Photographer Oliviero Toscani returns to Benetton for new inclusive campaign

London - United Colors of Benetton has never been shy about integrating political and social issues in its advertising campaigns. While some fashion brands chose not to mix politics and fashion, the Italian fashion brand has carved out a name for itself thanks to its racy and provocative campaigns, which openly tackle subjects such as racism, sexism, poverty, and environmentalism. Now the iconic photographer behind some of United Colors of Benetton most iconic campaigns, Oliviero Toscani, has returned to the brand for its latest campaign.

The new Benetton campaign shot by Toscani renews a recurrent theme - integration - one which the brand stand firmly behind. The campaign depicts a racially diverse Italian classroom of twenty-eight children from thirteen different nationalities from four continents, smiling and learning together. In one photograph, ten children, from countries such as the Philippines, Italy, and Senegal, all gathered around their teacher who is reading to them and smiling because ‘they have a future.’

Photographer Oliviero Toscani returns to Benetton for new inclusive campaign

United Colors of Benetton unveils new campaign shot by Oliviero Toscani focusing on integration

“Integration is a major issue in our world today,” says Toscani. “The future will hang on how, and to what extent, we use our intelligence to integrate with others and to overcome fear.” In the current divided socio-political climate, the Italian fashion brand aims to start a discussion surrounding integration and diversity in society. The new campaign launch, which starts with the release of two images on December 1, marks the start of a much larger project on the subject of integration. Toscani is set to work on the project at Fabrica, Benetton Group’s communication research centre.

The current social and political issues within society are part of the reason Toscani decided to join forces with Benetton once more, after nearly two decades. “It’s the reason I’m back here,” said Toscani in an interview with BoF. “More than ever, there are problems in the world and this is what interests me. I think it’s now time for brands to get smarter. I don’t think they should go to agencies, because they won’t produce anything new. They should be free from market research, think about modern society and do something that hasn’t be done.”

The new campaign launch comes as Luciano Benetton , one of the founders of the fashion brand, announced his return to the company to help turn the company around. The first stages of Benetton’s revival are linked to the campaign. Toscani will also be involved with reimagining the overall image of the United Colors of Benetton brand, starting with a product campaign set to launch in February 2018. “We will make this picture to make a statement and then the next step is to [improve] the product, the shops and the lighting in the shops to bring back the magic of Benetton," added Toscani.

"It’s not a luxurious brand, but it embraces everybody.”

Photos: Courtesy of United Colors of Benetton

Calvin Klein partners with the Andy Warhol Foundation

London - Calvin Klein has entered into a new partnership with The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, which gives the American fashion brand unprecedented access to the late artist’s life work - much of which remains unpublished. The partnership comes after Calvin Klein’s Chief Creative Officer Raf Simons expressed his interest in Andy Warhol’s work after using his photographs as a source of inspiration for his second collection for the brand.

The global partnership, which will remain effective through to 2020, sees Calvin Klein supporting the foundation’s endowment financially from which it distributes grants for contemporary visual art in exchange for access to Warhol’s work. The partnership includes licensing projects across numerous Calvin Klein lines, as well as future initiatives within the Calvin Klein brand portfolio. “I am proud that through this licensing agreement with The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Calvin Klein will be continuing its longstanding commitment to the celebration of American artists and their prolific work,” said Steve Shiffman, Chief Executive Officer, Calvin Klein, Inc. “I look forward to the global rollout of this partnership across multiple levels of the Calvin Klein consumer experience.”

Raf Simons’ Spring/Summer 2018 Calvin Klein 205W39NYC runway show was the first iteration of the partnership, as the collection incorporates a selection of Warhol’s artworks. The late artist’s connection to fashion dated back to his first years working as an artist, when his shoe picture drew interest to Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. Warhol’s links to the industry became stronger in the 1970s when he befriended a number of fashion designers in New York, including Calvin Klein himself. 30 years after the passing of Warhol, Simons aims to renew this relationship between Calvin Klein and Warhol through this new partnership.

