When’s the last time you saw a supernova in the flesh? With her striking mane of copper hair and infuriatingly unblemished porcelain skin, Philomena Schurer-Merckoll quite literally glows no matter her environment, but particularly against the sunbaked terracotta tones of her adopted home of Morrocco. A wanderlust Londoner with a keen eye for design, her love affair with Marrakech began in the early noughties, where she quickly began cultivating a rich community of artists, craftsmen and tastemakers who have helped establish Marrakech as the vital design destination it is today. Her extraordinary Riad, which she opened in 2014 in the heart of the Medina, is perpetually abuzz with local artisans, contemporary creatives, and general bonhomie, a testament to her irrepressible warmth and passion for connecting like-minded souls. As she prepares to host a new Kundalini Yoga Retreat – the second of her ToRetreat experiences, which she launched last October with her first retreat in the Agafay desert – Philomena shares with La DoubleJ her favorite spaces and innovators in Marrakech that lift her spirits, nurture her creativity and help her feel truly “well.”
LA DOUBLEJ: You were raised in London, a far cry from the exoticism of Marrakech. What initially drew you to the city?
PHILOMENA SCHURER-MERCKOLL: I first came to Marrakech in 2005 as a family friend had bought a place here. Needless to say it was love at first sight and is my most committed relationship to date!
LDJ: What inspired you to not only stay but create your own (exquisite) Riad?
PSM: We actually found Riad Mena in that first week we came to visit Marrakech so it all happened very fast. It was clearly meant to be! The renovations which took seven years were a little less fast but luckily I did them together with Romain Michel Meniere – who now has his own heavenly hotel called Berber Lodge – so there was a lot of laughing amongst the pre exquisite disaster.
LDJ: You’re of German and Norwegian descent and have spent time living in Paris, Mexico City, New York and Berlin. How has this influenced your aesthetic and eye for design (if it has?)
PSM: I have been lucky enough to live in many different places and through this have been exposed to so much in terms of the people I have met, different cultures and aesthetics. The result is that my aesthetic is shaped by this idea of blending all of this over having one defined style. I think it’s the way of mixing that makes things most interesting and inspiring.
But in an architectural and interiors sense I do believe it is also very important to reflect a sense of place, in terms of respecting the traditional materiality and history, whilst still adding your own touch. At Riad Mena we used traditional materials such as tadelakt, cedar wood and limestone but added contemporary touches, creating our own kind of Moroccan mid Century Minimal vibe.
You’re a magnet for attracting and connecting some of the most incredible designers in Marrakech. What creatives are currently on your radar or whose work are you simply crazy about?
I have been very lucky in Marrakech to meet so many of the inspiring creatives who live and work here, something that gives me a lot of energy and joy. The French artist Louis Barthelemy is also based in Marrakech and is a close friend. He has an upcoming exhibition at MCC Gallery, one of the most on the pulse contemporary art spaces in the city. What fascinates me about Louis’ work is that he engages with the traditional crafts and techniques of Africa, yet with a result that is voluptuous as it is often humorous. I am also really inspired by Mohcyn and Mouad, the duo behind the new hotel, concept store and café MORO. The visual world they have created has a very distinctive and unique point of view in Marrakech.
Has spirituality and wellness always been part of your life or is it something you came to more recently?
Interesting question, I have always believed in something greater than us, that we all have a path and purpose and I think when I look back on it I have always been on some kind of a search to understand myself and through this, the world better. My family comes from Bavaria which is very Catholic, and while I am not religious at all, I find the meditative and longstanding ritual of it very beautiful and it touches me in a deep way so I try and integrate ritual into my life but in a more spiritual less religious way!
I have also been practicing yoga since I was fifteen and it is something that is really important to me on so many levels, both to do but also to read about. In a healthy body is a healthy mind, of course, but an hour on the mat teaches me a lot of life lessons and shows me a way of moving through life. Hopefully the end result will be with grace and ease, being able to be in the moment when things are wonderful and being able to let go with ease when they no longer serve you.
You’ve amassed such an impressive community of healers, spaces and teachers. Is curating a wellness retreat anywhere on the horizon for you?
Actually, curating a wellness retreat was something I had wanted to do for a very long time and I finally hosted my first Kundalini Yoga retreat – To Retreat – in the Agafay desert last November (with the next one in April 2023!). I find Kundalini Yoga really life-changing, especially if you are in a place in your life that feels stagnant, as it shifts so much energy and, in general, also teaches you how to harness your own energy. My close friend Cornelius Tittel teaches Kundalini on the retreat and what makes him such a special teacher is that people connect to him and, therefore the teachings in such a strong way. He is this perfect bridge between living in the real world (as the editor of my favorite art magazine Blau International) but having this spiritual yet humorous way of teaching. I will never forget us all chanting 31 minutes of the Ek Ong Kar mantra at sunset, opening our eyes at the end to the huge expanse of stars above us and feeling totally high on the energy of the universe. Creating this connection is something that Cornelius has a gift of helping people access with ease. To Retreat also hosts Laura Pavese, a body psychologist from Paris who has created her own special technique of deep tissue massage applying cupping, reflexology and as well as Chinese Medicine, traditional Mexican and Thai massage as well as herbology. Laura works through the physical manifestations of your emotional issues in a really intuitive way.
