BY Lisa Lindblad
November 16, 2014
I have known about Martine Hillen for three years yet have never managed to connect with her on my yearly trips to Marrakech. I was determined this week to see the leatherwear that has made eyes roll and descriptions wax lyrical. Hicham, a supremely stylish man who runs what must be Morocco’s most beautiful hotel, Dar Ahlam, gave me Martine’s phone number. I called. A rich, gravelly voice answered and, after the briefest of introductions, I was enveloped with warmth. Of course I must visit her atelier even though it would be late in the day and even though she, herself was in Belgium. Her neighbor in the warehouse in Sidi Ghanem, Marrakech’s industrial area, would wait for me and open the shop.
My friend, Danielle, and I hopped a car after work and drove in the growing dark the 20 minutes to Sidi Ghanem, my preferred location for shopping in Marrakech. This is where I have found my favorite designers of fabrics and furniture, linens and clothing. With some texting and phone calls we eventually landed at the door of La Manufacture of Sidi Ghanem, a newish warehouse-like building housing various businesses. We climbed to the second floor and there the charming French owner of Weimar Antiques – the “neighbor” – met us and let us in to Martine’s showroom. New York style loft space, her bags of all kinds were hung from hangars and hooks — cordovan, red, black, ivory, fringed, structured and slouchy. You can tell, even before touching, that the leather is supple. But unexpected is the velvet-like smoothness, the crushability of the skin.
They are wonderful and available at various shops in the city center, Gueliz, and perhaps also in various hotel boutiques. But, as with everything in life, buying the end product does not make for all the fun. Going out to Sidi Ghanem in search of an atelier in a nondescript building, and having the complete line of M H’s talent to yourself, adds fun and real satisfaction.
Many years ago, when the wonderful animal behaviorist and naturalist, George Schaller, was studying snow leopard, he spoke to me of the Tibetan Plateau where he lived, alone, for months on end. He described its remote, stark beauty, sharing pictures both in word and and photograph, that enlivened my imagination.
Olivier Follmi, the photographer, has captured this same windswept landscape that seems to float on the doorstep of heaven, a sweep of treeless plain across which travel ruddy-skinned, black-maned men, women and children on rugged horses and shaggy yaks.
And then, almost a year ago, I saw this image.
And this one.
And there, in one image, two passions of mine joined hands: the landscape of my imagination and a textile, enticing in feel, color and drape.
The textiles come from a social enterprise of a unique kind called Norlha Textiles. The brainchild of a remarkable woman, Kim Yeshi, it seeks to transform raw yak wool into items of great beauty and quality, using local raw materials, skills and ingenuity. The product is deeply satisfying in the hand and exquisite to the eye. And, when carefully examined, each border and lining, every tassle and hem -- all fashioned and finished by hand - is perfectly balanced, hued, and textured.
In their words:
"Norlha is a new concept that links sustainability with luxury...Norlha believes in innovation: It combines traditional techniques with more modern technology to create luxurious textiles in an endless variety of patterns and weights, suitable for all seasons."
Norlha textiles can be purchased via their website or from Atelier Courbet, located in New York City.