“I’ve come to realize that Warhol’s genius goes much deeper than cheerful Campbell’s Soup paintings,” said Raf Simons, Chief Creative Officer. “He captured all sides of the American experience, including sometimes its darker sides. Warhol’s art tells more truths about this country than you can find almost anywhere else.” In the past, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts Inc. has partnered with other fashion houses such as Dior and Comme des Garçons, but this marks its largest partnership to date.

Photo: courtesy of Calvin Klein

Meghan Markle says acting will take a back seat when she marries Prince Harry, following the example of screen icon Grace Kelly who abandoned Hollywood to marry into royalty. The 36-year-old has starred in legal drama "Suits" since 2011, but is likely to shed many outside interests as she joins the British royal family following the couple's engagement announcement, according to observers.

Markle confirmed in an interview with the BBC she would be giving up acting and would focus much of her attention on the causes that are important to her. "I don't see it as giving anything up. I see it as a change. It's a new chapter," she said. Markle and Harry, 33, will wed in spring next year, 62 years after silver screen icon Kelly abandoned her glittering career to marry Monaco's Prince Rainier III.

Hollywood branding expert Jeetendr Sehdev pointed out however that Markle is not in the same league as the Oscar-winning star of 1950s Hitchcock thrillers "Dial M for Murder," "Rear Window" and "To Catch a Thief." "Americans who have heard of Meghan will remember her as a working TV actor rather than an celebrity or a Hollywood star," Sehdev, bestselling author of "The Kim Kardashian Principle," told AFP.

He added that Britain's first mixed-race royal could nevertheless inspire the British TV industry to create more leading roles for actors of color. "Meghan Markle is the face of the modern princess and there's no reason why she shouldn't keep working in TV after her marriage. The palace will likely have a say in any of her future career choices and roles."

Reform too far?

But royal writer Catriona Harve-Jenner said in a commentary for British lifestyle magazine Cosmopolitan that Markle had made the right decision in shedding her acting ambitions.

"Being a senior member of the royal family is a full-time job, and it requires those who do it to patron charities, represent the UK on an international scale and generally maintain the traditions of the royal family," said Harve-Jenner.

"How would she balance all that with a full-time acting role on 'Suits?'" Markle will be the first American welcomed into the royals since Wallis Simpson -- famously also a divorcee -- but will probably not, in fact, be a princess. What is far more likely, say experts, is that the couple become a duke and duchess, like William and Kate.

As well as starring as paralegal Rachel Zane on "Suits," Markle is an entrepreneur, activist, blogger and fashion designer and would probably be expected to drop many of those pursuits too, to focus on royal activities. The actress appears to already be winding down her workload, having shut down her lifestyle website, "The Tig," in recent months.

Sarika Bose, a lecturer in Victorian literature at the University of British Columbia and a royal expert, said times had changed since Kelly was forced to choose between career and family life. But she added that having a working actress in the fold may yet be a modernizing reform too far for the British throne, which dates back to the merger of England and Scotland in the early 18th century.

'Very charismatic'

"Although British society and the monarchy have changed greatly over the last few decades, there are still possible assumptions people might impose on Ms Markle which are conflated with her acting roles, her life as a celebrity and her public role as a member of the royal family," she told AFP. Bose said she expected Markle to follow other members of the family in pursuing charitable activities.

"Well before meeting Prince Harry, Markle already demonstrated a serious interest and commitment to social justice initiatives, as a World Vision Global Ambassador and an advocate for political participation and leadership for women through the United Nations," she said.

Jil Sander ‘doesn’t fit’ into today’s fashion industry INTERVIEW

The German fashion designer Jil Sander is hosting her first solo exhibition at the Museum Applied Art in Frankfurt. FashionUnited spoke with director and curator Matthias Wagner K. about working with the designer to create the exhibition and how her clothing does not fit today's fashion industry, which makes it ground-breaking.

