By Damali and Nii B. Andrews.
There is an etheral part of Marrakech that is only well known to the hard nosed, intrepid and dyed in the wool resident Marrachi/a or perchance a lucky visitor.
This niche world involves Moroccan perfume oils, kneaded incense balls, aromatic ghassoul, and absolutely mesmerizing scents from ornate hand carved boxes of cedar or thuya wood and exquisite geometric colored perfume bottles.
The smells include Muska aka Moroccan Musk, Ouds, Azahra or Orange Blossom and Sandalwood.
These scents will make your head spin, create excitement and take you on a pleasurable and intimate olfactory odyssey.
Even simply dousing your hands with rosewater from a handmade spindly antique metal container is a welcome coda to a fab meal of pastilla.
The best part is that these glorious perfumes are made using ancient indigenous techniques and knowledge with updates that respect and enhance tradition.
Time was when the master herbalists and healers of traditional and herbal medicine were in the Marrakech Medina. There one can still find exotic spices, incense and resins from Morocco, the Maghreb and far off lands.
Rare vintage Ouds exist, some with a value of USD1,000.00 for a mere few ounces; other wonderful and less expensive options enable us stay away from the more commercial (including Hermes) and ubiquitous (including Tom Ford) offerings.
Today, the torch bearer of this indigenous knowledge and craft is the renowned but self effacing Abderrazzak Benchaabane – an academic who gained his doctorate in botanical ecology from Semlalia Faculty of Sciences at Marrakech’s Cadi Ayyad University, Benchaabane is currently a Botany and Ecology professor at the University of Marrakech.
He is an excellent Garden Designer, Ethnobotanist, Perfumer, Teacher, Photographer, Writer, Garden Restorer and Publisher.
“My passion is a spiritual project, not a business project,” claims Benchaabane.
His first fragrance was created in 2001 at the request Yves St. Laurent.
It was a stunning success called Jardin Majorelle with striking blue packaging – referencing the enchanting world famous physical garden where Benchaabane had used his professional expertise to increase the total number of plant varieties from 120 to 325.
He next made a perfume called Soir de Marrakech which is a blend of amber, musk, vanilla, patchouli, jasmine, orange and lemon flowers.
“Soir de Marrakech is the ultimate expression of life in Marrakech”, says Benchaabane; the vibrant African city has always been a place of allure; the location of a thousand dreams.
His fragrance collection to date has grown to 10.
The NBA favorite is Mogador, a subtle blend of ambergris, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, cedar, thuya wood; a classic warm weather perfume – “a confluence of the trade winds, the aromatic riches of the forests ……..a work of alchemy.”
He describes the process as “Pure joy in creating my perfumes, sharing my dreams, emotions and love in a bottle. Just another facet of sharing the art of life here in Morocco!”
With the support of the city authorities, Benchaabane continues to promote public awareness on the importance of the garden in life, for the education and the protection of the environment.
How many cities in this world can boast of a Perfume Museum which provides an exceptional and unforgettable olfactory experience where everyone can personalize his perfume or her oil of hydration for massage?