant mash-up of artworks, handmade objects and souk-sourced accessories. There are more accessible version of the Kesh Angels – market-bought dolls customised in Arabic-style dress (£175 unframed; £275 framed) – while traditional Moroccan lanterns (£200 each) constructed out of salvaged metal packaging hang throughout the space, complemented by large pouffes in assorted fabrics (£190), myriad bags (from £30), vintage posters (from £125), cushions (from £30), woven bowls (from £25) and boldly painted enamel cups and jugs (from £30). The stock is constantly changing and some of the larger artworks are sold through the galleries that represent Hajjaj: Vigo in London, The Third Line in Dubai and L’Atelier 21 in Morocco.
Lucky visitors might find Hajjaj in store, ready to regale with the tales of his nomadic lifestyle. But whether the “Andy Warhol of Marrakech” is there in his East End enclave or not, Larache is an utterly unique experience from an intriguing and high-profile artist.