(image by Sarah Charpentier)
I was recently commissioned to write a few articles for the lifestyle pages of The National News – I enjoyed writing this, as it is a subject close to my heart. However, the nature of the print industry is that things get cropped and cut to fit the space and sometimes the flow and lyricism is lost – so I thought I would indulge myself and put the full uncut article here for you to read at your leisure!
TEXTILES, TILES & TEA
a little design inspiration from Tangier
With Moroccan craft and design being so on the trend and visible across the pages of design and décor publications and platforms, we thought we would take a look behind the scenes and venture into the fondouks and studios of Tangier to see who is creating and making in the city.
Sitting on the very edge of Africa, a quick 40 min ferry trip from Spain, Tangier has always been a destination for creative spirits and designers who come to soak in the clear light reflected off the Mediterranean while scouring the fondouks and studios for some design inspiration. Tangier is both a meeting point and a melting pot of cultures and aesthetics that give the craft and design scene in Tangier its particular edge and energy.
Unlike Morocco’s more well-trodden tourist destination of Marrakech, you might have to work a little harder in Tangier to find what you are looking for, but there is a great tradition of collaboration in these little artisanal studios where many of them have been weaving and working with visiting designers for decades.
The best example of this is the Fondouk Chejra – as you walk past the market stalls piled high with olives and the women selling bunches of fresh herbs and vegetables (not to mention the odd stray chicken . . .), it is easy to miss the dark understated doorway that leads up into this warren of weavers’ studios. The clanking of the looms is punctuated by the call to prayer while piles of brightly coloured threads make perfect daybeds for a local cat or two . . . but rummage amongst the textiles sitting on these shelves and you might find a shawl that was made for a boutique in Paris or a pile of handwoven bath towels that are destined for New York – and if you are lucky enough to have both ideas and time on your hands you could sit down with one of the artisans and get your own ideas woven onto the loom.
As much as the design and craft scene of Tangier is about collaborations with visiting designers, there is also a creativity from designers and artists living in the city. Young Moroccan designers who appreciate the ancient skills of these artisans but are able to inject these traditions with a new energy that ensures they are kept alive and more than that, that they are valued.
One such designer is Kenza Bennani who is the designer behind the New Tangier brand. Kenza has been inspired by the rich textile traditions of Morocco and used them to create fashion that is both luxurious and functional. There is a sense of contemporary lifestyle that has been married with the skills and designs of the region.
Similarly, the textile designs of Djebeli are a wonderful example of the working combination of artisanal skill with a contemporary sense of colour and design. The Djebeli range of footwear is a result of this marriage between tradition and trend and sees the typical babouche style slipper of Morocco being given a makeover that takes it out of the medina and into the boutique.
Once you have satisfied your textile yearnings, take a trip to the outskirts of town where you will find the Basket Weavers. Again, do not be deceived by the humble appearance of these makeshift straw studios – these are masters of their craft who can weave their magic with the simple materials of jute, straw and bamboo. Wander through the sun dappled straw interiors to discover baskets and bags, lampshades and parasols. With nothing more than a few measurements and a quick pencil sketch, the weaving begins.
The tradition of tiles runs deep in Morocco – from the intricate mosaic zellige style tiles to the more robust handmade encaustic or concrete tiles.
The encaustic tile lends itself to design and interpretation and again, with a few winding turns and detours and a lot of help from a local guide you will be able to find a studio where these tiles are made by hand to design. Like so many things in Tangier, the scope for creativity and design is there and waiting.
The process of the encaustic tile is as fascinating as the end-product is beautiful – in the workshop you will see stencils for all the traditional designs that have been used on the floors of Moroccan homes for generations alongside newer contemporary designs that use these same methods. It is this openness to design and innovation that is in fact keeping these traditional crafts alive in Tangier.
It is also this sense of creativity and interpretation that gave birth to the designs of Zelart. Designer and artist Zineb Bennani has drawn on the zellige tile tradition of Morocco and used this as a base for her own designs and drawings, so shifting the traditional craft into the realm of art.
A walk through the winding streets of the Kasbah in Tangier is another route that will immerse you in the colour and creativity of the city. Stop and have a look at all the boutiques and studios en-route and you will be able to discover some of the designers mentioned here alongside a myriad of others who are being inspired by the traditions of Tangiers crafts, and in so doing are giving these traditions a new energy. It is all about looking at the traditional fabrics and designs of the region with a new design eye from the traditional slipper to the simple lines of a kaftan and recreating them.
Finally – having discovered the markets and explored the medina, the fondouks and the boutiques, take time to appreciate Tangier over a glass of mint tea – sip it slowly and watch the world pass by while you doodle your designs of the back of a postcard.