As you know, I love all things fa-shun. If you've ever stumbled across my Instagram Stories you'll know that I'm a bona fide shopaholic. In fact, I'm positively obsessed; especially all things handmade and beautifully crafted. So, when I discovered ML by Marrakshi Life — a local label (located in the industrial zone of Marrakech) producing modern iterations of kaftans, jumpsuits and robes in gorgeous colour ways — I was immediately hooked.
First thought: "What do you have in my size and can I try it on?" Upon discovering that each piece is hand-loomed in that very atelier by local artisans: "I'll take everything. And, do you accept VISA?"
The damage — scratch that, "investment" — from my first visit to ML: A super comfortable (not to mention, covetable) green drawstring jumpsuit; a relaxed pyjama top in marine blue (nightwear for daywear is vibing, kids); this stunning taupe kaftan with grey stripes (which I wear belted, kinda like Jesus); a bright citrus orange lab coat for an easy punch of colour (also has slit pockets to let you access your trousers); and a flowing off-white robe with sunshine yellow stripes (for a whole lot of drama). And can I just say: Packed this ML stash to the recent SS18 fashion shows in Milan and Paris. Street style fodder. Win.
Amidst my shopping raid at the ML atelier in Marrakech, I pulled founder and designer Randall Bachner aside for a little chat. Find out why Randall left his life as a fashion photographer in New York City to start Marrakshi Life, the inspiration behind his ML collections and, also, what he expects to be the best-sellers on his recently launched e-commerce site. That's right folks, you don't have to trek all the way to Morocco for these goods — they're now available online.
Shut. The. Front. Door.
Why did you decide to leave your life in New York for Marrakech? I lived in New York City for 23 years working as a fashion photographer before I moved to Marrakech. From all my travels for fashion assignments, my favorite places were Cape Town and Portland, Oregon, but I couldn't figure out what I would do in these locations. In 2012, I visited Marrakech and it was a sensory overload: The light, the rich culture, the labyrinth of the medina, and the technique of hand-weaving. There was this tradition of making hand-loomed textiles yet I did not see it being interpreted with good quality materials and, aesthetically, the designs weren't appealing to me. I was very determined to get back there and start a fashion line. So, in 2013, after a failed relationship I found my window of opportunity and started my company, Marrakshi Life.
What does 'Marrakshi Life' mean? A "Marrakshi" is a person living in Marrakech who exhibits a sort of relaxed pyjama-wear lifestyle. Mixing stripes and colours with ease and confidence. I think you can easily see how this applies to our fashion label, ML by Marrakshi Life. It's all about relaxed style and comfortable garments that can be worn in or out of the bedroom, mixed and matched.
How did you start your fashion line, ML? Literally ML was built one thread at a time, as we like to say. First I met Mohamed Zerhloul, a local Marrakshi guy with a background in engineering, a cool attitude, and a handle on spoken English. I needed his full-time assistance to not only navigate my way around Marrakech, but also to communicate and source everything from weavers to tailors, from materials to a studio space. I needed my local "in". Little by little, he started to understand what I was trying to achieve, and at the same time, learnt about the weaving and tailoring processes. In 2016, I joined forces with my friend Jessica Valin to officially launch ML the brand, as well as the online shop.
How does your background in fashion photography help you with your design process? I can visualise a piece before it has been produced. I can imagine how it will translate in a photograph. From there I have the fabric woven and the garment tailored. It is a very organic process for me.
And each piece is hand-loomed in Marrakech... Yes! Every piece is hand-loomed in our Marrakech atelier. We currently have eight looms and 16 weavers; soon we will grow to 16 looms and 32 weavers. There is a tradition of weaving throughout all of Morocco so finding weavers isn't really that difficult. The problem is they tend to be older. Our goal is to make weaving "cool" again and attract younger weavers.
What do you consider first when designing a collection? For me it starts with the fabrics. We have so many possibilities considering we make all of our fabrics. So my ideas come from the creation of the weave. We work with simple styles for the garments, and generally repeat the styles, but with variations of colour ways and stripes. Always stripes. We are also constantly developing new styles and testing them in the atelier. We add a new piece to the collection as and when we feel it really fits into the story. It's important that the pieces be unisex and easy-to-wear — no-fuss garments. We love the jumpsuit and are currently working to develop more variations of this style.
Tell us about your latest ML Mariner and ML Desert collections. What was the inspiration for your pieces? My inspiration comes from my travels and trying to make pieces using handcraft techniques, but without feeling ethnic. Pieces that can be appreciated in urban settings by a stylish and contemporary audience.
Who is your demographic? What types of people buy ML? We appeal to a very "in the know" client. Ones who are very up-to-date with fashion and brands, yet want something that feels special; not mass-produced. Our customers appreciate the process that goes behind each piece they purchase and respect the time and care that went into making it.
Are all your pieces unisex or do you design a men's and women's line? It's an all unisex concept. In this day and age, even skirts and dresses can cross boundaries.
What do you expect to be your best-sellers on your newly launched e-commerce site? I expect the robes and kaftans to be top-sellers, as well as our jumpsuits and drop-crotch trousers — they should be a hit.
Where would you like to see Marrakshi Life in 5 years time? Ideally, I would love to see a free-standing store in Paris and LA! That would be our dream come true.