As of right now, July 2023, the Sundance catalog has chairs upholstered with saris. They have kantha stitches so they have texture. And of course they have the obvious things about saris – wild colors and pattern mixes!
They’re made with vintage saris, so they’re one-of-a-kind.
There’s a Sundance store within walking distance of our house, and I really should go. I miss the days when we got paper catalogs in the mailbox, and I’d sit in a comfy chair and flip through the pages, and dream. Clicking on online pages is NOT the same.
Speaking of the comfy chair … our chairs are great quality and were pricey nearly 20 years ago. But now they’re almost 20 years old. The feathers and down are squished. The upholstery mostly still looks good, but cat claws and vigorous vacuuming of fur took their toll in a few spots. I don’t intend to ever throw this furniture out, or put it on Craigs List or Facebook Marketplace. We bought quality construction. I don’t want to pay the cost now for that level quality. The chairs can always be re-upholstered. These Sundance chairs are making me imagine how we could re-do our chairs.
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:
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.
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:
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.
“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:
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:
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:
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.
Don’t those look like the same iron grilles that Talitha is peeking through in the photo above?
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.”
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.
So, I had always intended to help people around the world with microloans through an organization like Kiva. But as happens with many good intentions, I never did it. Well I did now. I came across Kiva and saw they are encouraging microloaning to female entrepreneurs right now, in a campaign for International Women’s Day. For only $25, you can help make a difference in a family’s life.
I decided to see if any women were doing the things I like to do, as the path to feed their families and educate their children. I browsed the Arts lending category at Kiva, and found women in Samoa who make fabric! It’s called Elei and they make it with paint, stencils and carved wood patterns! I contributed microloans ASAP. I hope the loans help make the business dreams of these women come true, for themselves and their families.
And that’s when I discovered the art of Elei fabric …
I learned that Elei fabric artisans often make stencils with old X-ray film. The stencil designs make wonderfully bold patterns, like these pillows from JO’LI Elei Designs:
In the U.S., we don’t usually wear our hopes, dreams and wishes on our clothes. Well, except for when you want your sports team to win! We don’t weave talismans and protections into our fabric, even when we feel vulnerable to things that affect us. Should we? There is a way to do it without being obvious. Like, you don’t have to print “I want the winning lottery ticket” on a T-shirt. You can use symbols to tell your story. And the combination of symbols can be beautiful. We can learn from how other cultures weave meaningful stories into their fabrics, like the Adinkra cloth of Ghana.
The black patterns are printed, and the colorful areas are made with embroidered threads. Here’s a close-up of the cloth from Hamill Gallery, so you can see the print and embroidery:
Adinkra cloths have caught my eye for awhile — the lively mixes of patterns! — and I got curious to learn more and do a post about them.
These symbols are from the Akan culture in Ghana. They use these Adinkra symbols to decorate things like wood objects, pottery, jewelry and fabric. Traditionally these designs were reserved for the Asante kings, but now more people in Akan culture wear the cloth for important occasions.
Here you see that drawing a comb over the fabric creates lines:
Just like with the more popular mud cloth and kuba cloth, the symbols in Adinkra cloth have meanings, Some symbols represent more complex ideas like proverbs and folk tales, others show simple images like plants. Master artisans and elders know how to match the symbols into combinations that tell stories. From Aaron Mobley Heart of Afrika Designs, here is a chart showing the meanings of many symbols – click here or click on the image to open a bigger picture where you can read the words:
The symbols are pressed into cloth with ink and stamps. The stamps are carved from gourds:
Oh my! If I spotted these on the roadside while traveling through Ghana! From Flickr:
If you’d like to use these symbols, the graphics at Adinkra.org were made for you to use for personal, non-profit and educational purposes. Save them and open them in a graphics program. Create art and digital fabric designs. Print them and transfer the images onto fabric or wood. You can carve your own printing blocks in foam.
If you were to choose Adinkra symbols to tell the story of your life, or your hopes and wishes, which would you choose?
Right now, I would choose:
These symbolize things I’m dealing with right now:
Hardiness, Toughness, Perseverance
Unity, Human Relations
Yeah, heavy stuff. But I have some work to do to change some things in my life. I wonder what these symbols would look like if they were made into a cloth! Maybe we will see …
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