Could you tell us why you curated the exhibition at this moment in time?

"Oh you see, I would have curated her work even earlier. I’ve been director of this museum for five years now. She has been at the top of my list from the start. But it took time to get in touch with her, though I don’t understand why there hasn’t been an exhibition dedicated to the work of Jil Sander yet. I think of her as one of the most important fashion designers of her generation."

There have been many famous male designers in the history of fashion, but few women. Coco Chanel is regarded as one of the most significant, as she freed women from the corset. How do you see the relevance of Jil Sander in this context?

"When it comes to Coco Chanel, I would say that her design is quite classic after all, whereas Jil Sander has always been modern and designed for the modern woman. She wanted to provide protection with her clothes -- especially in working life. There are only few great female fashion designers. I would include Kawabuko with Comme des Garcons and Barbara I Gongini from Faroe Islands, who has her label in Copenhagen. After that the air becomes quite thin."

What was especially important for you in this exhibition?

“It was important to me that it doesn’t become a retrospective in the sense of a chronology, that the timelessness of her work becomes fully evident by looking at her work from today’s perspective, that something completely new is created from what she provided from her archive. That’s why the name of the exhibition is ‘Present’.” Jil Sander ‘doesn’t fit’ into today’s fashion industry

Why is it so important that Jil Sander leaves out decor on her clothing?

“I think because it rather distorts the natural person, the individual. It very rapidly creates a masquerade. Gender doesn’t play a big role for her, on the contrary, she totally opposes entrenched gender roles. In doing so, she gave women something like an armour to persist on an equal footing with a male counterpart in the working world.”

The issue of gender remains highly relevant nowadays, although the simplicity for which Jil Sander is known for has an even wider impact, right?

“Even though the appearance is so puristic, there is still great opulence to be found with her that shows in the cuts and the excellent material. It’s never fast fashion, it’s always high quality and produced with many different manufacturers. She travelled the whole world to find respective materials, she developed many new things with her resourceful talent. I’m wearing a Jil Sander suit from the end of the 90s myself. It still fits perfectly, it kept its shape and that has something to do with longevity, something that essentially doesn’t fit today’s fashion industry anymore. Or actually breaks ground.”

And therefore ‘Present’?

"And yes, therefore also ‘Present’."

Jil Sander ‘doesn’t fit’ into today’s fashion industry

What was so special about working together with her?

“There is threshold when it comes to working, with 95 percent you’re quite far, but the last five percent, that gets to the heart of something, not-stopping-at-all before everything is in place. And this doesn’t only concern the single piece of clothing. In such an exhibition, it’s about the architecture, the text, the lighting. Basically, all that makes up an oeuvre. She always managed that everyone would put in the same effort. She didn’t have time for anything else in one and a half years. And an aesthetic work came to life by her presence in the present”

How did you convince Jil Sander to cooperate with the Museum Applied Art in Frankfurt? She has also been asked by others before.

"There have been many offers, from the Victoria and Albert Museum and also from Hamburg. I think our concept which is always topical in the context of contemporary questions supported our case. The other reason is that the architecture of Richard Meier really matches Jil Sander well in its modernity.”

Which kind of exhibitions about fashion are you planning for the future?

“We’re working with the museums of fine art in San Francisco on a very, very big exhibition about Islamic fashion. We’re preparing one exhibition about Norway, which will be the guest of honour of the Frankfurt book fair in 2019 and which is also an exciting country when it comes to fashion. We have big plans and fashion will always be part of it. I am also preparing an exhibition about Barbara I Gongini for 2020. The books of ideas are filled.” FashionUnited visited the Jil Sander exhibition and recorded its impression in image and sounds.

