The Nopo Magazine
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The Nopo Magazine

Letters From Morocco: A Desert Love Story

From Switzerland to Morocco, chasing love and crafting beautiful bags

It’s New Year’s Eve 2011 in Merzouga. Antonella is on holiday with a group of friends celebrating the end of a busy, sometimes stressful, albeit fulfilling year working as a Product Manager for Fendi in Switzerland. The friends are spending NYE in a tented camp in the middle of the Moroccan desert, on the edge of the vast expanse of Sahara that leads into the depth of Berber history itself. The music is gently soaring up to a sky dense with stars dotted in the dark canopy that envelops everything in the sand dunes.

“At midnight we were all dancing with our guides and other guests, and I saw this man approach, I knew he was a friend of our guide’s but I hadn’t met him before,” Antonella Deiana, creator of bag label Ifulkki, remembers with a smile on her lips and a spark in her eye.

The first time Antonella saw Mustapha, he was walking towards her draped in a traditional gandoura [light cotton or wool tunic for men], with a leather jacket on top for warmth, and his head and face covered. “His turban was draped across his mouth so that all I saw were these beautiful, deep hazelnut eyes with the longest lashes I had ever seen… He looked like a prince to me!”

It only took a few minutes for Antonella’s smile and sparkling personality to open a breach in Mustapha’s heart as they started chatting in French, ending the night with a promise to meet again in Marrakech before Antonella flew back home. Dinner on a charming riad rooftop in the middle of the Marrakech medina cemented their mutual attraction, and they left with each other’s number and a hopeful promise to stay in touch.

“At the beginning, I don’t think either of us was really imagining it would have lasted. I was in Switzerland, he was in the middle of the desert in Morocco and neither of us could really just up and go to be with the other full time. I spent 2012 going back to Morocco every couple of months though, and soon started feeling like this was turning into something more than a holiday fling…”

Morocco became Antonella’s happy place, away from the worries of life, work, and the frantic world of high fashion, allowing her to live her life and dreams with the man she was starting to fall in love with by her side. Because of restrictive visa regulations, Mustapha never made it to Switzerland or Italy, where Antonella was originally from, and the following seven years passed in a whirlwind of seven or eight yearly trips to visit him in Marrakech.

“It was tiring at times, but it did allow me to get a very good sense of Morocco, form my own connections and friendships there, and actually establish the country as a place of its own, independent from my story with Mustapha. When 2018 came and I decided to leave my job at Fendi, I started thinking about the next steps and the idea of a move there didn’t seem nearly as daunting as it could have been otherwise.”

Through the years of traveling, moving countries for work, and forging a career in the fast-paced world of fashion, Mustapha was a stronghold in Antonella’s life, keeping her anchored firmly to the ground and helping to break down what appeared as insurmountable problems into simple solutions. “He has a very direct, uncomplicated way of seeing life that takes you straight to the root of things. Just like his eyes dug deep inside me the first time I saw him, his way of seeing the world reminded me what the really important things in life are.”

A completely self-made woman who had spent decades building her career in a competitive industry, Antonella didn’t take the decision to leave it all behind in favor of an unknown future lightly. In 2019 she made the permanent move to Morocco and, whilst helping Mustapha with his travel agency Tour Marocco, she got a job managing a riad in Marrakech to make sure she had something of her own outside the relationship.

“The first few months I lived in Morocco were a constant discovery of the realities of life there. As a foreigner, I still get special treatment no matter how long I’ve lived here, and generally speaking the same social conventions that apply to locals don’t tend to apply to me. It’s a double-edged sword because, while I’ve always felt welcomed and appreciated, there are things, particularly to do with women’s rights, that are very hard to swallow if you haven’t always been immersed in the environment.”

Antonella spent 2019 finding her feet, working in the riad, and helping Mustapha on social media and publicity, especially as most of the customers tended to be fellow Italians, but just as things seemed to be running smoothly, 2020 hit. The country shut down and tourism disappeared overnight.

“I never got anything for free in life, whatever I got I studied and worked and built with my own brain and skills, and when the pandemic brought life to a halt, I knew it was time to roll up our sleeves again.” Antonella had been thinking of a way to marry her product experience in high-end fashion with the bountiful Moroccan crafts she was surrounded by in Marrakech.

Not long before she had discovered the work of a master tailor after seeing one of his creations at a friend’s house, so she went to visit him and discovered a huge wealth of vintage rugs, bags, and textiles scattered around his workshop. After buying a bag and doing some modifications, she offered him to work with her on the creation of shoppers, totes, and bags made from vintage Berber rugs, repurposing a little piece of history with each product.

“I decided to call my brand Ifulkki, which means beautiful in Amazigh because I want to share with the world all the beauty I am experiencing in this stunning country,” Antonella explains. “From the nature to the souks, down to the breathtaking hospitality of people, especially in rural areas, where you might be invited for a cup of tea when hiking through the villages, Morocco is truly a land of immense beauty.”

Moving to Morocco and starting her own fashion label was the dream Antonella never knew she had. With the courage only love can give she left one life behind and is working to build a new one with the man she loves. In 2021 Antonella and Mustapha got married in Morocco just after Ifulkki went international with The Nopo. Today, you can shop Ifulkki’s exclusive collection and bring some of Antonella’s love for Morocco and classy fashion home with you.

For more Valentine’s inspiration, we asked Antonella and Mustapha what they would gift each other this Valentine’s Day from other talented artisans on The Nopo. Here are their picks:

Antonella’s Valentine’s Gift for Mustapha: ORINOCO LAMP by Seesé Ilumina

Mustapha’s Valentine’s Gift for Antonella: Handcrafted Eyes of the Desert Ring by S|he Archives

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