Sleepless in Marrakech


Natasha Pradhan


Laila Hida


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Overlooking an emerald tiled courtyard with a grove of banyan, bamboo, orange and palm trees at its centre, Ayron’s patio is her own little paradise. ‘It’s like Brazil downstairs,’ she says, referring to Le Jardin, a restaurant in the Mouassine district of Marrakech’s old city that lies beneath the Pop Up Shop. Its sleek wooden tables, black chairs and pale green doors are a serene refuge from the chiefly pink city outside. Just past a set of baskets filled with the day’s vegetables, you can find the long green staircase that leads to Ayron’s store.

First on display is a row of gandouras, a staple of Moroccan men’s streetwear. Ayron adapts the classic silhouette by using wildly printed fabrics that she sources herself on trips through Morocco, France and Italy. She explains that very few couturiers, in the ranks of Yves Saint Laurent and Yohji Yamamoto, create work that’s completely original. Ayron insists that she, like the greater majority, invents nothing.

Instead she merely adapts existing forms by changing the cut and discovering new ways to use fabric. ‘When you have a truly beautiful fabric, it’s enough to just use simple lines.’ She embraces forms that allow the fabric to speak for itself. Her collection includes abayas, coats and the popular kari dress – a floor-length gown only slightly cinched in the back. Most importantly, she explains, ‘I only make what I want to wear.’

While growing up in a small town near Lille in the north of France, Ayron, who is of Algerian origin, would spend her holidays scouting fabric at the biweekly market in Wazemmes – and then find ways to assemble the cloth on her own body. She compares working with textiles to making music, explaining that the same sensuality and shapes in sound can be found in the texture and patterns of fabric. Once out of school, Ayron left her hometown for Cannes, where she found herself with neither money nor any plans.

Despite her pennilessness, there was one ritual that she could not forgo. Each morning, she would show up, extravagantly dressed, to have her coffee at the lavish art deco Hôtel Martinez. Nearly a month later, someone took notice. Enchanted by her chic aloofness, a stranger approached Ayron, saying he needed her to sit at the door of a soon to open nightclub. Knowing nothing about nightlife, but eager to find work, Ayron said yes. ‘I always say yes, and wonder only after what I have just agreed to.’

Night after night, she would create a new outfit by hand, using her salary to buy more fabric. Often she would stitch a makeshift piece together at the last minute. For Ayron, the nightlife scene in Cannes – an experience she refers to as ‘school’ – was educational, both for its dangers and the work it inspired. In hindsight, she understands that working in nightlife was the best way to express herself at the time, as it combined both of her passions – music and fashion.

Following a stint at the North African-inspired Momos in London, Ayron found herself in Marrakech. Having planned only a short trip, Ayron didn’t originally intend to settle down in the city. For her, Marrakech offered an inspiring assemblage of DJs, percussionists and possible event venues. Not to mention the weather and laidback way of life, which made it easy to stick around. After a chance meeting with Kamal Laftimi, the owner of Le Jardin, he suggested that Ayron make use of the office above his restaurant. Again, having no idea what she would do with the space and without giving the question a second thought, she said yes.

Tired of the party circuit, Ayron decided to use the space to do for others what she had always done for herself. She scoured Marrakech for fabric and reached out to local artisans on her wavelength. A mere ten days later, she was ready to open shop. She placed a wooden divider across the middle of the store to make her ten-piece collection appear more comprehensive.

The Pop Up Shop now draws in many celebrities, including Sharon Stone, Nicole Trunfio, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Mos Def. But Ayron is not one to base her success on such customers. She simply finds it satisfying that people from all over the world appreciate the value in these simple but one-of-a-kind pieces handcrafted in the medina of Marrakech. Though Ayron – whose full name is Norya Nemiche – is of Algerian origin, she admittedly feels more at home in Morocco than anywhere else.

It’s now her twelfth year in Marrakech, yet she is constantly inspired by the live craftsmanship taking place in the medina. Initially pulled into the city by its nocturnal rhythms, Ayron’s transition into a designer has roused her to live by day. She continues to apply the same do-it-yourself attitude that informed her first collection – often shuttling fabrics between her home, the Pop Up Shop and other craft ateliers. She enjoys not having a central workshop of her own, as it provides her with greater opportunities to collaborate with other artisans in the medina.

‘I developed a reputation as a creature of the night. But in fact, I love the day. I love the sun. Even my clothes work well for a day party – by the pool or beach when it’s sunny with good music.’ These days, it’s her creative process that keeps her awake until the small hours. ‘It’s a good reason to stay awake, when you’re excited to be making something. It’s a positive insomnia.’

This article appears in the issue44Buy Now