Foto 1: Matthias Wagner K is standing in his suit by Jil Sander in his Frankfurt office/FashionUnited

Foto 2: Jil Sander Flagship Store London, 2002 © Paul Warchol

Foto 3: Jil Sander Exhibition/ FashionUnited

Jil Sander escapes time in Frankfurt exhibition


The first solo-exhibition of German fashion designer Jil Sander opened in Frankfurt on November 4. Jil Sander worked for one and a half years developing the exhibition which strives to be more than just a retrospective. Instead, she decided to create a new piece of work using fashion, light and sound which blends in seamlessly with Richard Meier’s museum building.

The multifaceted oeuvre of one of the most influential designers of her generation unfolds across 3,000 square metres and has been divided into the spaces such as catwalk, collection, or architecture.


Jil Sander escapes time in Frankfurt exhibition

Jil Sander engaged intensely with material from research to the development of new fabrics and this shows in the “Studio”. She liberated women from ephemeral decor by combining delicate cashmere and subtle colored fabrics to simple designs that shall protect the wearer.

“If, in my long experience of design, a personal signature may have emerged, then it is in pattern making. These are my own formulas, which I repeatedly perfect and above all re-design. What in the end looks simple and obvious is the result of long experimentation.”

Jil Sander


Jil Sander escapes time in Frankfurt exhibition

Decades after their first presentation, Jil Sander’s dresses, coats and shoes still seem up-to-date and wearable. Her exhibition is named “Present” as it shows a fully new oeuvre and how timeless her designs presently are.



Jil Sander escapes time in Frankfurt exhibition


“A fashion show is the magical realm of first impressions. Fashion comes into being because it is presented as such. ”

Exhibition text on the wall
Jil Sander escapes time in Frankfurt exhibition


Jil Sander set a new standard in the fashion world when she opened her flag ship store in the Avenue Montaigne Nr. 50 in Paris. The use of lighting that spills diffusely from behind tapered “flying walls” is a part of her architectural work that also included garden art.

Jil Sander escapes time in Frankfurt exhibition

“One needs to be sensitive to architectural conditions and resist the temptation tp filly any spatial void.”

Jil Sander

Fashion and Art

The German designer has also engaged with contemporary art. She used motives of the Italian artist Alighiero Boetti for her spring summer collection 2014.

Jil Sander escapes time in Frankfurt exhibition


“With photographers such as Irving Penn, Peter Lindbergh, Nick Knight…, Jil Sander sweeps aside customary preconceptions about men and women, until only the vivid intensity of an ever-searching, contemporary individual remains.”

Exhibition text on the wall

Jil Sander x Richard Meier

The style of the museum building by architect Richard Meier was one of the reasons for Jil Sander to show her exhibition in the Museum Applied Art, according to director Matthias Wagner K.

Jil Sander escapes time in Frankfurt exhibition

Photo: FashionUnited

Jean-Paul Gaultier announces ‘Fashion Freak Show’

Flamboyant French fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier is to celebrate 50 years of pop culture seen through his eyes with a new stage musical, Fashion Freak Show that will premiere in Paris next October, before going on an international tour.

Gaultier renowned for his theatrical catwalk shows, will be incorporating his “eccentric, scandalous, and provocative” personality into a stage show that combines cabaret with a fashion show at the at the iconic Folies Bergere theatre in Paris.

“This show is the story of my life, things I have experienced, seen and loved. And also stories that I have never told before!”

Jean-Paul Gaultier

The show will feature everything from his childhood to his early career, including his greatest fashion shows to “wild nights” in Le Palace and London, as well as pay tribute to artists that have inspired him including pop icons Madonna, Kylie Minogue, and Mylène Farmer to film directors Pedro Almodovar and Luc Besson, and dancers Régine Chopinot and Angelin Prejlocaj.

