14. September 2019
“It can be an interesting and beautiful thing in life that we rarely end up where we imagined.”
We ran into Meryanne by chance in the Plus 61 restaurant on the evening before our planned shoot in Marrakesh, and persuaded her to join The White Cube Art Project. This creative free spirit bubbles over with charisma, irresistible to everyone she meets. Dressed from top to toe in her favorite shade of yellow, she glows like the sun and remarks that the color has played an important role throughout her life. ”It reminds me of Mexico where I met my husband. It feels joyful, comfortable and it has the energy of the sun, so we chose yellow for Jnane Tamsna too.”
Meryanne Loum-Martin is the living embodiment of the philosophy that “the journey itself is the destination.” Originally a lawyer in Paris, she fell in love with Marrakesh, a city where cultures come together. In this respect it is an echo of herself; her parents are from Senegal and the West Indies, she grew up in Paris, and has lived in New York, Buenos Aires and Mexico.
Despite her powerful will, Meryanne also has a soft, warm side to her. She pours her whole passion into everything she does. With no qualifications in architecture or interior design, in 1985 she nevertheless took on the task of designing a holiday home for her parents in Marrakesh … and kickstarted a whirlwind of change. The international media scrambled to publish photos and features of the house, David Bowie and Giorgio Armani clamored to rent it for their vacations (to name just two of the many celebrities that fell under its spell), one thing led to another, and she began to design more and more houses in the country.
Since 2011 she has been the heart and soul of Jnane Tamsna, a timelessly elegant luxury fivevilla boutique hotel complex in Palmerie in Marrakesh. Her husband, Dr. Gary Martin de-signed the fiveacre gardens; an expert in herbalism, he can even create love potions. A thrilling relationship! Meryanne looks after her guests as tenderly as friends, welcoming them by name and familiar with their stories; the hotel feels like being in a private home. In her own Interior Store, Meryanne sells carefully curated pieces she sources from all over the world and designs her own furnishings and living accessories, every one a covetable must-have.
With daughter Thais, a successful photographer and writer, and Roberta Annan, the man-ager of a new fund called IFFAC, Impact fund for African Creatives, Meryanne has set up the platform Afreeculture with the aim of presenting creative talent from the African diaspora to an international audience while also building networks.
Laurèl: Meryanne, you decided to join our project very spontaneously, just one evening in advance. Are you always that quick at making your decisions? Are you more guided by your heart or your mind?
Meryanne: I always make decisions fast and my heart is definitely what drives me. I landed in Marrakech on December 27th 1985 on a trip from Paris and upon getting out of the plane, I knew this place will change my life. I met my husband on August 13th 1986 and the same day I thought if I ever get married it has to be to this man… And becoming a part of your wonderful project was a no brainer, too! You seemed all so nice… How could I not accept?
Laurèl: How did you feel standing in the white cube alone?
Meryanne: It was almost like a spiritual experience because it has a special light.
Laurèl: On set you told us you wore Laurèl 40 years ago in Paris. Can you remember your first collection piece?
Meryanne: I grew up in the 16th arrondissement and there was a Laurel Shop rue de Passy. I remember an orange sweater and also something in beige, but it was 40 years ago…
Laurèl: Why did you move to Marrakech and how has your life changed, especially compared to living in Paris? How does the city feel?
Meryanne: In Marrakech, anything is possible if you have a creative mind. Compared to my Parisian life, here it is much more cosmopolitan, bohemian and fun. I came because I was always interested in architecture and interior and my parents asked me to design a holiday home for them there in 1986. To my astonishment, my work was published in magazines all over the world in the coming years. It was booked months in advance, hosting many famous international guests. So step by step I left my life as a lawyer in Paris and moved to Marrakech to do more interior design projects, amongst them also my present boutique hotel Jnane Tamsna.
Laurèl: You are now the true heart of the Jnane Tamsna. What do you enjoy most about being a hotelier/host to world travelers?
Meryanne: I meet wonderful people all year long. My job is to help them create memories of a lifetime. That alone is a pure blessing. Also, the people I meet are happy and on holidays whilst as a lawyer you meet people who are stressed and expect that you will solve their problems. In our stressed world, witnessing the happiness of people is a true privilege.
Laurèl: What was the most interesting person you ever met?