I got quite fascinated about the mind body connection in general this after reading the book – “The Body Keeps the Score” by psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk – which talks about his clinical studies and how the body has a memory where each emotional issue is stored in. Interestingly for a classically trained psychiatrist, his findings showed that whilst it helps to talk about emotions it is becoming more and more proven that they need to work through them the other way through the physical body as well, by moving, by dancing, by physical treatments etc. and that more often than not this is being found to have more of an effect than traditional talking therapies or medications.
LDJ: We often talk about the high-vibrational qualities of color. How does color appear in your world, in your interiors, in your wardrobe?
PSM: As Yves Saint Laurent famously said, “Marrakech taught me color,” and the joyous riot of colors here is definitely one of the things that bring such pleasure in the city. I tend to live and wear a more neutral palette but integrate pops of color here or there exactly for this reason of adding high-frequency energy, from a red handwoven Kilim pillow at Riad Mena to the orange painting of my friend Bobby Dowler at my home in London, to the green Murano carafe I have from JJ.J. that I have next to my bed as I love waking up to that heavenly green. Touches like these that provide jolts of joy when you look at them.
LDJ: What attracts you to La DoubleJ’s clothes? To J.J.’s world?
PSM: Great color is really a high frequency mood enhancer and JJ harnesses it so well! I love the flowing feeling of her dresses, an instant lift into La Dolce Vita. I am also really obsessed with her homewares I have to say, what a great way to lay a table, a dinner party with that kind of table can only lead to lots of fun!
I am also inspired by her as a person and how she has created a business out of being so high frequency and putting great energy into the world, an energy that brings others and of course its customers so much.
LDJ: Finally, what’s next for you?
PSM: I am pretty excited to host my next – To Retreat – in April 2023. I really enjoy being able to share the life changing skills of the various teachers and practitioners and special places who have helped me so much over the years. I would also love to create another hotel at some point soon, either for myself or someone else.
PHILOMENA’S MARRAKECH SPIRIT TOUR OF SPACES & ARTISTS
(Left to Right)
Bloom House – This spot opened in the new town of Gueliz and is just perfect. From hosting the best yoga teachers and classes in Marrakech, to a great matcha latte and high-quality organic vegan food.
Moro – I already mentioned Moro for their unique aesthetic but the café of their store is one of my favorites too. They serve super fresh dishes and juices, mostly sourced from their farm outside of town. They also have their own natural beauty line – The Moroccans – all natural and organic and locally sourced as well.
Sahbi Sahbi – I really believe in the energy of food; when things are made with love you feel and taste it. The recently opened Sahbi Sahbi not only serves fantastic food amongst the incredible design of Studio KO but celebrates women in particular the female chefs making it by placing them at the center of the space.
Beni Rugs – Not only do Beni Rugs perfectly span traditional craft and contemporary design with their high-quality bespoke rugs, created out of their stunningly designed studio but there is lots of beauty on the inside too. Since the beginning they have prioritized elevating the weavers who make their rugs, more normally at the bottom of a long supply chain, by paying twice the national average in wages, making sure they have social security, transport to and from work and a nice community amongst them notably when they all sit together for couscous Friday!
Royal Mansour – The Chi Nei Tsang treatment at the Royal Mansour is so deeply healing. Chi Nei Tsang is very much about releasing blocked energy and negative emotions in the abdomen which has a tendency to store a lot of it. A treatment here is so intuitive and truly profound yet re-energising. A cleansing scrub in their Hammam is a must when in Marrakech as well.
Berber Lodge – Nothing beats the healing power of nature and arriving at Berber Lodge – just 35 mins outside of Marrakech – is like taking a natural Xanax. The energy coming off the Centenary Olive Trees around the property is so grounding, the serene atmosphere of the earthen walls, the food organic and from the garden and its owner Romain Michel Meniere is a hilarious breath of fresh air, a wonderful reminder that life is about laughing.
The Grand Suite at Riad Mena – I always rest so well in the Grand Suite of Riad Mena. There is something about lying in the Menzeh, with the sun on you, reading a book, overlooking the plant filled courtyard below, listening to the birds that live in the orange trees that brings out a total sense of peace.
The Sunday Sessions at Riad el Fenn hosted by its owner’s son Louis Devereux who has revived the rooftop bar and made it such a nice place to be. His once-a-month Sunday of great music with changing DJ’s, but always something to get your feet and soul moving.
La Mamounia – And from Spirit Guide to Spirit(s) Guide, the best and cleanest martini in town is to be found at the legendary Mamounia Hotel. It’s all about balance in life. Make mine a Belvedere Vodka with a twist” 🙂
Kasbah Tameslohte is the private home of my International Soulsister in crime Carmen Haid, who has the most amazing spirit and energy which you can feel emanating from every part of her equally divine home, available for rent. From her incredible sense of design, to being the absolute hostess with the mostess down to the tiniest detail including the best playlist in town, this is the place if you want to come and totally check out just outside of Marrakech. The Kasbah has such a Marrakech decadent yet totally homey vibe and I love lying by her pool watching the curtains of the daybed waft in the countryside wind followed by sunset drinks and a little dance to an amazing view from her terrace, also a great place for sunrise yoga!
Louis Barthelemy – What fascinates me about Louis’ work is that he engages with the traditional crafts and techniques of Africa, yet with a result that is voluptuous as it is often humorous.
Amine El Goatibi – MCC Gallery is one of the most on-the-pulse contemporary art spaces in the city and the recent Amine el Gotaibi show was very special.