Style: Come with me to the Kasbah: Tamsin Blanchard finds traditional Moroccan crafts with a contemporary edge on offer in Covent Garden

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The Kasbah is the latest in a long line of shops selling goods and lifestyles from around the world. The shop's owner, Abel Damoussi, hopes that the Kasbah will do for Morocco what Muji has done for Japan.

To stock up the Kasbah, Mr Damoussi's freight train called at Marrakesh, climbed the High Atlas, travelled into the Saharan oases and deep into Berber country. 'We went to tiny villages and medinas I never dreamt of seeing,' says Mr Damoussi, who was born in Kenitra, on the Moroccan coast.

The final destination is the shop between Covent Garden and the Strand. The area might not have the charged chaos of a Moroccan souk, or the heady aromas of spices and mint, but for the past four months, 8 Southampton Street has been experiencing a thoroughly Moorish makeover.

Specialist builders and tilers were flown in to carve intricate panels and to assemble elaborate mosaics. Three days were spent in a paint lab in Morocco, mixing a perfect Majorelle blue - the same blue used in the botanical Jardin Majorelle in Marrakesh, now owned by Yves Saint Laurent. And just as the carved wooden wardrobe that holds clothes is available to order, so tins of Majorelle blue paint are also for sale.

Mr Damoussi already owns MASH, the money-spinning clubwear shop on Oxford Street, and Flip, the second-hand clothing emporium in Covent Garden's Long Acre. The Kasbah is his most up- market venture yet, aiming more towards the Conran Shop than Oxford Street. 'It's like raising the flag for Morocco,' he says.

As well as traditionally painted and glazed ceramics, there are designs that fuse Moroccan craftwork with a contemporary Western edge. Everything in the shop has been hand-selected or specially commissioned by Mr Damoussi and his partner, the shop's designer and inspiration, Ayn McClain.

'We tried to take into account English culture,' says Mr Damoussi. 'For example, we didn't buy

Moroccan leather - it stinks. We looked for skins that don't smell.'

The result is a collection of the best of Moroccan craftsmanship and design. In the shop's warehouse before the grand opening this week, there are huge baskets packed with straw and lanterns (from pounds 9.99), tajines (from pounds 9.99), small metal barbecues (from pounds 7.99), huge wooden bowls ( pounds 29.99), painted vases (from pounds 19.99), caftans (from pounds 19.99), slippers ( pounds 24.99), and tiny, painted glasses for tea (from pounds 2.99). 'It's not only a commercial operation,' says Mr Damoussi. 'It's a way of giving something back to Morocco.' So after the shopping experience, if you are hooked on the country, you can visit the shop's travel agent.

There is even a small area serving mint tea and pastries. In fact, all that is really missing is the opportunity to haggle over prices. For that, you have to go to Morocco.

The Kasbah opens 5 May at 8 Southampton Street, London WC2.

(Photograph omitted)

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