Moroccan Style: Talitha Getty & Bill Willis

When people talk of the early days of Moroccan style and the European and American jetsetters of the 1960s and 70s, the talk is often about Talitha Getty. Her multi-cultural “couture of the souks” style is captured in this iconic Vogue magazine photo, nowadays re-created by travelers on riad rooftops:

Iconic Talitha Getty Photo

Moroccan Style: Talitha Getty and Fashion

Talitha and her husband, John Paul Getty, Jr., who was the son of the richest man in the world at the time, enjoyed a high-flying lifestyle that revolved around world leaders in music and fashion. Yves St. Laurent was a good friend and fellow resident of Marrakech. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones spent a Christmas together in their palace. And parties, many parties. Talitha Getty knew how to throw a party:

“A welcoming, fantastical, joyous life, at once sensible and sybaritic . . . Mrs. Getty prowls the marketplace, bringing back delights for the house and table. Best she brings back entertainers—dancers, acrobats, storytellers, geomancers and magicians. … While Salome is playing in the background, snake charmers charm and tea boys dance, balancing on their feet trays freighted with mint tea and burning candles.” – Diana Vreeland, Vogue

Like Lady Diana and Princess Grace of Monaco, Talitha’s mystique may be amplified because she died so young, at age 30. She is frozen in time with flawless skin and lush hair. Diana Vreeland said that Talitha was THE style icon during her Moroccan caftan and Persian jewelry years. Talitha to this day is still celebrated as a style muse by fashion designers.

Talitha Getty and Iron Grillwork Palais de la Zahir

Not a ton of photos of Talitha exist, but I captured all photos I could find on a Pinterest board of Talitha Getty style.

Moroccan Style: Architectural Arts in Marrakech

There was someone else who revolved in the Getty’s beautifully-designed orbit in Marrakech.

Someone who had a bigger, more enduring influence on Moroccan style. I bet you haven’t heard of him. He deserved greater public recognition because hallmarks of Marrakech style today are traced to him. He revived dying arts and filled opulent homes with beautiful tiles and tadelakt walls, ceilings, fireplaces, floors and furniture. The funny thing is, he wasn’t Moroccan. He was from Memphis.

His name was Bill Willis.

(Please forgive me if I slip up and call him Bruce Willis and don’t catch it. It wouldn’t be the first time!)

Have you admired the tadelakt walls in Marrakech homes? That is because of Bill Willis. Before Bill, tadelakt was used in the hammams because it’s waterproof. It was not used throughout houses. But this polished plaster surface is now the quintessential Marrakech wall.

Have you seen crazy, colorful combinations of patterned tiles on fireplaces in Marrakech? That is because of Bill Willis. He restored and revived zellij mosaic tilework and brought it into the 20th century with a “modern ideas with Moroccan materials” mentality.

Now, because Bill Willis outlived Talitha by many decades (she died in 1971, he in 2009), he had far more time to do his work. Bill’s design legacy in Marrakech began with Talitha Getty, so she started the ball rolling. Bill accompanied the Gettys on their honeymoon in Marrakech, where they bought a ramshackle rubble of a palace for $10,000 in 1966. It was once a royal place, but was now a ruin. Here’s Bill standing outside of it:

Bill Willis

This was in the 1960s, long before Marrakech was the tourist attraction that it is today. I imagine it was beyond rough for travelers used to luxury. But from this ruin, within only a few years, Bill Willis and the Gettys created breathtaking beauty. They created a place with a name prepared for debauchery:  Palais du Zahir (also known as Palais de la Zahia) — the Pleasure Palace.

Getty Palace in Marrakech

“Bill created the Marrakech look, and it started with that house,” says the decorator Jacques Grange

Not many photos of Palais du Zahir from the Getty days exist publicly. I have a rare book of Bill Willis’ work — you can only get it at the Majorelle Gardens bookstore in Marrakech, unless you’re willing to pay $300+ for the rare times it pops up on eBay or Amazon — and Palais du Zahir is not in the book. But recently, I found a video about Bill that shows the Getty palace. It’s a long video that explains Bill’s influence on Marrakech style as you know it today. The palace is shown at about the 6 minute mark:

Video credit from Jeremy Riggall on Vimeo.

I hit replay and screen-captured those Palais du Zahir rooms like a crazy obsessed woman!

Here’s a few more pictures of the palace from the 1970 January Vogue issue, photographed by Patrick Lichfield:

Talitha Getty in Palais du Zahir

Talitha and Bill Getty Marrakech

Palais de la Zahia Dining Area

If you ever want the original Vogue issue, I found mine on eBay and see them there occasionally. I could probably be persuaded to part with mine!

