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Reviving Marrakech: the new creative surge transforming the Ochre City

A new generation of artists and designers, together with creative new hotels such as IZZA and Farasha Farmhouse, are fuelling a vibrant resurgence in the Moroccan city, honouring its rich artistic heritage while forging an exciting future.

Once a favoured haunt of Jimi Hendrix and Cat Stevens, Morocco’s coastal gem Essaouira has long enticed creatives, artists, dreamers and sun-seekers to its enchanting shores. Just a two-hour drive away, Marrakech – often seen as the nation’s tourism capital with nearly every luxury hotel brand imaginable – is experiencing a design-centric renaissance, with a host of chic, new creative retreats recently starting to welcome guests.

In its heyday, Marrakech was a fountain of inspiration for the 20th century’s style set, including Jane Birkin and Yves Saint Laurent – who famously said that “before Marrakech, everything was black”. Finding it a place of spiritual escape, the late fashion designer spent large periods 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. Now, a forward-thinking crowd is championing the country’s heritage to showcase the best of Morocco’s next-generation creative scene, turning former run-down buildings and old riads into artistic new hotels by age-old techniques. 


Having welcomed its first guests at the tail end of 2023, IZZA is of particular note. After eight years of development, this 14-room riad, tucked away in the lively medina, boasts a much larger size than typical, being a labyrinth of seven interconnected riads. Yet despite its expansive layout, it maintains a cosy and intimate vibe.

The reception area of Izza hotel in Marrekesh with works from the Les Marocains series by Leila Alaoui - Effect Magazine
The reception area of IZZA hotel in Marrekesh with works from the Les Marocains series by Leila Alaoui

The hotel is a short walk away from the former residence of renowned American interior designer Bill Willis, celebrated for crafting some of the most glamorous interiors for the jet set. Consequently, guests will discover a collection of his letters to Saint Laurent, Mick Jagger, and Grace Jones adorning the walls.

“IZZA was initially a holiday home for the project owner, who was so in love with it they decided to transform it into a heritage boutique hotel, allowing more people to experience the charm of Moroccan riad living,” IZZA’s brand director San Yetlee tells Effect. “Over the years, we’ve remained faithful to our original ambition – blending the traditional with contemporary comfort. The mission has always been to preserve the essence of the original riad and extend its legacy.”

Of particular note is IZZA’s art collection, valued at £5 million. “The art makes IZZA a home,” explains Yetlee. “We want to share our passion for art with our guests, creating a homely environment where they can find personal connections between the host and themselves.” Thoughtfully curated and sourced from a variety of partners, including leading contemporary and digital art gallery, prominent NFT collector Studio137 and the exclusive collection of the project’s founder and owner, the pieces form what is poised to be one of the most expansive permanent exhibitions of generative and digital art in the world. “Our collection features artworks by emerging and seasoned artists worldwide, showcasing Moroccan and international talent,” adds Yetlee. 

Artistry is present in every corner. “Notable pieces include large-scale photographs from Leila Alaoui’s renowned Les Marocains series; contemporary art by Hassan Hajjaj, Khadija Jayi and Mouhcine Rahaouia; Sebastião Salgado’s Amazonia series; motion portraits by Ethiopian prodigy Yatreda; AI creations by Refik Anadol, including a huge video installation on the terrace; Reworld collection by Roope Rainisto; and works from historic generative art collections such as Fidenza by Tyler Hobbs, Ringers by Dmitri Cherniak, Meridians by Matt DesLauriers, Anticyclones by William Mapan, Autoglyphs by Larva Labs, and Memories of Qilin by Emily Xie,” she adds. Elsewhere, there’s an extensive exhibition of physical NFT artworks.

Guest rooms are 14 individually designed suites of varied sizes named after the 1960s and 70s creative freedom-seekers and connections of Bill Willis, including Saint Laurent and artist Brion Gysin. “Willis was renowned for his innovative approach to Moroccan design and left an indelible mark on Marrakech’s architectural landscape,” explains Aicha Benazzouz, the branding ambassador behind the project. “His mastery of plaster, tadelakt and his iconic zellij designs serve as the cornerstone of inspiration for the design highlights found throughout IZZA.”