“This show is the story of my life, things I have experienced, seen and loved. And also stories that I have never told before!” explains Gaultier. “I discovered the entertainment world at the age of nine while watching a Folies Bergère revue on TV and I found out what a fashion show was through Jacques Becker’s film, “Falbalas”, in which Micheline Presle falls in love with a fashion designer played by Raymond Rouleau. With the Fashion Freak Show, I intend to bring these two worlds together. It is very exciting to be given the opportunity to stage the revue in the Folies Bergère.”

Jean-Paul Gaultier to stage musical and fashion show in Paris from October 2018

For the ‘Fashion Freak Show’, which is described in the press release as a “grand party” where Gaultier “will surprise us yet again”, will feature ten new exclusive outfits designed by the French designer to incorporate within an exuberant scenography.

Gaultier has written the show, and will co-direct and produce the set design, in collaboration with actress, scriptwriter and director Tonie Marshall, who co-directs the show, and Marion Motin, who has worked with Madonna, on the choreography. The cast will be actors, dancers and circus artists, who will take to the stage and play “outlandish, passionate, larger than life, rude, sexy, sassy creatures and personalities”, explains the designer, while the music will range from disco to funk, pop and rock, basically the playlist of his life.

Describing what the show will cover, Gaultier said: “I will tackle new issues such as plastic surgery and the creatures it spawns, or the vanity fair of social media. All that has been an inspiration for a number of new costumes. Clothes can say so much about their time, the way we relate to femininity and masculinity, sexuality, about what we consider different and where the limits of society are.

“I want to show difference. For there is beauty to be found everywhere, it all depends on how one chooses to look at it. I’ve always loved freaks, weirdoes, agitators, the mixing of different aesthetics, the unexpected encounters. This transgressive energy will be on show for all to see. It will be about joy and dreams, I would like every member of the audience to leave in a happier mood than when they arrived. It’s going to be a huge party! I hope that the audience will enjoy the show just as much as I did when creating it.”

The ‘Fashion Freak Show’ will premiere on October 2, 2018, with tickets going on sale today, November 9 with tickets priced from 39 euros.

Image: courtesy of Jean-Paul Gaultier/Fashion Freak Show

It's the most sought after invitation in the celebrity universe -- and on Wednesday, Amal Clooney, Rihanna and Donatella Versace were named co-chairs of next year's glittering Met Gala in New York.

Held every year on the first Monday in May, the black-tie extravaganza is the chief source of income for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute, reportedly raising more than $13 million in 2016. Tickets are said to cost $30,000 each or $275,000 for a table, ruling out all but the most elite coterie of A-list Hollywood actors, best-selling music superstars, top models and fashion designers.

Clooney -- the British-Lebanese wife of Hollywood heartthrob George and new mother of twins -- is the 39-year-old feted as much for her fashion sense as her work as an international human rights lawyer. Rihanna, 29, needs no introduction as one of the biggest pop stars on the planet, also lauded for her bold style, and Versace is the 62-year-old legendary Italian designer and sister of Gianni, who was murdered in Miami in 1997. Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour -- who has singlehandedly transformed the ball into the hottest ticket in town -- is also co-chair of the event, which will be held on May 7. But there's one person definitely not invited. Wintour told "Late Late Show" host James Corden last month that she would never invite back Donald Trump -- who has attended with wife Melania attended in the past, before he was elected US president. Wintour was a prominent Hillary Clinton fundraiser.

The theme is "Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination," which the Museum also announced is the title of next year's exhibition at The Costume Institute. The exhibition, which will open May 10, will feature papal robes and accessories flown from the Vatican that will serve as the "cornerstone" and showcase the influence of liturgical vestments on designers, the museum said. Designers in the exhibition will include Balenciaga, Chanel, Givenchy, Karl Lagerfeld, the Versaces and Vivienne Westwood. (AFP)

The Met's next exhibit to focus on fashion and Catholic imagination

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has announced that The Costume Institute's spring 2018 exhibition will be Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, on view from May 10 through October 8, 2018 (preceded on May 7 by The Costume Institute Benefit). Presented at The Met Fifth Avenue in both the medieval galleries and the Anna Wintour Costume Center, the show will also occupy The Met Cloisters. The thematic exhibition will examine fashion's ongoing engagement with the devotional practices and traditions of Catholicism. A group of papal robes and accessories from the Vatican will travel to the United States to serve as the cornerstone of the exhibition.

