The Sullen Boredom of Jeans

Cover of David Baboulene's book 'Jumping Ships'

I've been reading Jumping Ships: The Global Misadventures of a Cargo Ship Apprentice by David Baboulene. The blurb describes him as "like a Bryson who has really played the field". However, Bill Bryson strikes me as cautious. I can't imagine him going for a run around an animals' watering-hole during the African sunset, "bereft of the basics for supporting life, and closer to nature, red in tooth and claw, than humans can advisably get". Closer, that is, to a nature where:

It wasn't just lions and leopards one had to fear in this part of the world. There were insects that could kill you! Plants that could maim! Spiders, snakes, crocodiles! Who knows what might drop out of a tree?! Even the dogs would tear you limb from limb — none of that 'nice-doggy-fetch-the-stickie-have-a-bonio' stuff around here. Just Death. This was nature with the roof off.

That was one misadventure Baboulene had, during a stop-over in Kenya while waiting for his ship to arrive. Another, which happened to him later while ashore in South Africa, was having to dress up as a nurse in order to escape from a nursing home. Which brings me to my title subject. Baboulene writes:

Now, I do not wish to make any statements here which could prejudice judgement or lead to awkward questions at some future date. We were all young once, and these things happen, but I have to admit that there was something — I don't know — intriguing about wearing Chevvy's clothes. I mean, I don't want to make a habit of it or anything, you understand, but it was a new experience in life's rich tapestry and it felt… soft. It was different from the sullen day-to-day boredom of men's jeans and T-shirts. There is a sensual side to women's clothes which we chaps are denied in our own wardrobes.

"… soft". I find it rather sad that Baboulene waited so long to experience this. The trousers I wrote about in my last post were very soft: as I said there, they're probably the most comfortable pair I've worn. Sensuality in both colour and texture is something the Moroccans seem extremely good at. And they don't restrict it to women.

Morocco Brought Me Colour: Silver

The trousers shown in these photos were, I have to admit, a slight mistake. I'd asked for grey velvet, but the nearest fabric the tailor could find turned out to be an intense silver. But they're the most comfortable trousers I've ever worn, and warm as well. The detail of pleats in the third photo shows the care that went into making them.

Silver velvet Moroccan qandrissi

Silver velvet Moroccan qandrissi

Silver velvet Moroccan qandrissi (detail of pleats)

Morocco Brought Me Colour: Orange

Still on trousers, but back to the topic of colours. This is a pair of orange velvet qandrissi, from "Fez":
Orange velvet Moroccan qandrissi

I've said that qandrissi are typically ¾ length. These, however, were made for me. Omar at Fez took my measurements to Tangier, where a tailor converted them into trousers. He knew that I wanted the legs to go down to my ankles.

Finally, let's contemplate some colour contrast. These orange trousers with the ice-blue shirt.
Orange velvet Moroccan qandrissi contrasted with ice-blue velvet Moroccan shirt


Sage-green velvet Moroccan shirt and blue qandrissi (worn at Russian Orthodox Bazaar in Oxford)
Photo: James Hyndman

In my last post, I said I'd explain the above image. I'm wearing the sage-green Moroccan shirt, and also a pair of Moroccan "qandrissi". These are baggy trousers with the crotch at the knee or a bit lower, usually heavily pleated, ¾ length, with the lower legs narrow and sometimes finished with button-up cuffs. I wore a suede waistcoat over the shirt: something about its relatively snug fit and the V and VV at top and bottom seemed to make a nice contrast with the volume of the trousers. Also, its colour was a nice bridge between the yellow-green and the blue.

Here's a detail from the photo, showing the pleats and cuffs — the latter just visible as a button on the right, and a loose thread dangling from a not-quite-visible button on the left.

Blue Moroccan qandrissi (detail of pleats, dart, and cuffs)
Photo: James Hyndman

The detail also shows: the two nested triangles making up the "Moroccan dart" at the end of the fly; seams where the lower-leg sections are attached; and seams showing the extent of the pockets. These are very conveniently deep, much more so than in conventional trousers. It's a nice habit in English villages that householders put boxes of windfall apples out for passers-by. I once walked home from a neighbouring village with a kilo of these, divided between my two pockets. The pockets' depth also means that keys and other valuables don't fall out: a security enhanced because the pockets often have zips.

The photo below is another pair, petrel-green, again showing the pleats:

Green Moroccan qandrissi
Photo: Paddy Summerfield

It's odd that none of the high-street brands have learnt from this. As well as having secure deep pockets, the trousers' loose fit makes them very very comfortable, and the cut means they don't wrinkle as easily as with our styles, so one can keep them smart for longer. The whole design is much better thought out.

Morocco Brought Me Colour: Violet

Plum velvet Moroccan shirt

Plum velvet Moroccan shirt (detail of embroidery)

Yet another colourful Moroccan top, from "Fez" once more. I subtitled this post "Violet" because I wanted to illustrate all the colours in Yves Saint-Laurent's "groupes impressionnants d’intensité, de relief, des hommes et des femmes où se mêlent des caftans roses, bleus, verts, violets". It's maybe better to call it plum.