All furniture has been locally sourced – a conscious decision to ensure engagement with the community. Suppliers include Horme Marrakech for vintage furniture, Magasin Général for vintage pieces, Tribaliste for made-to-order rugs by women in the Atlas Mountains, and fabrics by La Maison Pierre Frey.

Farasha Farmhouse

Farasha Farmhouse at sunset, with stunning mountain views - Effect Magazine
Farasha Farmhouse at sunset, with stunning mountain views

A lazy one hour’s drive from the Medina lies another of the region’s vibrant new creative hubs, Farasha Farmhouse. It’s the brainchild of husband-and-wife team Rosena and Fred Charmoy, the duo behind Moroccan event planning firm Boutique Souk, whose projects include producing Poppy Delevingne’s wedding and fashion shows for Chanel and Dior.

The couple had been searching for property in a different part of the city when they stumbled across the olive farm. “We immediately knew it was for us when we saw the mountain views on both sides,” Rosena tells Effect. “We have been told that energetically, it’s very powerful to be between two mountain ranges and we felt that on the first visit. We were also drawn by the light.”

The salon at Farasha Farmhouse near Marrakech, with a collection of locally sourced ceramics - Effect Magazine
The salon at Farasha Farmhouse near Marrakech, with a collection of locally sourced ceramics

Imagined as a place for the local and international creative community to gather in Marrakech, the duo was passionate about working with Moroccan materials and local artisans when creating the space. “Our rugs and bespoke tapestries have been provided by the wonderful Beni Rugs,” she explains. “We have ceramics from Bouchra Boudouar and a showpiece juice cart from LRNCE. Our art collection is from leading Moroccan artist Amine El Gotaibi who carefully curated and placed his collection of paintings, photography, sculpture and wool works in the main house, and we also have beautiful objects from our friends at Moro Marrakech.” The pair also worked with Marrakech artisans including Soufiane Zaytoune to create bespoke furnishings throughout to add to the collection of vintage pieces they had been collecting over time from flea markets and antique dealers in Morocco.

Currently with just four keys – the Charmoys are working on expanding to 10 soon – a stay here promises an intimate experience. “We have two rooftop suites – Leel and Yoom – that are cavernous 62-sq-metre (670 sq ft) spaces with mountain views on both sides and include a very large bathtub for long soaks looking out at the mountains,” says Rosena. “Our ground floor Cactus Suite looks out on the cactus and palm garden and has a separate salon area with vintage furniture and artwork by Amine el Gotaibi. The suite’s black and tan chequered hammam-style shower is a highlight.”

The 50-metre (165 feet) pool is a major draw to Farasha Farmhouse - Effect Magazine
The 50-metre (165 feet) pool at Farasha Farmhouse

Then there’s the highly Instagrammable pool – all 50 metres (165ft) of it. “We had originally planned for the pool to be 20 metres but as soon as we drew it out it looked ridiculous,” Rosena tells us. “So we went to 30 metres and then 40 metres. At that point we figured we may as well make it fully Olympic-sized, and it’s definitely been proving popular among guests.”

Over 50 years since Yves Saint Laurent fell in love with Marrakech, one imagines he would be pleased to see the Ochre City again attracting artists and designers to revitalise its creative energy.

Rosena and Fred Charmoy envisaged Farasha as a place for the creative community to gather. (above) A picnic at the farmhouse

“While Marrakech has always had a rich heritage in design, and has been a source of inspiration for centuries, more people now have access through both tourism and social media,” says Rosena. “We also have lots of exceptional Moroccan design talent who have been living and travelling internationally and bringing new influences to the design scene.

“That said, I do think it would be very helpful if the barriers and costs of export could be addressed to make it more accessible to young designers to work direct-to-consumer. I think more and more designers are mining the rich heritage and putting a contemporary spin that is making Marrakech and Moroccan design very relevant internationally.”

Read more: Interiors | Interior Design | Design | Art | Design Hotels