"The Catholic imagination is rooted in and sustained by artistic practice, and fashion's embrace of sacred images, objects, and customs continues the ever-evolving relationship between art and religion," said Daniel H. Weiss, president and CEO of The Met. "The Museum's collection of religious art, in combination with the architecture of the medieval galleries and The Cloisters, provides the perfect context for these remarkable fashions."

The Met's next Costume Institute exhibit to focus on fashion and Catholicism

Next year's Met Gala will be co-chaired by Amal Clooney, Rihanna, Donatella Versace, and Anna Wintour. Christine and Stephen A. Schwarzman will serve as honorary chairs. The event is The Costume Institute's main source of annual funding for exhibitions, publications, acquisitions, and capital improvements.

"Fashion and religion have long been intertwined, mutually inspiring and informing one another," said Andrew Bolton, curator in charge of The Costume Institute. "Although this relationship has been complex and sometimes contested, it has produced some of the most inventive and innovative creations in the history of fashion."

The exhibition will feature approximately 50 ecclesiastical masterworks from the Sistine Chapel sacristy, many of which have never been seen outside the Vatican. These will be on view in the Anna Wintour Costume Center galleries and will include papal vestments and accessories, such as rings and tiaras, from the 18th to the early 21st century, encompassing more than 15 papacies. The last time the Vatican sent a loan of this magnitude to The Met was in 1983, for The Vatican Collections exhibition, which is the Museum's third most-visited show.

In addition, approximately 150 ensembles, primarily womenswear, from the early 20th century to the present will be shown in the medieval galleries and The Met Cloisters alongside religious art from The Met collection, providing an interpretative context for fashion's engagement with Catholicism. The presentation situates these designs within the broader context of religious artistic production to analyze their connection to the historiography of material Christianity and their contribution to the perceptual construction of the Catholic imagination.

Designers in the exhibition will include Azzedine Alaïa, Cristobal Balenciaga, Geoffrey Beene, Marc Bohan for Dior, Thom Browne, Roberto Capucci, Callot Soeurs, Jean Charles de Castelbajac, Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, Maria Grazia Chiuri for Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, John Galliano for Dior, Jean Paul Gaultier, Givenchy, Craig Green, Madame Grès for Alix Barton, Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garçons, Christian Lacroix, Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, Jeanne Lanvin, Shaun Leane, Claire McCardell, Laura and Kate Mulleavy for Rodarte, Thierry Mugler, Norman Norell, Guo Pei, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli for Valentino, Pierpaolo Piccioli for Valentino, Elsa Schiaparelli, Raf Simons for both his own label and Dior, Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy, Jun Takahashi for Undercover, Isabel Toledo, Philip Treacy, Donatella Versace for Versace, Gianni Versace, Valentina, A.F. Vandevorst, Madeleine Vionnet and Vivienne Westwood.

Photos: Image 1 (left): El Greco, Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara (1541–1609), ca. 1600, oil on canvas; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.5); Image © Metropolitan Museum of Art

Image 2 (right): Evening Coat, Cristobal Balenciaga for House of Balenciaga, autumn/winter 1954–55; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Bryon C. Foy, 1957 (C.I.57.29.8); Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Digital Composite Scan by Katerina Jebb.

Marrakesh - Visitors crowded through the doors Thursday as a museum to legendary fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent opened to the public in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh.

The museum's management said 1,000 people thronged through its exhibition halls in the first three hours to get a glimpse of some of Saint Laurent's most iconic creations as they went on display in the city that inspired him.