Today, the palace is owned by writer Bernard-Henri Lévy and his actress wife Arielle Dombasle. Here’s the most famous rooftop in Marrakech as it is today, shown in WSJ Magazine:

Palais du Zahir Rooftop

I notice, it has a different brick floor now. Unless this is a different area of the roof than what we see in the 1970 Vogue magazine.

Palais de la Zahia Window

Don’t those look like the same iron grilles that Talitha is peeking through in the photo above?

Palais de la Zahia nook

No longer a place of drug-fueled hedonistic parties (none other than Keith Richards said that Talitha Getty had access to the best opium), now the palace is a discreet address where feuding world leaders gather in privacy and try to broker peace, and for an intellectual writer to think and write in solitude. Some palace walls have stood since the 1500s or the 1700s, depending on who you ask. Oh, what the walls must have seen over the centuries!

The current owners worked with Bill Willis before his death to honor his contributions to the palace’s style. According to the Wall Street Journal:

“They still use the furniture Willis designed for the Gettys, including a four-poster bed painted like the Good Ship Lollipop in a fantasia of ice cream colors and Berber-inspired motifs.”

I share everything I found about the Getty palace on a Palais du Zahir Pinterest board.

Marrakech Design: Enduring Influence of Bill Willis

Bill Willis’ contribution to Marrakech and Moroccan style is now unnoticed and unappreciated. Some of that appears to be his own fault. Though he had a reputation as an exacting and demanding designer, he slept until late afternoon and his neighbors thought he was a vampire. And he was intoxicated during most waking hours. Despite that, his genius still prevailed in glorious Marrakech architecture. Efforts might be underway to raise his profile, possibly through the riad that was once his home in Marrakech.

How often does a designer influence the style of a whole city? And in a way that stimulates a whole travel and tourism industry, boosting an entire economy? At every corner you turn in Marrakech, there are photo ops. Old walls, old doors, what’s below your feet and above your head, somehow it’s all very special. Marrakech inspires our imaginations. Captures us and makes us want to return. Would Bill Willis have ever imagined that happening? Beyond many nondescript doors and plain medina walls there is glittering opulence, pierced metal lanterns casting dancing shadows, woven textiles exploding with color against fantastical patterned walls. Run your hands along the cool smooth tadelakt walls. Bill Willis made that possible.





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Famous Portuguese Tile: The Wonders of the Lisbon Tile Museum

You can barely get through Instagram without scrolling past a footsie on patterned tiles. Follow a number of design and travel grammers, and these footsies will happen to you. Boldly patterned tiles are trending. People are noticing them enough to photograph them. People are making even bigger commitments to these tiles. They’re putting bold patterns on their bathroom floors:

Trend Bold Tiles on Bathroom Floors

And on kitchen backsplashes:

Patterned Tile Kitchen Backsplashes

I’m in the camp of people who worry about resale value, to be honest. Lately I’ve been “beige-ing” my house, so there won’t be anything offensive to future open house visitors. But I still love a good strong bold pattern (just like I like my coffee). Moroccan tile. Turkish tile. Tile in Iran. So patterned, so colorful, so beautiful! Last year my flights to and from Marrakech were routed through Lisbon, Portugal. I had an overnight in Lisbon. (I recommend scheduling an overnight in a city while traveling — your flight could be cheaper and you get a taste of an additional place, if only for a day!) Lisbon is famous for its tiled facades. While searching for something to do in Lisbon, I discovered Portugal’s National Tile Museum (aka the Museu Nacional do Azulejo). Here are Portuguese mosaics you will see there:

Lisbon National Tile Museum

Portugal National Tile Museum

Pattern Play of Tile and Script in Lisbon Portugal

Tile is not as easy to make as you might think it is. You may think you take a slab of clay and just cut it in squares and just put some color on it, right? Oh no. Many years ago I took a tile-making class at the Ann Arbor Art Center, taught by Nawal Motawi of the famed Motawi Tileworks. (And, crap, I really miss living in Ann Arbor with easy access to things like that!) We learned the factors can make a tile go very wrong, very warped. And how to make things go right. You might have an idea in your mind of the color you want, but the tile can have a mind of its own when fired in the kiln. The glaze — the stuff that colors the tile — can do predictable things or weird things. Knowing the skill from start to finish of making tile made me appreciate Portugal’s National Tile Museum.

First, the setting of the museum. It makes your jaw drop in awe! It’s in an old crumbling convent attached to a church. The slight crumbliness meshes beautifully with the old tiles, as some tiles are chipped and marred just like the building:

Faucets in Portugal's National Tile Museum

Lisbon Tile Museum

Here are photos snapped as I strolled through the museum …

Lisbon National Tile Museum

You get glimpses of the tile mosaics across courtyards and through columns:

The National Tile Museum in Lisbon Portugal

Not all tiles are only geometric. Some showed interesting scenes. This is a tile mural called The Leopard Hunt, made in the 1660s:

The Leopard Hunt Tile Mural at Portugal National Tile Museum

The leopards look really worried, as they should. It’s just tile, but the feeling feels real:

The Leopard Hunt Tile Mural

Portuguese Tile Mural The Leopard Hunt

Ugh. It’s like they’re saying, go vegetarian, people! And light a fire for warmth, don’t steal my fur pelt!

