Jan 26, 2020
When the French Alice Benosman married her Moroccan husband Mehdi, she discovered the North African country anew. Mehdi and her in-laws wanted to show her the real Morocco, she says, recounting the travels they embarked upon, the cities they explored, and the people and practices they observed. From the bustling markets of Marrakech to the ebullient atmosphere of Fez, the Benosmans were enamored of the sights, the smells, and the tapestry of cultures, the diverse customs they encountered and the people they met, the experience ultimately inspiring the idea for a bold brand that Alice says highlights the beauty of Morocco to the entire world.
Siam Nude Fanfold. Photo: Courtesy of MYKILIM
“Morocco has been the very reason why we launched MYKILIM,” Alice tells Industrie Africa of the luxury leather handbag label she co-founded with her husband and his twin brother Mustapha. “We met these artisans and artists during our travels, and saw how they were creating things from already existing materials—things like interior decor pieces from old kaftans. This inspired us to create a product, a story around one specific material. We chose the kilim, a familiar woven tapestry most popularly used as rugs.”
The origins of the word kilim can be traced to the Persian Empire, but their pileless, textured style (distinguished by the presence of a flat weaving technique) have also long been a ubiquitous part of Moroccan culture. They’re often emblazoned with a series of woven motifs in shades of blue, green, cream, and red, the meanings of which vary greatly, and usually include emblems of fertility, and symbols of protection, like the “evil eye”. For the Benosmans, kilim is a crucial piece of the MYKILIM story, one that merges Moroccan ancestral know-how and raw materials, with a French design aesthetic to produce a range of striking handbags and purses.
Designed in Paris, and handcrafted in Morocco by a team of experienced artisans, MYKILIM’s classic, accessible pieces are a reflection of its creators’ affinity for both practicality and glamor. From the brand’s sweetly named Wina, Hina, and Dina styles (three double compartment shoulder bag styles rendered in a crisp white, bright blue, and baby pink respectively), to the Siam (a structured, oversized creation), each of MYKILIM’s pieces are a contrast of vivid colors, and mixed materials, with their functional shapes and sensible sizing lending them a level of accessibility.
“MYKILIM’s aesthetic is reflective of who we are,” states Alice Benosman. “Each design aims to be practical and minimalist in order to let the kilim that embodies each bag shine. Our pieces [are] best described as timeless ones that tell a unique story, the story of a kingdom and mixed culture. Our work is about connecting people to that culture.”
The team behind the label are self-taught in both design and entrepreneurship, a trio empowered by a unique point of view, and genuine passion for what they do. Having founded MYKILIM in 2014, it didn’t take long for them to find their feet or accrue a fanbase. In 2018 the brand landed a coveted spot on the floor of London’s famed Harrods department store, and in 2019, they launched a collaborative collection with Rocky Barnes, working with the influencer to create a range of pieces that were “inspired by the magic of Marrakesh.” They followed this up with another collaboration in 2020, this time with American artist Melissa Mitchell, whose kaleidoscopic work inspired another series of one of a kind pieces. And though these collabs have proven a success for the brand, their true commitment lies in the partnerships they’ve developed with local Moroccan artisans.
Working with the MYKILM team to bring their designs to life are around 30 craftspeople who, according to Benosman, are more than just partners; they’re co-creators. “The point of view of the “conceptor”—the artisan—matters enormously in the production of each collection,” she explains. “They define, in collaboration with the designer, what is feasible in terms of technicality, raw materials provided, and deadlines. For example, depending on the collection, material such as kilim can vary in thickness, and malleability. Thus, a strong collaborative relationship between the designer and the artisan is crucial for the conception of every MYKILIM collection. It is a relationship of mutual respect and trust.”
Siam Pink Fanfold. Photo: Courtesy of MYKILIM.
Artist and collaborator Melissa Mitchell. Photo: Courtesy of MYKILIM.
Founders Mustapha, Alice and Mehdi Benosman. Photo: Courtesy of MYKILIM.
The Benosmans have also been fastidious about educating themselves around issues of sustainability, approaching the creation of their products from a perspective of reuse that Alice explains is valuable in more than one way: firstly, it allows merchants to sell offcuts they’d be ordinarily unable to offload and offer a second life to their beautiful old carpets, and lastly, it ensures the brand keep their material waste to an absolute minimum. And, in an effort to be as transparent as possible regarding production practices, MYKILIM is also unflinchingly open about the monetary amount it takes to produce a single piece, breaking down on their website exactly what it costs to create one bag: on average, between €80 to €120.
Made for one who Benosman describes as the “open minded, creative globetrotter”, MYKILIM embodies its designers’ modern tastes. Theirs are classic designs with a twist; reliable styles that are always in vogue (think tried-and-true crossbody bags, handy backpacks, and structured, handheld satchels), playful touches of kilim evoking a spirit of distant travel, and global sophistication. A personal favorite of Alice's, she reveals, is the Fanfold, a laid back, smaller style that has evolved from the original design of a previous bestseller. “This is something that I think is really special about our brand, the fact that we’re able to reinvent our designs from one collection to another, and allow our customer the opportunity to evolve as their favorite pieces do.”
“Fashion is a bridge between people that connects us to one another,” says Benosman. She thinks of fashion as a tool for social change, deeming MYKILIM’s raison d'être to fundamentally be one about connection. “Our mission,” she says, is to get people to show up the way they are, and it’s by being an example of progress that we begin to change mindsets.” Clothes, bags, accessories: they are part and parcel of each person’s life journey.
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