What's the Real Deal in Moroccan Rugs? Passion, Purpose and Authenticity

How to get the best Moroccan Carpet

Until about the early 20th century Moroccan rugs were almost only known within the country itself; woven for personal use and with little or no outside influence. Morocco’s many Berber and Arab tribes were deeply rooted in their own distinct culture and traditions and their rugs strongly reflected those ancestral influences. These can differ widely from tribe and region with each family, tribe, and group of tribes having their own dyes, weaves, loops, knots, and patterns

However, with the popularity of Moroccan rugs today, how do you know the difference between the authentic, made-for-home Berber rugs and those made for the market, or for export, particularly as the tourist souks in Marrakesh, Fez and Essaouira grow? For it is the old rugs that were woven most economically and without thinking about selling them, and developed at the whim of the weaver, that are now the most sought after

Berber women on a very beautiful mid century rug

Berber women on a very beautiful mid century rug

In the past, wool provided everything needed for daily life – clothing, bedding, tents, floor coverings and even bags to carry grain and food. Berber cultural traditions meant that each piece was produced with care and attention, however modest it was. However, tribal life has changed in Morocco. Many nomadic communities living across the Atlas Mountains are gradually changing their way of life, moving from the tough mountain terrain to become more settled into towns and cities, and weaving for the home has slowly become a lost tradition

For centuries, wool was the lifeblood of Berber life

For centuries, wool was the lifeblood of Berber life

Rare or mass produced?

So, when it comes to Moroccan rugs, the term 'vintage' is often loosely bandied about. And in all honesty, Berber peoples probably never produced enough rugs to supply today’s vintage market in the quantities we see. There’s just too many rugs being sold for them all to be authentically vintage or mid century. Many are washed, chemically aged, sun faded and the pile cut low to look like a vintage rug. It’s common for new rugs to be bashed and beaten to look old. In the last year or so, a rash of pastel and neutral toned rugs have been treated like this and marketed as antique or vintage because they are so popular

A genuinely old rural rug, sourced on our travels

A genuinely old rural rug, sourced on our travels

Place and History Matter

Rugs are often incorrectly identified in terms of the tribe they come from

For example, recently we’ve seen the rise of rugs marketed by dealers as coming from the ‘Beni Mrit’ tribe. This ‘tribe’ just doesn’t exit. Mrit is a town in the Middle Atlas mountains where many women come to sell their newly woven cream or monochrome rugs. Beni means ‘sons of’, and is used to for a strong and established tribal community (like Beni Ouarain). We were told that local sellers and middle men started to call these new pieces Beni M’rit rugs to give them tribal cache

We’ve also seen many large multi colourful rugs on the market being called ‘Boujads’. Boujad lays between the Middle Atlas and the Atlantic ocean and both Arabic groups and arabised Berbers live and wove there. The tribes produced deeply colourful rugs, often with lots of patterns and with few traditional rules. It seems that recently sellers have found it convenient to attribute a whole host of rugs, mostly newly woven, to this tribal community

Does this matter? We think so. Knowing the detail and history of each and every rug is important to us. We source slowly and deeply, using decades of local knowledge, finding rugs that were handcrafted by tribes of Moroccan Berber and Arab nomads, and that we source from rural areas

A  Maroc Tribal  vintage Azilal rug

A Maroc Tribal vintage Azilal rug

It is hard to truly know the age and provenance of a vintage rug unless you have a lot of experience in the field, and are deeply rooted in Berber and Arab culture. For example, we will be able to estimate the age of a rug from talking to the seller and through Mo’s experience. We will know the exact year or decade it was woven if we have bought it directly from the family. Other than that, even we need to be pretty broad in our age estimates if we are to be honest and worthy of the trust of our clients. And, we do happily source newly woven rugs If they are lovely, with individuality and real character

One of our contemporary rugs in our client’s mid century modern home

One of our contemporary rugs in our client’s mid century modern home

Understanding Berber Woven Language

Symbols in rugs are also often hard to interpret, and many were very personal to the weaver and her tribe. Again, we use our experience alongside years of study when we try to explain symbols and motifs, and we try our best to avoid romanticising or wrongly describing designs and stories. It is true that old rugs are full of complex details and histories that we no longer see in newer rugs, and sometimes their true meanings have simply been lost with age. We think that just adds to their appeal

A Maroc Tribal vintage Beni Ouarain carpet in designer  Abigail Ahern’s  home

A Maroc Tribal vintage Beni Ouarain carpet in designer Abigail Ahern’s home

Protecting Rural Morocco

We are also very aware that chemical run off from textile production is a cause of river pollution around the world. In the last ten years or so we’ve seen how harmful chemicals used to ‘wash’ new Berber carpets or to ‘age’ or ‘fade’ them and then pass them off as vintage are making some rivers sad and barren places. We source all our rugs ourselves in Berber villages and make sure to buy only original and genuinely old carpets or, if we’re sourcing new ones, to buy those woven in hand spun wool that has not been treated

We want to protect Morocco’s beautiful rivers and lakes

We want to protect Morocco’s beautiful rivers and lakes

We never mind sharing how we source rugs and what we think is important, because we want to champion a fast receding Berber culture. Mo was born in the Berber mountains in the north of Morocco and grew up there, speaking both Arabic and Berber. Wool is in his blood. He spends months on the road in Morocco, getting out to little villages and meeting with people who want to sell rugs. And paying a fair and good price. He can speak to grandmothers who tell how rugs were woven many years ago. We hear many tales. We haven’t been to Marrakech in years as it’s not a traditional Berber rug weaving region and we aren’t interested in rugs whose provenance we can’t be certain of

That’s how we do it - rural, authentic and honest and seeped in history and culture

Found on one of our expeditions - a huge hand woven Beni Mguild carpet

Found on one of our expeditions - a huge hand woven Beni Mguild carpet