This next mural was my favorite, also from the 1660s. “The Chicken’s Wedding.” Whaaat? I know. I don’t know!

The Chickens Wedding Tile Mural

Portuguese Tile Mural The Chickens Wedding

Okay, what is happening here?!? I had fun checking out every detail of this chicken wedding mural:

Fun at The Chicken Wedding

The Chicken Wedding Mural at National Tile Museum Lisbon

The chicken looks not too sure. Everyone else is having a good time. The only thing I know for certain about this story is, that mural was huge and it didn’t fit in one photo.

This gives you an idea of scale of some murals:

Lisbon Tile Museum

And here’s an idea of the realistic detail:

Tile Mural at the National Tile Museum Lisbon

I loved the designs on these modern day tiles by ceramics artist Cristina Bolborea. The description really resonated with me — they’re evocative of a journey of a traveler and his impressions of far off fairs and their products, with layers of carpets and fabrics, and Islamic influences. Perhaps elements that are the only survivors of a temple forgotten today:

Gallery at Lisbon National Tile Museum

Gallery at the Lisbon National Tile Museum

Cristina Bolborea Tile at Lisbon National Tile Museum

Cristina Bolborea Tile

I had just left Marrakech, so these tiles reminded me of the shapes, patterns, cabinets, and carpets I had just seen there.

Here are some contemporary tiles made in the 1980s, still working with blue:

Contemporary Tile at National Tile Museum Lisbon

Look right or look left, and you see this setting around the tile galleries. I loved this old/new contrast:

National Tile Museum Lisbon

How do I remember details more than a year after taking these photos?

a traveler’s photography tip:

When there are signs, first take a picture of the sign, then a picture of the art or tourist attraction. This way, you will always have all the information. It may be too small to read on your phone or camera, but you’ll be able to read it on a computer screen.

Photography Tip for Travelers

After enjoying the tiles, stop in the museum’s cafe for a jolt of Portuguese coffee. The best! I’m Googling today for more Portuguese coffee — we happened to buy Nicola coffee at HomeGoods of all places and we need more, more, more. So strong, so good. This coffee from a Lisbon cafe is what made me remember the Lisbon tiles, and that I hadn’t shared them here yet. Also enjoy museum cafe specialties like Codfish au Gratin with Pine Seeds and Raisins, maybe with a glass of Rioja, while viewing tiles that were once in a palace kitchen. So there, maybe putting these tiles in a kitchen is timeless despite our trends!

TripAdvisor has lots of traveler reviews of Lisbon’s National Tile Museum.

I walked there from the Baixa tourist area of Lisbon, but it was a long walk and I got off track and lost numerous times despite having a map that seemed clear. Usually I’m very good with directions; seriously this was the first time in life I got lost so much and I’m … uh, I’m not going to say how old I am but it’s a lot more years than you think because my profile photo is 10 years old. The older that photo gets, the more reluctant I am to change it! I was even able to navigate the Marrakech medina alone. But a seeming straight road in Lisbon really threw me. I was walking by myself and wondered a few times if I was making a big mistake that I’d be sorry for. And I’d call myself an “aware traveler” not a “worrying traveler.” It was a relief to finally see “azulejo” on a sign. You will be looking for this:

Lisbon National Tile Museum

On the way back, I stopped at the nearby train station (I think it’s the Santa Apolonia stop) and took the train back to the big square near the Baixa area. People will tell you that you can walk, but take a taxi or the train.

 

 





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Inspired by a Moroccan Artist’s Colony

My workdays are full of logic, science, and project management. The bit of art during the day is about the communications we create to influence people. So by nightfall, I’m looking for balance in visual arts. One reason I went to Marrakech in 2014 was to get surrounded by beauty, to get inspired to create visual things I hadn’t thought of doing before.

An inspiring place was the Al Maqam artist’s colony in Tahanaout, about a half hour drive outside Marrakech on the way to the Atlas Mountains. A New York Times article tells you more about the place. 

A lot of doors and windows caught my eye there, and the NYT article mentions that the founder of the colony bought old doors and windows at Morocco flea markets and gradually built the compound room by room.

Al Maqam Artist Colony Stone Window Wood Carved Door

Al Maqam Artist Colony

Old Moroccan Wood Door

Maybe that’s how we’re going to decorate the India pied-à-terre, bit by bit from pieces from here and there. 

