- Photography by Mr Antony Crook
- Styling by Mr Dan May, Style Director, MR PORTER
- Words by Mr Tom M Ford, Features Writer, MR PORTER
Flitting between topics such as illegal club nights, casual acquaintance Mr Damon Albarn, and the bar he designed in Le Marais, Paris - it's clear the Moroccan artist Mr Hassan Hajjaj has lived a little. And having inhabited creative fields spanning film, photography, design and art, it is no surprise that he lives and works in the unique setting of Riad Yima.
This vibrant creative hub was purchased in the heart of the Marrakech medina in 2002. Filled with iconic examples of his work, it's all mosaic designs, artisanal furniture and recycled art. "I'm inspired by the street and I try to create something contemporary that identifies with the Arab world, but feels international." An art gallery, boutique, studio and home, it's the physical culmination of a life lived to the full. And if you want to pop in - there's always a pot of mint tea on the go.
Born into a humble Moroccan family, Mr Hajjaj, who has exhibited his work in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, began making recycled objects as a small child. He has since moved on from toys and socks, but it's a basic concept that remains in his work - especially with the likes of his famous Coca-Cola crate seats. One can see why he is often compared to Mr Andy Warhol. "It was never a trendy thing - the whole recycled idea," he says. "It has crept into art in the past eight years, and some of it's amazing, but you can't use it. I like things you can use!"
Creating art out of everyday objects has not always been the sole focus of Mr Hajjaj - who is as entrepreneurial as he is creative. He moved to London aged 14, where music and fashion were his first major calling. He would put on soul and reggae club nights in Kentish Town basements, selling tickets in a shop filled with his friends' clothes. In the late 1980s, Covent Garden store Rap followed. "I was selling John Smedley, Levi's 501s - odd things that were a bit new to London. By 1987 I was selling the John Galliano diffusion range and Vivienne Westwood. I was doing styling, art shows, running clubs, and things changed from there."
The purchase of a friend's camera in the early 1990s saw him on a new creative path. My Rock Stars: Volume 1 - "guerrilla" street style shots shown at The Third Line gallery, Dubai in 2012 - is probably his most striking photography series, documenting different characters he has met over the years. "For me, I was part of a generation that had been moved around, and so had my friends. These people - they're not mainstream, but they inspire me." From underground musicians to his capoeira teacher - the subjects often wear clothes designed by Mr Hajjaj and the pictures are set in frames with brightly coloured mosaics and drinks brand patterns. "It's all my work together in one big pile. The repeated patterns are to do with the mosaics in Morocco. The big brands are easy to read - it shows how recognisable they are. Sometimes people don't even notice the people, which I like to play on."
Perhaps his most famous project to date, however, is the bar he designed in Paris. A friend suggested a one-year pop-up experiment, but Mr Hajjaj had other ideas. Opened in 2003 and named "Andy Wahloo" - it paid homage to the iconic US artist, and played on the Arabic for "I have nothing" (a fitting phrase for Mr Hajjaj's work). It became an award-winning Le Marais mainstay - remaining a stylish Parisian favourite for 10 years, before closing last year.
As you might expect, however, the glamour of Parisian nightlife is not something Mr Hajjaj likes to dwell on. Currently, his time is being taken up with a day-in-the-life documentary of a Marrakech henna girl he has been photographing for 15 years. Indeed, his passion for his city of birth seems endless. "Every day is full of action. Marrakech... it's organised chaos!"