Some things about Marrakech, the crown jewel of Morocco, are tried and true. There’s La Mamounia, an opulently appointed resort where everyone from Winston Churchill to the Kardashians have stayed. There’s Villa Oasis, Yves Saint Laurent’s former vacation compound, and the medina, a terra-cotta-toned throng of shops where Westerners who think they can bargain routinely end up overpaying. And there’s the Agafay Desert, where brides-to-be and birthday celebrants navigate Mars-like terrain on camels. (If you’re unlucky, yours might growl like an espresso machine and try to buck you off. A shepherd recently told a rattled rider that her camel was “depressed” because of “marital issues.” )
But over the past five years, monied tourists have sought out something new in Marrakech: the up-and-coming industrial district, which is a 20-minute drive from the city’s main drag. Savvy locals call the district Sidi Ghanem. Post-pandemic, bougie bohemians are flocking to it.
Nestled between shops for tires and motorcycle parts are gems such as LRNCE (pronounced “Lawrence”), a ceramics-and-textiles store whose sumptuous fabrics and Miró-like prints are a collaboration between the Belgian designer Laurence Leenaert and local artists. Nearby are Owl, a purveyor of caftans that would look equally appropriate in the medina or Majorca, Be the Souk, which sells home goods made by local artisans, and Marrakshi Life, which sells two-piece sets that can take you from souk to Zoom.
“It’s the SoHo of Marrakech,” says Bilal El Hammoumy, the founder of Inclusive Morocco, a bespoke travel agency that caters to high-net-worth individuals and high-profile tourists such as David and Victoria Beckham, Lily Allen, and the Malaysian and Saudi royal families. “Fixed prices, emerging designers—it’s for people who have good taste.” As well as cash to burn. Visits to the industrial-district studios of the artists Larbi Cherkaoui and Hicham Bellaghzal were among the highlights of a nine-day trip El Hammoumy organized for members of the Sackler family in 2021.
“A regular traveler would explore the medina and not even realize that there’s a design district in Marrakech,” says El Hammoumy.
Artists began moving into the area in the early aughts as rents in Gueliz, Marrakech’s French neighborhood, skyrocketed. El Hammoumy credits Marrakech Biennale, the art fair founded in 2004 by Abel Damoussi and Vanessa Branson, Sir Richard’s sister, for putting the district on the map of trend-seeking collectors. “We’ve seen a huge uptick in interest from high-net-worth tourists since 2019,” he says. “My clients have spent as much as $54,000 on a piece of art that they’ve found in the industrial district.”
A shepherd recently told a rattled rider that her camel was “depressed” because of “marital issues.”
With an influx of tourists, foreign influence on the district is inevitable, says Fatim-Zohra Bennani Bennis, the owner of MCC, a contemporary-art gallery. She explains that some artisans are concerned that “an overload of exposure to tourists might kill its uniqueness and turn it into another commercial hot spot.” That’s one of the reasons El Hammoumy doesn’t bring all of his clients there.
See, for example, a peculiar challenge the notorious Sackler family presented for El Hammoumy. “Their children had a diet where they could only have one of the rarest caviar types for breakfast,” he says. While popular tourist destinations can accommodate those types of demands, internationally sourced delicacies like caviar aren’t common in the industrial district.
Going from Sidi Ghanem to the next destination requires careful planning, too. “High-net-worth individuals are very focused on time,” he says. “Rarely will you find a H.N.W. that will accept an eight-hour car ride to Fès or the desert.” (The solution: a helicopter.)
Consider, if you will, the prospect of soaring over the Atlas Mountains at dawn in a private hot-air balloon. “We had planned such a trip for a H.N.W. who said, ‘How am I going to have breakfast if I’m on a balloon?’ He didn’t want to wait until 9 or 10 a.m., when he’d be back on the ground,” says El Hammoumy. “The solution was to send a butler up who could serve him breakfast in the air. It wasn’t just a croissant and coffee—it was omelets, cutlery, freshly squeezed orange juice.”
You need not spend six figures to make the most of a Moroccan holiday. A beach-ready tote bag from LRNCE costs the equivalent of $30 and is proven to elicit oohs and aahs of approval. “Much of Marrakech is quite historic,” says El Hammoumy. “The medina gives you a sense of entering a different world, but the industrial neighborhood is a place where the old meets the new. It shows you where our country is going.” On the up-and-up, as it were.
“There’s room for all sorts of clients and creative spaces in the industrial district,” says Rebecca Wilford, the founder of Hamimi, which makes sumptuous leather bags and macramé lamps. “But this is a part of town where it’s not super-easy to get around. You need someone to take you from one place to the next. It’s not obvious, and that’s what’s so special about it.”
Sheila Yasmin Marikar is a Los Angeles–based writer