Meryanne: The list is too long to mention single individuals. It goes from Hollywood stars to European royals, from business tycoons, to brilliant writers, journalists or historians and to simply extraordinary people whose name just does not appear in the press. To me, all of them are special and I treat them all as friends. Sometimes at dinner it even feels like a nice and beautiful house party. They have in common that they are beyond social status. Whether they flew private or saved money for two years to go on holiday – they are not attracted to ostentatious luxury. They want timeless style, refined architecture, they love gardens, nature, organic food, seeing the vegetables and herbs go from the garden to their plates.
Laurèl: How and where did you grow up?
Meryanne: My family is very cosmopolitan. We mainly lived in Paris and London, but my mother’s roots are West Indian and my father’s family is from Senegal. They met in Paris Law School at La Sorbonne. My father’s work made our family travel a lot until I was 13, when we settled in Paris for good. Growing up like that, my life has always been about traveling. Aged 18, I would spend all summers alone in Brazil, on internships as I had perfectly learnt the language. I also had many friends in Germany and went to Munich a lot. After my law degrees in Paris, I lived and worked in New York for two years. My interests have always been diverse so I guess that it made for an unconventional life from the beginning.
Laurèl: Interior design is your passion. What makes a house a special home?
Meryanne: Paintings, drawings and books are personal items that tell a story, added with antiques and stylish, yet comfortable furniture pieces. That is how I get a sense of the person living in an apartment. In my opinion, great style does not have to be expensive. Living in NY in a small one bedroom in Chelsea, I had very little means, but my apartment looked fabulous. I went to the Salvation Army and found a chest for 80 USD, which looked like taken from a Ralph Lauren luxury advertisement, and I brought my favorite rug from Paris. My dinner parties had flowers, scented candles and home-cooked food – these evenings were very sophisticated with little means!
Laurèl: How do you find and select items for your store?
Meryanne: I design objects and furniture myself together with very good craftsmen that I ac-quainted over the years. Plus I curate antiques that I find in Morocco mostly. I also work with a few painters and artists, whose works I sell.
Laurèl: There a so many individual treasures. Do you have a favorite story about an item you sold?
Meryanne: One painting was being bought by a famous actor. He told me his assistant would be in touch, but she turned out to be so unpleasant that after a couple of emails I told her it was not for sale anymore. A month later, a very distinguished gentleman came along and told me never to sell it, because one day my children would be very happy. He turned out to be a world famous art advisor and I discovered that I had a true gem with very high value.
Laurèl: You are a collector yourself, but at the same time you say there is no belonging you couldn’t give away. So from time to time you put pieces in your own shop for sale. How does it feel to let go of these things?
Meryanne: Most of the things I sell are unique, so naturally it sometimes breaks my heart… I am a really bad business woman ! And yes, there are things I would never sell, because the history or link to it is too strong.
Laurèl: What has been your best investment so far?
Meryanne: Letting myself go with my instinct about Marrakech, 30 years ago and discovering that it was the right place for me.
Laurèl: It is all about yellow in your life. Why did you choose this as your favorite color and how do you feel wearing yellow?
Meryanne: We painted our hotel yellow instead of Marrakechs typical pink-beige. It felt natu-ral to paint it like that because it reminded us of Mexico where we met. It then became our signature color. Just recently, I started wearing yellow myself. It feels joyful, zen, comfortable and most importantly it has the energy of the sun.
Laurèl: Tell us about how your relationship with your husband affects your work. How do you inspire each other?
Meryanne: We come from totally different backgrounds. My ancestors were extraordinary personalities, on the French West Indian side. They took the step from being a freed slave to becoming a lawyer in only one generation, becoming elected to the French Congress in Paris, writing the laws of France with the most brilliant minds of the time. My husband’s ances-tors came to the United States on the second boat after the Mayflower. The diversity of origins made our relationship rich and unique. It is about co-existence instead of no-existence.
Laurèl: How would you sum up the mission of your new project “afreeculture”?
Meryanne: With Roberta Annan, the manager of a new fund called IFFAC, Impact fund for African Creatives, I created this platform to host social events celebrating the brilliance of the African diaspora creativity and what it brings to the world. This yearly event in Marrakech is to be attended by people from all continents.