Marrakech’s Glitterati

French Socialite Christine Alaoui Shares Her Intimate Snaps of Hosting the Stars in North Africa

Bianca Jagger, Yves Saint Laurent and Cecil Beaton are some of the well-known revelers in these never-before-seen photographs from the personal scrapbooks of photographer, muse and host extraordinaire Christine Alaoui. Revealing the bon vivant lifestyle of expats in Morocco in the late 20th century, the images capture Marrakesh in its prime as an unofficial, off-kilter center of literature, fashion and society. “Morocco was not a place for holiday, but a place to rejuvenate, creatively and intellectually, free from the confines of traditional society,” says Alaoui. Designed in 1928 by the French architect Paul Sinoir—who also designed the house of Majorelle Gardens where Yves Saint Laurent spent many years—Alaoui’s art deco home, Bled Roknine, was the idiosyncratic setting for endless soirees and casual lunches that were diligently documented by Alaoui and her close friend Bill Willis, the renowned interior decorator who designed houses for the Rothschilds, Agnellis and Gettys. Here Alaoui reveals the stories behind some of the many photographs taken against the backdrop of the iconic home.

Grace Jones
This was taken in the mid-90s in the northern town of Kabila. Grace was in Kabila to help a friend launch the discotheque Bain Douches. The owner only gave her accommodation for a few nights, but she was so in love with Morocco that she ended up couch surfing for weeks.

The blue house
Bled Roknine before my husband and I renovated. When the house was built, before the abundance of automobiles, it was in the middle of nowhere, and the surreal cropping of palms and ancient trees gave a feeling of an oasis in the desert. We preserved all of the original elements, from brushed aluminum doors and massive marble slab bathtub, to art deco toilets and water taps. It has served as backdrop for shoots by Peter Lindbergh, Marco Guerra, and Inez & Vinoodh over the years. 

Bianca Jagger 
Bill used to love taking Polaroids and his albums are full of numerous candid shots of lovers, cats, inspirations and wild nights. Mixed in the mayhem, I found this great photo of Bianca. She occasionally came to Marrakech with Mick. Bill knew Mick very early in life and they loved hanging out in Morocco together, traveling between Tangier and Marrakech.

Yves Saint Laurent 
Yves spent significant time in Morocco after his life had slowed down and he stopped partying. I knew him in a very different way from many others. He was calm, introspective and personal. He reveled in the simplicity of life here. He used to come to Bled Roknine for lunch. We'd eat in the shade of a tikida tree and chat.

A drawing by YSL for Bill Willis
This is a thank you note that Yves drew on a letter for Bill Willis, thanking him for a magnificent party and the gift of a rug. Yves was drawing snakes on everything. He drew a snake on the wall of his house and proclaimed it to be called Dar el-Hanch or "House of the Snake.” 

Talitha and John Paul Getty 
Bill accompanied Talitha and John Paul Getty on their honeymoon to Morocco in 1968. They all loved it so much that Talitha and John Paul bought the Palais de la Zahia at Bill's behest. Their legendary parties featured entertainment and substances picked up in the nearby Djemma el-Fna market square. It was a perfect symbol of what was happening at the time—the chic, jet set European miscreant eschewing traditional family life to live and play against the backdrop of fading Oriental charm.

La Mamounia
Here you see Anita Pallenberg, Cecil Beaton, Ira Belline and Bill Willis at La Mamounia, meeting for a drink before heading out into the night. Before it was renovated, La Mamounia was the inexpensive-yet-chic hotel in town. Everyone from Serge Lutens to Yves used to stay there. It was a place for colonial rulers, expats and rock stars to mingle in the shade of exotic plants, keeping the dust and the heat off their brow, while sipping their woes away to the clink of ice cubes. Winston Churchill called his balcony there “the most lovely spot in the whole world."

Brion Gysin 
This photo shows Bill Willis with Brion Gysin, artist and frequent collaborator with William S. Burroughs. Gysin was the one who unofficially paved the way for the Beats in Tangier. Together with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, Gyson helped Burroughs through a haze of Eukodol to finish Naked Lunch.

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