Ridiculous. Sublime. The exceptional work of
Maison ArtC walks the line of both.
Words By Elianna Bar-El
Photos by Tom Marshak
“If you want the world to see you, you have to live in a place that is free to create that,” explains Artsi Ifrach, the creative director and founder of Maison ArtC, a one-of-a-kind label championing upcycled designs that are at once artisanal and historical pieces. “In Morocco, you just step out on the street and the inspiration arrives to you. The display is all around. The museum is happening, surrounding you,” Ifrach continues. “The ease, the color, the textiles. It’s not about fashion, it’s about culture.”
Born in Jerusalem to a family of nine, Ifrach left Israel for Paris in his 20s, then moved to Morocco to get inspired and has never looked back. Citing a creative DNA that is 100% Moroccan, the self-proclaimed ‘culture designer’ and autodidact continually pulls from the vibrant North African colors and textures and literally flips them on their head. From the crown of his designs to the curve of every arched foot, Maison ArtC provokes and explores the country’s intricate and compelling identity, forging a new shape for the Arab world’s contemporary path ahead.
“Six years ago, I opened Maison ArtC, looking for myself,” Ifrach confides. “This is where I found my voice. Living in Paris, people were interested in who I am and what I look like - nothing I was interested in giving. In Marrakech, when I understood what I want to do, I felt I had to cover myself so that people would pay attention to my creativity and less on my visibility,” he explains. “My only intent is for people to really see and feel and understand what I am doing and why. That was when my face coverings became such a significant part of my process and work. People couldn’t look for a face - so they looked at what I was doing.” Indeed, many of Masion ArtC’s most hard-hitting designs showcase voluminous, unexpected fabrics and eclectic vintage textiles punctuated by full face coverings or partial muzzles adorned with banquets of flowers, pegged with tassels, or imbedded with pearls. Even a mind-boggling, intricate headdress, cascading with a waterfall of sequins, fully covers the face, leaving just enough skin to visualize a person beneath it.
Maison ArtC’s intrigue lies in the mystery of what is seen and not seen, what is hiding, or just peeking through for those who peer in close enough. There are glittering nuggets of tongue-in-cheek humor, clever innuendos, overtones and undertones relating to our past, current, and future events, and so much more in each creation. All this, while proudly waving the Moroccan flag, and regardless of age, face, gender, or beauty. The mystery and craftsmanship are what remain, and the story to be told.
Break-out Moroccan model Tilila Oulhaj has been Ifrach’s muse for a long time. “She came to my space with her friends. She is not only a model. She is a teacher. She has a lot of input,” he says. Oulhaj, whose stoic look simply cannot be forgotten, is a signature face of Maison ArtC’s creative direction. The constellation of freckles gracing her face in an awe-striking configuration adds an additional layer to Maison ArtC’s designs. Like a spell cast on the viewer, her otherworldly face is an utter companion, going hand in hand with the designs. An iconic image of Oulhaj holding a takeout McDonald’s m’semen Morrocan pancake (similar to the traditional Yemeni malawach flatbread) is a telling moment of MAison Art artistry and an intentional wink towards the unconventional.
“Culture is at the root of my designs,” says Ifrach. “It’s my language. It’s how I know how to speak without speaking. Fashion is limited for what I want to explore,” he continues. “Like breathing, this is what it is.” If that sounds dramatic, it is. But once seeing the garments, onlookers come to understand that Ifrach is continuously seeking out a sense of drama in his creations. His combinations live at this colliding seam. It is not for shock value. It is simply a creation of a new form. Whether it is a silhouette, an exceptional visage, or capturing a movement in clothes and in time, this is Ifrach’s intention.
Scouring flea markets all over the world, bidding at auctions, and working with antique dealers, Maison ArtC’s upcycled, vintage pieces, deadstock garments, and specialty objects are historic pieces. Each one could have a place in a museum. The designs also include many of Morocco’s storied artisanal handicrafts; meticulous methods that are synonymous with Arab textiles and are beginning to disappear simply because of the time-consuming work that is no longer de rigueur, and the aging craftsmen and craftswomen who will soon no longer be able to pass on their rare knowledge.
“It was profoundly emotional for me to be acknowledged and win the Fashion Trust Arabia Award,” says Ifrach, referencing the allocade that garnered much acclaim for Maison ArtC in the category of evening wear design in October 2022. “Through Maison ArtC, I am preserving the methods, techniques, and styles of the Arab world from a timeless place. The ability to provoke something, create strength in what people feel, and build a beautiful dialogue while creating a bridge of cultural awareness is what propels me.”