The opening comes just over a fortnight after another museum to the famed French couturier, who died in 2008, began working at the company's former headquarters in Paris.

The Moroccan project -- housed in a modernist building of traditional rose-coloured ochre bricks -- was a last labour of love for Saint Laurent's former business and life partner Pierre Berge, who died last month aged 86. The pair fell in love with Marrakesh after first visiting in 1966 when the city was hothouse of bohemian freedom that drew artists and musicians from Allen Ginsberg to the Rolling Stones.

Saint Laurent's imagination was fired by the colour and vibrancy that he found in Morocco and he bought a villa in Marrakesh that looks set to be opened to the public next year. "I owe to this country the audacity that has been mine ever since," a quotation by Saint Laurent projected onto one of the museum's walls read.

The 15-million euro (18 million US dollars) museum -- paid for from the sale of the designer's spectacular art collection -- is located close to the lush Majorelle Garden that he and Berge took over and restored in the 1980s. The museum's directors hope to attract some 300,000 visitors in the first year from the tourists that now throng the packed streets of modern Marrakesh. (AFP)

'Inspiration' Marrakesh hosts Yves Saint Laurent museum

A fusion of Moroccan traditions and contemporary flair that inspired Yves Saint Laurent, a museum to the famed fashion designer is set to be unveiled Saturday in his beloved Marrakesh. Following three years of work, technicians carried out final checks in a minimalist exhibition hall at the venue in the city that helped shape Saint Laurent's imagination after he first arrived in the 1960s.

Iconic creations -- from the black "Le Smoking" tuxedo to the Mondrian dress -- will go on display, with the museum hoping to attract 300,000 visitors in its first year after it opens its doors on October 19. "Marrakesh was a place of inspiration for Yves Saint Laurent," said director Bjorn Dahlstrom as he surveyed the last touches being made. The legendary French couturier was entranced by the "ochre city" when he discovered the vibrancy and easy-going atmosphere of its busy streets, overlooked by the Atlas mountains, with his partner Pierre Berge in 1966.

"It was the place of our meeting, of our love, of our work together," said Berge, describing it as "a time when morals were free and sexuality more unbridled". After dedicating his final years to "transforming these memories into projects", the man who was both Saint Laurent's business and life partner, for some 40 years, died aged 86 in September.

Hippy draw

When Saint Laurent came to Marrakesh, he was a designer known for working in black, but he said he "discovered colour" in the city and the traditional dress of the women. Along with Berge, he acquired a villa -- which their foundation also hopes to open next spring -- and in the 1980s took over the spectacular Majorelle Gardens, where a mausoleum was built to the designer after his death in 2008.

Along with his ground-breaking designs, the new museum also contains a wall of photographs retracing reclusive Saint Laurent's life and career, accompanied by the voice of his friend, the actress Catherine Deneuve. Marrakesh and its UNESCO-protected Old City is now packed with tourists from all over the world.

But back when Saint Laurent and Berge first arrived it was a draw for hippies and artists -- from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to beat poet Allen Ginsberg -- attracted by the bohemian freedoms and drug-fuelled party scene.

'From scratch'

The museum to Saint Laurent is housed in a contemporary building of rose ochre brick that intends to evoke both the traditional Moroccan culture that influenced Saint Laurent and his ground-breaking modernity. Funded by the money from the sale of YSL and Berge's remarkable art collection, it combines orientalist paintings from Jacques Majorelle, who died in 1962, with works by current artists from Morocco and the Middle East.

And while Berge -- the driving force behind the museum did not live to see it open -- it still bears his indelible stamp. "He saw everything, he followed it all from the beginning," said Berge's widower Madison Cox, who now runs the Pierre Berge-Yves Saint Laurent foundation. "This was a first for Pierre Berge, to build something from scratch. He rebuilt offices and houses, but here there was nothing except for an empty space." (AFP)

Photo: Studio KO, Musee Yves Saint Laurent, Marrakesh