“Wish I was back on the bayou
Rollin’ with some Cajun Queen
Wishin’ I were a fast freight train
Just a chooglin’ on down to New Orleans”
– Creedence Clearwater Revival
It had been fourteen years since I had flown into New Orleans. Don’t misread that… I have been to The Big Easy several times in the last decade and, sure, maybe once or twice I experienced a hangover there or possibly got myself into a little trouble because I kidnapped Tulane’s mascot (and still have him), but I’d driven from Atlanta on each of those trips, so flying high over grand Lake Pontchartrain brought back memories from my twenties that I had long since moved to the back of my overly-crowded, sazerac-infused brain. For this experience, I’d be travelling alone. No husband to show me where he used to buy groceries during his four-year stint as a NOLA resident during college. No kids to drag against their will through shops in The Quarter or the Magazine District. It was just my map, my agenda, and me, and hopefully maybe even a bit of something we call lagniappe. But before I get to my experience in The Crescent City, let me share with you what else was happenin’ ‘round the other parts…
The Northern Gulf Coast has its own way of thinking, and not all of it is how New Orleans folks think. Things are big there, sort of in a Texas-type way. Personalities are big. Politics are big. Food is big. Waist lines are… well, you get the point. But thankfully I found that jewels and gems are big as well. And while in Mobile, Alabama, where I visited the wonderful Claude Moore Jeweler, I was elated to see that heirloom jewelry was getting even bigger. These four gorgeous pins were just part of a collection of antique pieces carried by Claude Moore, and while what’s happening in fashion jewelry up North hasn’t quite found its way to the South yet, owner Howard Moore was optimistic that the tide is changing, and that Mobile was ready to embrace the next wave. I, for one, am a big fan of Mobile, so it’s nice to see the changes they’re embracing there. Little known fact about the city: Mobile, like New Orleans, was originally settled by the French in 1702. The city has flown six flags since its existence: French, Spanish, British, Republic of Alabama, Confederate, and of course, the United States. Because of this there’s a diversity there unlike most other larger cities in Alabama, which is a draw – and the fact that the Mobile River Delta has an incredible variety of fish and sea life – bringing in more hipster-run restaurants, a younger population, and dare I say… a newer, fresher, jewelry and fashion scene. Good on ya, Alabama. Oh, and um… Roll Tide ((ducks)).
After several hours visiting folks in the Mobile area, I decided I’d spend my first night at a hotel in Biloxi, Mississippi. My fifteen-year-old soul was hoping to run into circa-1988 Matthew Broderick there, but sadly, that was not the case. My short time in Biloxi was less than stellar as I was likely dressed a little too “fancy” for the hotel/casino guests there, making for some awkward conversation and unfortunate visuals that will long be burned into the back of my oculi. I’m sure there are several lovely parts of Biloxi, but where I was staying was far from being one of them. (**SOAPBOX ALERT**) How any city can still allow smoking in restaurants – and I mean, what their version of “high-end” restaurants is – is beyond me. No, I would not like a side of nicotine with my Crawfish pasta, sir. I think I’ll pass on the tobacco-encrusted salmon, thanks. Mmmmmm… smell that? It’s as if Marlboro is now raising its own livestock. I mean, I get that this is a “free country” and all and that the South – above anywhere else in this land – LOVES them some G*d-given freedom, but when it comes to destroying the clothing, hair, lungs, and even the most mediocre meal of the people around you, I say, SURE… you can have your freedom… but you must take it in a tiny little room, far, far away from where I’m trying to eat my overcooked asparagus. (Editor’s note: YES, BILOXI… IT’S CALLED ASPARAGUS. IT’S GREEN. NO NEED TO FRY IT. YOU SHOULD TRY IT SOME TIME. AND NO, YOU CAN’T SMOKE IT. **END OF RANT**.)
Thankfully the following morning would bring me back to the New Orleans area where there was no shortage of smoke-free restaurants, ladies in Lulu Lemon, and elegant jewelry stores just waiting to be visited. Some of the biggest names in the biz are in this region – namely, in a city just northwest of N’awlins called Metairie. The Lakeside Mall alone houses two major players when it comes to selling watches and jewelry: Lee Michaels, which has eight locations throughout Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi and carries brands like Marco Bicego, Henry Daussi, and Mikimoto. Also, there is Adlers Jewelry, which has three other locations in Louisiana and is a premier seller of Patek Philippe watches. It was wonderful to be able to visit these and the other beautiful boutiques that make Metairie a jewelry-buyers mecca, but there was still one location I was familiar with but had never visited…
Many, many years ago, when I worked in the customer service department at Lagos’ Philadelphia factory and design center, the South, the West, and TOLA were my regions. I always remember the folks from Aucoin Hart being super friendly when they’d call for special orders, and meeting them finally in person didn’t change my feelings one bit. The store itself, which has been recently renovated, is a masterpiece in retail design and architecture. The staff is genuinely friendly and knowledgeable, but even more importantly, they’re passionate. I know many people from New Orleans and have a few friends who still live in the city, and “Passion” is the one thing they really pride themselves on. From the way they cheer on their beloved Saints, to the way they cook their unique style of cuisine, to the way they rebuilt themselves post Hurricane Katrina, it’s the passion of the people who reside in the area that carries them through and eventually, puts them right back on top. The folks at Aucoin Hart are passionate about the new store design, passionate about their customers, and passionate both about the brands they carry, and those they create themselves. And when I needed a recommendation for a restaurant in the area, you can bet that every staff member there was passionate about where they wanted to send me. In the end, largely thanks to one salesman’s more-than-convincing argument, I decided on chef John Besh’s French/German/Creole eatery… Luke.
Food is to New Orleans what beer is to Brussels, wine is to Paris, and coffee is to Seattle. New Orleans isn’t just the party city any longer. It’s been “born again” and this second chance at life has made it an even greater powerhouse for dishing out some of the finest cuisine in the world. Does it still have po-boy shops, muffaletta houses, and crawfish boils? Damn straight. But chefs like Adolpho Garcia, Donald Link, John Besh, Sue Zemanick, and yes… even Emeril Lagasse (still) (BAM!) are changing the New Orleans fine dining scene almost daily. (And, no. You didn’t visit a food blogger’s website and a bunch of info on jewelry stores broke out. You’re still at the right place, but I’d be stupid not to mention something about regional eats in this post.)
Before this entry is over I think it only right to talk about one of my all-time favorite jewelry and housewares designers who just happens to call New Orleans home… Mignon Faget.
Having been born and raised in New Orleans, Mignon Faget allows the wearers of her work to explore the mysteriousness of Louisiana through her designs. Her first ever collection, called “Sea,” transformed gemstones and jewels found on the Gulf Coast into wearables that epitomized what it was like to be from the area. Her “Ironworks” collection takes snippets of Marcellino Hernandez’s renowned forgings from the historic Vieux Carré and makes them into beautiful baubles of wearable architecture. But it doesn’t stop with jewelry. Her “Home” collection features glassware and table settings using the classic fleur-de-lis design, as well as apis-inspired aprons and stemware from her “Hive” collection (a personal favorite for obvious reasons).
It was a brief, interesting, but enjoyable visit to the area, and I’m looking forward to getting back there again in the very near future. Until that day comes, however, I’ll leave you all with a little Louis Armstrong:
“Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans
And miss it each night and day
I know I’m not wrong this feeling’s gettin’ stronger
The longer, I stay away
Miss them moss covered vines,
the tall sugar pines Where mockin’ birds used to sing
And I’d like to see that lazy Mississippi
hurryin’ into spring…”