Artemis Design Co.’s founder, Millicent Armstrong, works with artisans in Istanbul and Marrakech to create one-of-a-kind shoes, duffle bags, and wallets out of traditional kilim rugs. Which is why we love them so much—it’s all about that intersection between old-world beauty and contemporary lifestyle. They’re as much of a conversation piece as an accessory, and they’ve developed a cult following with men and women around the world. Millicent has spent the past few years visiting Marrakech to source materials for the collection, scouring the souks, meeting with local artisans, and soaking in the culture of the city. We sat down with the Marrakech insider to learn about her favorite Morocco memories and her go-to spots in the city.
How did the company start? What inspired you?
The idea for Artemis Design Co. was born on a trip to Istanbul in 2007. I saw and fell in love with carpet bags, shoes and all of the other accessories that were repurposed from the beautiful flat-woven textile. Several years later, while attending Interior Design school, I made my way back to Istanbul, found a small artisan workshop that was willing to work with me, and began production on my first run of products.
What first brought you to Marrakech?
I first travelled to Marrakech in order to meet with several artisan workshops who were making new products for Artemis. I’ve gone back every year since because I love it so much!
What time of year do you visit?
Usually we go in late winter or very early spring. We decide when we go based on when our products are in production. If I could choose freely what time of year I would go, I would think late April or sometime in September would be ideal.
What's your favorite part of being there?
The city just vibrates with energy and is brimming with life. Everywhere you turn there is something beautiful and exciting. The food is incredible. My mom and I call it “our happy place.” A lot of people dislike the “craziness” of walking around in the souks, but we thrive in it!
"In the Souks des Tapis, I have a friend who friend sells the most beautiful selection of rugs in the second stall on the left after the entrance from the Place des Epices."
What are your favorite restaurants in the city?
Le Jardin: This is a beautiful courtyard to enjoy a long lunch or dinner. I usually get the Lemon Tajine or couscous with vegetables (not just here, but everywhere I go). The cous cous is so delicious and different in Morocco... they take their couscous very seriously and it shows! The owner also has several other great spots in the Medina: Cafe des Epices and Nomad. I love all of their restaurants, but Le Jardin is the most beautiful.
La Ferme: Their beef Tanjia (not to be confused with Tajine), is one of the most delicious things I’ve eaten in Morocco. It’s a slow-cooked meat dish that’s so flavorful and it’s local and special to Marrakech.
Al Fassia: I don’t have a go-to order here, everything is wonderful!
Grande Cafe de la Poste: This place feels like something out of a Wes Anderson movie. Very chic, it’s where all of the writer/artist type expats hang out. It’s outside of the old city, you’ll need to take a cab to get there, but it’s not far. We always get the oysters from the Moroccan seaside village of Dahkla. Everything on the menu is delicious and classic French cuisine, with a little Moroccan flavor thrown in!
La Maison Arabe: Classic old-world Moroccan, just beautiful.
Chez Chegrouni: I absolutely love Moroccan avocado juice— I get it everyday when I’m there and this café overlooking Place Jemma El Fna (you get the best view of the action happening the square) is my favorite place to get it.
"The only thing that we always order are the oysters from the Moroccan seaside village of Dahkla."
Name the three best hotels in the city.
Jnane Tamsna is a little ways outside of the Medina and it is truly an oasis of exquisite luxury; La Mamounia—the bar there is so elegant—and Villa des Orangers.
Where’s the best shopping?
33 Rue Majorelle: One of my favorite stores, ever. They carry beautiful, local designers, and everything is very high quality.
The Souks: Right near the Place des Epices are a few men selling their hand carved wooden spoons, and other kitchen tools. They are carved from lemon wood and the quality is incredible! In the Souks des Tapis, I have a friend who friend sells the most beautiful selection of rugs in the second stall on the left after the entrance from the Place des Epices. And so many of the little babouche shops will have someone in there cobbling shoes that can make you a custom pair. Some of the shoemakers will have a lot of leather choices on hand, and you can even go to the leather market in the souk and pick something out to bring to him.
Kitane: A little tailor shop in the souk with beautiful clothing and linens. All of the trimmings are handmade, and the fabrics are high quality. You can also have something custom made for you—just have them take your measurements and give them a few days.
How about Museums?
Les Jardins Majorelles, and the YSL Museum next door are a must—but I would recommend getting there right when they open, and buying tickets to both places at the same time. This will allow you to skip the prohibitively long line that always forms at Jardin Majorelles. La Musee de la Photographie is also wonderful, and the Koranic School is fascinating.
Describe your version of a perfect day in Marrakech.
Breakfast: A beautiful breakfast in the sun on the rooftop terrace of our riad. Fresh squeezed orange juice, cafe au lait, local pastries, and delicious local honey and jams.
Morning: A stroll at the Jardin Majorelles, then shopping at 33 Rue Majorelle, a local and famous “concept shop” directly across the street. Then onto the Medina and the souks. I love just wandering aimlessly through the souks, taking in everything and appreciating the happy energy of the place.
Lunch: Lemon chicken Tajine and orange blossom creme brulee at Le Jardin, one of my favorite courtyard restaurants in the medina. We always bring notebooks and paint supplies to jot down favorite sites and memories.
Afternoon: Ready to hit the souks again. One of my favorite things to shop for is, no surprise, carpets!
Evening: We usually will go to a rooftop terrace for a glass of wine at sunset, or La Mamounia, for a cocktail in their famed bar. One of my favorite restaurants is in the modern city- Grande Cafe de la Poste. The only thing that we always order are the oysters from the Moroccan seaside village of Dahkla.
Any side trips you would recommend?
The best time I had in Morocco was road-tripping through the Anti-Atlas Mountains with my husband and visiting the seaside surf town of Mirleft. We stayed at the most beautiful hotel, the Dar Najmat, and it was incredibly peaceful. The vast beaches are otherworldly, and my husband had some of the best surfing sessions of his life there. We also loved driving to Sidi Ifni for the architecture (just a little further down the coast), and the actual drive through the mountains was breathtaking. There were mornings that we started driving through the fog, and then would come out of it, and be on top of the clouds, in the bluest sky with views on the other mountain peaks—so magical!
What do you always bring home with you?
Shaggy raffia lamp shades, Moroccan carpets, and the green lipstick that Morocco is famous for. We actually sell the green lipstick in the Artemis Bazaar now. It goes on clear, and turns into the most beautiful shade of pink when it warms up on your lips. I love it!
What brings back Morocco memories when you’re back in New York?
I picked up “Une Passion Marocaine”, by Pierre Berge at the YSL museum. I love the old images of YSL and their fabulous friends, handwritten text, and diary-like quality of the book. It is beautiful and captures the spirit of their time in Marrakech.
To you, Morocco is...
Happy, warm, exotic.