Leather, a Moroccan passion

Leather, a Moroccan passion

People have been involved in leather-working for eons, adapting it into whatever their hearts desired. A ‘living, breathing’ material that the passage of time renders even more beautiful, leather has been inexorably linked with Morocco since the XIVth century when Europeans fell head over heels with the exceptional workmanship of our craftsmen, even going so far as calling the goods fashioned leather as “Maroquinerie”.

It’s impossible to pinpoint the date when the leather-working actually began in Morocco. One thing for certain though, by the IXth century, leather goods were being made throughout the Kingdom for export primarily to Baghdad and the Middle East. Clothing, harnesses, furniture, oriental slippers, bags and magnificent book blinding…Leather lends itself to a myriad of purposes, with its softness and hardwearing nature turning every item into a delight. Different hides, different applications in line with the leather own particular characteristics: the softness of lamb leather for clothing manufacture; thicker cow skin leather for bags, coats and oriental slippers, and finally the more hardwearing nature of goatskin perfect for pouffes and leather cushions.
moroccan slippers princess

Leather working techniques are becoming more refined, as is creativity with leather. Embroidery, cutting/tooling…The ingenuity of craftsmen/women seems limitless with different towns specializing in certain skills: Marrakech for color embroidery detail and fine leather straps, horse and camel saddles and harnesses; Fez for gilding leather and Rabat for embossed leather.

Even now Fez and Marrakech still boast their tannery districts with dyeing vats and industrious tanners providing an extraordinary and timeless snapshot of their activities. Nevertheless, these craftsmen have also understood the importance of being open to new trends and influences, swinging from tradition and authenticity to assimilate contemporary developments in their endeavours.

Nowadays the softness and durability of leather has the bonus of sophisticated execution and boundless creativity applied to the adornment of pouffes, cushions, bags and oriental slippers with a thousand and one subtle decorative details to delight and please the eye.

Even better, in Morocco as everywhere in the world, leather goods have crossed into the luxury market and fashion trends now have an impact on shape, colour and materials used in their manufacture.

No surprise then to sometimes lace-effect leather work or leather adorned with pearls or metal trimming…as in designer Frederique Birkemeyere’s pieces. Her unique collections of cosmopolitan, eclectic, and stylish outfits, jackets and coats in her “intensite nomade” boutique are a mirror image of this Marrakech native, a woman who is passionate about beautiful material and top quality workmanship. Attracted by the softness and beauty of leather and suede, she is collaborating with tanners to develop specific colours and ultra trendy materials like patent-leather.

A leather producer for many centuries, Morocco has tweaked its leather-working skills as time has gone by to suit the market. And although tourists continue in their droves to stuff their luggage with pouffes and colourful oriental slippers, Moroccan leather goods also have secured their niche in top fashion and accessory boutiques be they in the kingdom itself or abroad. Leather-working in Morocco therefore has a bright future ahead.

By Alicia Célerier