Here’s more photos from the artist’s colony, decorated as you might expect — creative, eclectic, lots of interesting proportions, playing with balance, and curious collections of objects. I spent too much time there looking at the place through my iPhone, I think now, but at least I captured these.

Clearly I had a fascination with their doors. But my doors at home in the American Midwest don’t look like this, so it was like get an eye-full of these fantastic doors while you can:

A Moroccan Door

Do  you see stencil patterns there? I do!

Lots of color and style in a little courtyard seating area:

Moroccan Artist Colony Courtyard Seating

It’s just a simple bench. But the shabby paint job, the fabric on the too-big cushion, all a perfect boho combo:

Boho Bench Morocco

The kitchen and all its collections:

Moroccan Artist Colony Kitchen

I liked this collection of frames, maybe collected over time but all coordinated. So don’t get too super matchy-matchy, mis-match a bit:

Morocco Picture Frames

Frames like these don’t have to cost a lot. I’ve found frames very similar to these at Target and HomeGoods.

Yes. These are what you might think they are. We asked:

Collection

They were in a corner of a dining room. Told you. Eclectic. Creative.

Stylists, designers, bloggers and instagrammers all over the U.S. are doing this mix-matched textile boho-licious look with piles of pillows. Perhaps this place is an original for this:

Pile of Moroccan Pillows

There was no time spent on creating a “just enough carelessness” look. (I know how photo shoots and styling can be!) That’s just how the pillows were.

Here I back up a bit. There’s the shabby simple bench, a carved door used as a table (!!!), and the full effect of all the pillows and patterns:

Moroccan Seating

And the always-present wine glasses. Of which I had too much on an empty stomach before lunch and photos got fuzzy after awhile.

Just a pile of posts against a wall. I liked the composition. Or maybe this was because of the wine. Whatever. Enjoy:

Posts in Moroccan Artists Colony

I have a pile of wood posts leaning against our house in the backyard right now, and I assure you, it definitely doesn’t have any artistic effect. So I say appreciate this — it’s not easy to make a pile of posts look attractive!

A little eclectic composition of things:

Garden Composition in Moroccan Artist Colony

I’d like to create this effect with some old things just lying around my living room. But in my hands, they might look like things that I was too lazy to move down to the basement, so there they sit.

Pots. Wall. Window grates. Each by themselves, no big deal. But together, a stunning combo, I think:

Moroccan Style

All these pieces added up to an inspiring creative space. It’s a big place – we got a tour through many indoor and outdoor rooms and this is just a glimpse. What stands out to me are the contrasts, the textures, the collections, the colors. You can take bits and pieces of ideas and weave them into your own space.

Because there’s too much to capture in photos, here is a video with the founder. It shows scenes of the compound and art through to the end, and you get a good idea of the place:





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It’s Happening! Making the India pied-à-terre Habitable

I’m writing from Chennai, India, where we’ll be for the next two weeks working on our apartment here. It’s gritty right now. As construction always is. It’s like cleaning — things get way worse before they look great. And in the apartment, the mess is on a massive scale, with dust and wood splinters and paint splatters and an occasional electrical cord and saw strewn about on the floor. Yeah, watch for the saws when you’re walking on the floor in your bare feet. In India, you’re always walking in homes in bare feet. And I work in safety as a profession! I tried to keep up with keeping the environment safer, but it’s really hard to keep up with 8-10 men making a massive mess. Here’s a peek:

I apologize for committing the cardinal video sin of holding my phone vertical. It’s what makes most sense though!

In keeping with the grittiness of the apartment right now, here’s some gritty scenes during our runs for supplies, paint, hardware and occasional food …

This is a scene down the street and around the corner from our apartment, maybe 5 minutes away:

Street Scene in Chennai, India

We passed that serene goat scene while bearing brackets to brace the bathroom counters, which will be made of Burmese teak. Of course everyone is freaking out about using wood in the bathroom. Boats are built of wood. I’m sure it will be fine when properly treated.

Pretty shapes and colors found during a foray for wood skirting contractors:

Chennai India

Grille in Chennai India

Buying wood skirting can be treacherous to your pocketbook. One contractor wanted to charge 3x the rate of another contractor that we originally visited. But we couldn’t remember the original contractor at the time. Thankfully we found paperwork and we found the original contractor. And not only were they a fraction of the other guy’s cost, they came up with a linear foot estimate when they measured our apartment that was 2/3 the estimate of the more expensive contractor!

Across the street there was a “stick no bills” sign, so they were stuck over here:

Poster Remnants in Chennai India

Street numbers change, and you will often see “old” and “new” numbers:

Chennai India Street Numbers

A painter’s ladder in our apartment. And more of that blue, because these are the guys painting it:

Painters Ladder in Chennai India

There won’t be much blue in our apartment — for now it is all bright white. More coming soon about paint, because I’m all about the paint!

 





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