What started as an utterly unmemorable round of errands in Marrakech – accompanying my host, the interior designer, hotelier and gallery owner Meryanne Loum-Martin, to the optician, followed by the florist and a pharmacy – became decidedly more engrossing when we took a quick detour up the Rue des Vieux Marrakchis. Following my stylish friend along this narrow boutique-lined lane (which on my previous visit had turned up nothing worth purchasing) I was unprepared for the emotional jolt I felt when we headed into Maroc’n Roll 1432 (first picture).
Even before my feet had crossed the threshold, I spied the hunter-green woven-leather clutch (£150) that would become my best friend’s birthday present, but only after I'd stroked its supple, interlocked strips and admired the bold architectural design and frankly splendid handiwork. In this most intriguing boutique I ran my hands along floaty, slightly see-through tunics dappled with neon pink, violet and scarlet rose-petal appliqué, and velvet Nehru-collared coats embellished with antique beads. But it was for the bags (second, third and fourth pictures) that I fell hardest: a crimson Moroccan zelig-tile-inspired carryall (£300) and, especially, a one-of-a-kind celadon-green woven-leather tote (£210).
My new favourite Moroccan shop, Meryanne explained, is refilled daily with the work of Robert Merloz, a designer with an impressive if controversial pedigree. The Frenchman was discovered by Yves Saint Laurent chairman Pierre Bergé while still a student at France’s Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture and swiftly offered an apprenticeship. He rose to prominence at the couture house, but the most benign description of that brief time I could find appeared in The New Yorker: “Bergé tried to find an heir in Robert Merloz, but failed.”
I returned the next day and the man himself welcomed me upstairs into his kaleidoscopic lair. He explained over espresso that he first spent time in Morocco while with YSL and returned in 2010, attracted by the artisanal talent. He works with a women’s cooperative in Tazert, a desert village five hours south of Marrakech that is “quite literally an oasis”, he says. The association of 60 females has been trained to do the sort of intricate scalloped finishes and delicate tribal motifs that appear on his handbags, kaftans, jackets and even homewares, his latest foray.
“We make everything ourselves,” says Merloz as we wind down the spiral staircase to admire the handiwork of his in-house seamstress, hard at work on a set of Berber-motif table napkins. “Maroc’n Roll 1432 is a very personal project; I create what I like and share my view of Morocco.” Eager to support this talented man’s second act, I left with an evening bag (£88) wrapped in a hand-sewn band of beaded studs for my host, plus one (£78) for myself that Merloz had just that morning hand-painted with a Moroccan rose, a double-sided black silk shift dress (£328) finished with Tazert stitchery and that ultra-chic celadon tote.