Jardin Majorelle, situated in the heart of Marrakesh, Morocco, is an iconic tourist attraction known for its vibrant blue buildings amid lush gardens and a cactus-strewn landscape. This remarkable oasis, with its striking cobalt or aquamarine hues, starkly contrasts the city’s palette of reds and browns. However, the colour, legally trademarked as ‘Majorelle Blue’ with the Moroccan Office of Industrial and Commercial Property, raises intriguing questions about the ownership of a colour deeply embedded in cultural heritage.
The story of Majorelle Blue traces back to Jacques Majorelle, a Frenchman who made Morocco his home during France’s Protectorate period. He constructed an estate with Moorish and Cubist architecture. He drew inspiration from the turquoise blues ubiquitous in traditional Moroccan design elements such as floor tiles, kasbah window edges, and Amazigh turbans. Over time, the garden estate transformed into a popular destination for those seeking a glimpse of its stunning beauty.
Majorelle sold the estate in the twilight of his life due to financial distress. It was later acquired and restored by Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Berge, with the Foundation Jardin Majorelle now overseeing public access. Before his death in 1962, Majorelle astutely trademarked the distinctive shade of blue that now bears his name. Comprising 37.65% red, 31.37% green, and 86.27% blue, ‘Majorelle Blue’ exemplifies how intellectual property laws enable individuals or corporations to monopolise colours associated with their brands, enhancing global recognition. However, these rights are protected country-by-country, allowing businesses to offer similar alternatives, such as Bristol Paints’ Ultramarine Blue, deemed a “very acceptable alternative” in Morocco.
The local response to Yves Saint Laurent’s trademark of Majorelle Blue is complex. While many acknowledge the global elevation of Maurice Moore’s name and legacy through its association with Moroccan culture, concerns remain about the implications for Moroccan artisans working in fashion or other crafts. The ubiquity of blue shades in traditional Moroccan crafts such as ceramic tiles and carpets – particularly indigo and ultramarine – raises questions about accessibility and exclusivity, potentially limiting people’s ability to purchase specific colours and prompting them to create unique hues.
Many Moroccan artists, such as Younes Laassouli, opt for alternative shades, claiming achieving the desired values through cobalt or Prussian tones is possible. Moreover, affordable Indigo dye powder produced by Indigofera tinctoria remains widely available, offering artists multiple options to circumvent reliance on supplies exclusive to Jardin Majorelle.
Moroccan visual artist Zakaria Ramhani shares similar views on Majorelle Blue, regarding the colour as an appropriation of ultramarine. He finds it peculiar for someone to claim ownership of a colour derived from nature, visible to all. Although Jardin Majorelle is a renowned tourist destination, Ramhani points out that “Majorelle was protected by colonisation” and that his work displayed little recognition or respect for local culture, portraying an Orientalist perspective with a singular focus on his particular shade of blue.