An Insider’s Guide To Marrakech

Fashion Designer Artsi Ifrach Reveals His Go To Spots For Inspiration And Hidden Treasures In Marrakech
Designer Artsi Ifrach, wearing his own designs. Melding historic odes with contemporary flair has become a hallmark of Ifrach’s one-of-a-kind pieces. Photo courtesy of Suzy Holtgrave.
Artsi Ifrach
Fashion Designer & Owner, Maison ARTC

Born and raised in Israel, Artsi Ifrach always knew his family had Moroccan roots, but he never had the opportunity to visit the country. Later, his work as a dancer with the Israeli Ballet took him to faraway places like Amsterdam, Paris, and London—"all of which I found very exciting, as they were so different from where I grew up," he recalls. But still, Morocco eluded him. Then, in 2009, he finally touched down in Marrakech, where he went to visit his parent’s old house in the Jewish quarter. "It was very emotional to realize that I somehow belonged in this city, too," he says. Hooked immediately, Ifrach has made Marrakech his home for the past decade, drawing inspiration for his well-received fashion line from the local culture and his Moroccan roots.

Melding historic odes with contemporary flair has become a hallmark of Ifrach’s one-of-a-kind pieces. Photo courtesy of Suzy Holtgrave.
From Stage to Runway

“Ever since I was a child, performing around the world as a ballet dancer, I was always very inspired by culture and fashion, so it seemed natural for me to become a designer,” Ifrach says. “I remember the fashion in The Nutcracker was particularly inspiring to me, but I was always drawn to all the garments we were wearing in the shows.” One hundred percent self-taught, Ifrach created his first designs while still living in Israel (an accessories line created in conjunction with Samsung), but it wasn’t until moving to Marrakech that he felt his creative juices begin to really flow. “The light here just feels brighter than other places I’ve lived, and the blue of the sky gives you a sense of clean creation. I think that’s why so many artists have decided to come live in Marrakech over the years,” he says.

Inside Maison ARTC, Ifrach's Marrakech boutique. Photo courtesy of Mous Lamrabat.
Creating Outside the Box

For his designs, Ifrach draws from Moroccan history, as well as its people. “Living in Marrakech is like living in a commune, where everyone knows everyone and takes care of each other. I also love that the people here are still very attached to their culture, which makes it alive and ever-changing—not just something you find in a museum.” Instead of working on seasonal collections, as most designers do, Ifrach instead creates one-of-a-kind pieces every two days or so that come together to tell a story, all from his Marrakech studio. “I start by creating a story related to culture and history, then step out of the box,” he says. “For me, it’s important to work like this—I think it makes each piece unique, like my clients, and it preserves my sense of freedom.”

Ifrach finds inspiration in Morocco's vibrant colors.
Reflecting Africa

Though each Ifrach piece is unique, you will find some common threads: namely, details, colors, patterns and embroidery reflective of traditional Moroccan clothing, including those from rural communities. “I love the vibrant colors of Moroccan life, and the way they mix textiles. So I often buy vintage and antique pieces and upcycle them to make my creations. It’s my way of respecting the past and giving these items new life.” That connection to the destination informs everything Ifrach does, including where he chooses to show his pieces. “I have shown in Paris, and in Spain, and my clients come from all over the world,” he says, “but I am proud to show mainly in Africa. I feel myself an African, and am always pleased to support Fashion Weeks in places like Ethiopia and Nigeria.”

Local Recommendations

"Marrakech is, to me, one of the most unique places in the world. It’s a place where you can still feel the "real culture,” says Ifrach. "You fall in love with it the minute you arrive." From places to find hidden treasures, to a Lebanese restaurant than reminds Ifrach of home, here are some of the places the fashion designer finds inspiration in his adopted hometown.

Azar Restaurant Marrakech

While Ifrach loves Moroccan cuisine ("you haven’t eaten if you haven’t tried a lamb tagine with prunes., or eaten couscous with your hands," he says), sometimes he longs for the meals of his youth in the Middle East. When those cravings strike, he heads to Azar (Rue de Yougoslavie, near Boulevard Hassan II, Gueliz; +212-5-2443-0920), an elegant Lebanese restaurant in the Gueliz neighborhood. “Eating here takes me back in time to my beloved Israel,” he notes. “And I always take out-of-town visitors here.” In spaces adorned with colorful pillows, carved paneling, and mod-inspired chairs, hot and cold mezzes (Ifrach says the hummus and babaganoush are musts) are served along with grilled and spit-fired dishes. Eve some Moroccan classics like tagines and pastilla make an appearance. “Another plus is that they often have live music and dance performances during dinner,” Ifrach says.

