When King Mohammed VI of Morocco unveiled Royal Mansour in 2010 he established far more than just another luxury hotel in Marrakech. The effort of 1,200 local artisans, the dazzling hotel with its four-ton bronze-covered entry gate, zellige tiles and rose gold leaf ceilings is the ultimate homage to traditional Moroccan design. On the other side of town, in the heart of the medina, Serge Lutens, the famously reclusive French perfurmer, has been quietly creating his own tribute to Moroccan craftsmanship.
Lutens fell under Morocco’s spell after a trip in 1968 and credits walks through the medina of Marrakech with helping him rediscover the fifth sense. Since the 1970s, he’s called Marrakech home, crafting cult scents like Féminité du Bois and Ambre Sultan from his laboratory in the medina. During that time, he’s been toiling on another masterwork, one that rivals Royal Mansour in its exquisite attention to detail. Lutens has purchased 60 riads surrounding his home and has spent four decades restoring them to create a nearly 2.5-acre sanctum of Moroccan artisanship.
His magical palace has remained largely hidden from the public eye, until now. Recognizing a close kinship, Royal Mansour recently partnered with the Serge Lutens Foundation to offer guests an exclusive opportunity to tour the perfumer’s dazzling home. Guests are picked up at the hotel in a vintage sidecar motorcycle, courtesy of Insiders Experience. Driver and guide Felix Mathivet masterfully navigates the narrow alleys of the medina en route to Lutens’ home and doubles as a translator during the palace tour. Every visit, he tells me, is a new experience as the project continues to evolve and grow. Often Lutens will finish a room only to have it torn down and redesigned. The home’s main courtyard, for example, has already been renovated three times and a closet-sized salon room ceiling covered in kaleidoscope-like gold and black geometric carvings took six years to complete.
Visitors won’t bump into Lutens as they wander the labyrinth-like halls. Instead, Rachid, the perfumer’s majordomo who has lived onsite for nearly two decades, acts as host. The visit feels like a trippy peak inside the mind of a creative genius. Lutens’ world is brought to life in each room, one more ornate than the other. He has personally designed every single detail, from the Moorish patterns on the walls to the filigree of each lamp. Seven generations of the country’s most distinguished artisans have been hired to realize his vision. At one point, he had more than 500 people working on the house. The entrance hall alone took 100 craftsmen two months to complete.
The intricacy and scale of the project makes it impossible to take everything in on a single visit. And no tour is ever the same. Sometimes guests wander inside Lutens’ laboratory, where he still does research for his fragrances. The traditional side of the home is complemented by a more personal side, with rooms dedicated to Lutens’ collections of antique Berber artifacts, including wedding belts and jewelry, and Orientalist artworks. A living room done up in black and deep purple hues could easily double as the lair of a James Bond villain, with fireplaces guarded by ominous cobra sculptures.
The tour ends with tea in one of the many cedar-scented salon rooms. A true artist, Lutens asks each visitor to leave a handwritten note expressing their impressions. The notes will be compiled into a book when the project is finally finished, eventually gifted to the government as a museum for all to experience.
$725 for two people by sidecar, which includes a donation to the Serge Lutens Foundation.