CULTURE

Casbah Confidential: Serge Lutens


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Photographer: Patrice Nagel

Located in the heart of Marrakech’s medina, Serge Lutens’ house contains several sitting rooms like this one. Lutens designed virtually everything here, including the wall and ceiling carvings, the mosaics, the lamps and the pattern on the velvet banquettes. “You could call it an obsession,” says Lutens of the house, which has been under construction for the past 35 years.

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Photographer: Patrice Nagel

As massive and magnificent as the house is, Lutens, who is famously reclusive, has shown it to hardly anyone. In fact, he doesn’t even sleep in it; he spends most of his time in a small studio outside of town. The house “chased me out,” he says. Here, a dining room, in which he never dines. The works on the wall are by Paul Jouve; the table is Lutens’ design.

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Photographer: Patrice Nagel

The entrance to Lutens’ laboratory, where he sometimes does research for his fragrances, many of which are inspired by the musks and spices of Morocco. For the intricate Moorish patterns on the walls and ceilings, Lutens drew inspiration from medieval North African designs he found in books.

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Photographer: Patrice Nagel

Serge Lutens in a courtyard with his chief houseman, Rachid. At one point Lutens had more than 500 people working on the house. “I felt like the director of the pyramid at Cheops,” he recalls.

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Photographer: Patrice Nagel

The main patio is planted with brigmansia, tuberose and datura. Botanical influences are prominent in Lutens designs for the house, as well as in his fragrances. “The real great perfumers are not perfumers,” Lutens says. “They are the bees, the winds, the rivers and other things that carry and mix scents in space.”

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Photographer: Patrice Nagel

A doorway on the roof terrace.

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Photographer: Patrice Nagel

The office, with a Paul Jouve drawing and a pair of 19th century Syrian chairs that Lutens found at a Paris antiques shop. Now that the house is mostly complete, Lutens is tempted to abandon it forever and move to a small, Spartan maid’s room somewhere. His friend Anjelica Huston doesn’t find the idea so far-fetched. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Serge’s next home were a little yurt,” she says.

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Photographer: Patrice Nagel

In another sitting room, the walls are lined with Lutens’ collection of antique Berber artifacts, including fibulae, the ornate silver clothing fasteners that he started buying by the dozens. “Soon every antique dealer in Morocco knew Serge was looking for fibulae,” says Lutens’ associate Patrice Nagel. “So they scoured the country for more—and sold them at a huge markup, of course.”

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Photographer: Patrice Nagel

Another sitting room, with works from Lutens’s Orientalist collection.

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Photographer: Patrice Nagel
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Photographer: Patrice Nagel
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Photographer: Patrice Nagel

A closer look at the fibulae and antique Berber jewelry in Lutens’ collection.

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Photographer: Patrice Nagel
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Photographer: Patrice Nagel

Throughout the house, there are stained glass windows inspired by medieval Moorish designs. Lutens was fixated on getting every detail right: It took a team of 10 workers about seven years to complete one tiny room, a domed sitting area next to the hammam. He wonders whether, like a writer who’s terrified of finishing his novel, he has sometimes invented excuses to stave off the project’s inevitable end. “There are times where you just have to be completely occupied,” he says, “otherwise you fall apart.”