Morocco Brought Me Colour: Pink

Rose-pink velvet Moroccan shirt
Rose-pink velvet Moroccan shirt (back view)

Here is a rose-pink crushed-velvet shirt. Like most of my Moroccan clothes, I bought it from "Fez", 71 Golborne Road London. Run by Omar Serroukh and family, the shop sells clothes, carpets, furniture, pottery, shoes and gifts. Some of the clothes I'm showing were specially bought for me by Omar, and some he arranged to be made by tailors in Tangier, so you won't find them in the shop. But ask, because he may be able to find something similar next time he travels to Morocco.

Morocco Taught Him Colour

In my next few blog posts, I'm going to show off some Moroccan clothes, because I love their vivid colours. I'm not the only one. Here are three quotes by Yves Saint-Laurent:

A visit to Marrakech was a great shock to me. This city taught me color.
In Morocco, I realized that the range of colors I use was that of the zelliges, zouacs, djellabas and caftans. The boldness seen since then in my work, I owe to this country, to its forceful harmonies, to its audacious combinations, to the fervor of its creativity. This culture became mine, but I wasn't satisfied with absorbing it; I took, transformed and adapted it.
At every street corner in Marrakech, one stumbles upon striking groups of men and women, appearing as if in relief: pink, blue, green and violet caftans blending with one another. One is surprised that these groups, which seem drawn or painted and evoke sketches by Delacroix, are in fact spontaneous arrangements of everyday life.

I first came across all three on the web. But disappointingly, none of the pages indicate when or where Yves Saint-Laurent said them. And I'd like to know. Why did he write or say them? Was he keeping notebooks, or were these casual utterances to friends? Or are the quotes "Chinese whispers", not really what YSL said at all?

Well, in a sense, they're not what he wrote or said, because presumably he'd have done so in French. So what are the original French versions? Googling possible translations, I found these:

J'ai découvert Marrakech très tard et ça a été un choc extraordinaire. Surtout pour la couleur. Cette ville m'a amené la couleur.

(La visite de Marrakech a été un grand choc pour moi, cette ville m'a appris la couleur.)

(Quand j'ai découvert Marrakech, ce fut un choc extraordinaire. Cette ville m'a appris la couleur.)

(Avant Marrakech, tout était noir. Cette ville m'a appris la couleur, et j'ai embrassé sa lumière, ses mélanges insolents et ses inventions ardentes.)

Au Maroc, je me suis rendu compte que la gamme de couleurs que j'utilise était celle des zelliges, des zouacs, des djellabas et des caftans. L'audace observée depuis lors dans mon travail, je le dois à ce pays, à ses harmonies énergiques, à ses combinaisons audacieuses, à la ferveur de sa créativité. Cette culture est devenue la mienne, mais je ne l'ai pas simplement absorbée; Je l'ai prise, transformée et adaptée.
À chaque coin de rue, à Marrakech, on croise des groupes impressionnants d'intensité, de relief, des hommes et des femmes où se mêlent des caftans roses, bleus, verts, violets. Et ces groupes qu'on dirait dessinés et peints, qui évoquent les croquis de Delacroix, c'est étonnant de se dire qu'ils ne sont en fait que l'improvisation de la vie.

The first, I found in "La dernière déclaration d'amour d'Yves Saint Laurent: Une exposition consacrée au grand couturier et à son attachement pour le Maroc se tient au musée de Majorelle jusqu'au 18 mars prochain.", Le Matin, 26 November 2010. YSL apparently said this in a documentary broadcast during an exhibition in the Majorelle museum.

That seems the most likely French original — not least, because Le Matin presumably checks its facts. But I did find three other possible versions, which I've put in small. One was from "'Perspectives of Life' par Christine Mignon" by "Eric", Hipstography, 26 February 2018. One was in Newsletter 3 of the Académie du Luxe. And one turned up in a page for the Four Seasons Resort, Marrakech. No indication from any of these about when or where their versions were said.

The second quote, about the zelliges, zouacs, djellabas and caftans, I found a French version of in "YSL: ouverture prochaine des deux musées en sa mémoire" by Anne-Sophie Castro, FashionUnited, Friday 9 June 2017, amongst other pages. Several of these — including "Yves Saint Laurent, citoyen de Marrakech" by Leïla Slimani for l'Express 5 June 2008, and "Ouverture du musée YSL" at Madame à Marrakech — write that YSL said it in 1983.

And the third, the pinks, blues, greens and violets, turns up in various places, including Yves Saint-Laurent by Laurence Benaïm, Yves Saint-Laurent, l'enfant terrible by Sandro Cassati, and "1966: La découverte du Maroc", a web page for the Musée Yves Saint Laurent in Paris. The first book attributes it to Le Monde 8 December 1983, if I understand correctly.

So all three quotes were probably spoken during interviews. Anyway, my next few posts will feature some Moroccan pinks, blues, violets and greens.