Markets Near Jemaa El Fna

For centuries, Marrakech sat along a key trade route through North Africa, making it an important commerce center for goods from all over the continent. Today, along with the souks focusing on Moroccan-made items (like spices and lamps, rugs and leather goods), you’ll also find an African Market filled with items from dozens of nearby and sub-Saharan countries. “What I like most about the African Market is that, even though it is close to the main Jemaa el Fna square, it feels hidden and far from the tourist hordes,” say Ifrach. “I don’t even want to say exactly where it is to not give away the secret!” (Tip: It is located behind Restaurant Argana—in between two old vintage shops there is an alley that leads to a patio full of very small shops full of artifacts from Subsaharan Africa.) Part of its “special atmosphere,” says Ifrach, is the fact that “vendors there are not pushy, since they know what kind of treasures they have in their hands. So they just wait for people who know and appreciate the value of their wares to show up.” Ifrach often heads here to look for vintage pieces to use in his designs. “There is always a good variety of colors and textures to be found,” he says.

Inside the souks surrounding Jemaa El Fna.

Moroccan Art & Artists

While history surrounds you in Marrakech, there is also a vibrant modern art scene that keeps the city fresh and lively. Ifrach seeks out this side of the city at spots like Le 18 (18 Derb el Ferrane, Riad Laarous; +212-5-2438-9864), a restored riad in the medina where artists (including artists-in-residence) come together to exchange cultural and artistic ideas. "It’s a very special place for me, and it belongs to one my dearest friends, the photographer Laila Hida," says Ifrach. She has created a place of freedom in the medina, where artists from both sides of the Mediterranean Sea can have open and honest conversations about their art and influences. It’s always worth a visit," says Ifrach. Another favorite spot is Voice Gallery (La Conserverie, Rue Salah Eddine Al Ayoubi; +212-6-5848-2800), which showcases "the best of contemporary art in Marrakech," from bold paintings to thought-provoking installations, in both indoor and outdoor spaces.

Voice Gallery. Photo courtesy of Alessio Mei.

Beni Ourain Moroccan Rugs And More

Ifrah’s style sensibilities—and love of textiles—are similarly celebrated at Soufiane Zarib (Rue Riad Laarous, +212-6-6185-3487), a chic carpet showroom located “in a very vibrant area of the Medina,” the designer notes. “It’s a bit like entering Ali Baba’s cave,” Ifrah says of visiting the space, which overflows with carpets and rugs in a dazzling array of colors and textures. The current proprietor—a third-generation tradesman—draws on traditional techniques to create his wares, but infuses the designs with a more modern style and unique (sometimes vintage) materials, resulting in what Ifrah describes as a “new take” on the famous Moroccan artisanal product. Signatures like the Beni Ourain rug—a fluffy ecru base emblazoned with rhombuses—have proved particularly popular with visitors from Paris and beyond (including lots of fashion and interior designers), who appreciate that the pieces work well in contemporary spaces.

Shopping In Marrakech

For fashionable souvenirs that reflect Moroccan techniques—but will seem at home anywhere in the world—Ifrach suggests a stop at Marrakshi Life (Quartier Industriel al Massar 933, Route de Safi; +212-5-2435-8802), a shop and weaving atelier founded in 2013 by New York City expat and fashion photographer, Randall Bachner. “The fact that they produce their own fabrics makes the clothing very special,” Ifrach says, “while the clean cuts make the pieces very contemporary and wearable.” Using traditional weaving methods and drawing upon the expertise of local artisans, Bachner and his in-house team create sustainable, low-impact—but decidedly high-end—clothing for both men and women. “I love the twist he puts on Moroccan kaftans,” says Ifrach. “They are a must, as are his pajama-style suits. I have one myself.”

Weavers at work in Marrakshi Life. Photo courtesy of Marrakshi Life.