Thursday, May 29, 2008

Shopping the Big Easy

For a girl who loves to shop, New Orleans has a lot to offer. When we began planning our trip a couple of months ago, at the top of my priority list was visiting the retail location of Orient Expressed. So our first morning in New Orleans, Joe and I took a trolley from our French Quarter Hotel to the Garden District. From the trolley stop we walked the rest of the route, wiggling our way through neighborhoods until we reached trendy magazine street. After lunch at French bistro La Petite Grocery, I nearly skipped down the street to Orient Expressed. After drooling over their childrens clothing catalog for years, I couldn't wait to shop in person. This trip did not disappoint! Although the shop is small, I found linens, gift ware and samples of some of my favorite OE designs. And I was really excited to shop the half-price clothing rack! I found several things for the girls, and a precious outfit for my niece. We got caught in a torrential downpour when we left Orient Expressed, and even ducking into shops along our route back, we were still thoroughly soaked by the time we made it back to the trolley stop. But even with matted hair, drenched clothing and squishy tennis shoes, the adventure was totally worth the enjoyment of visiting this little boutique!

I enjoyed window shopping on Canal Street as Joe and I walked around the French Quarter, and the outfit in the upper right corner of the collage caught my eye on our way to the hotel. We passed this shop window several times when the store was closed, and each time I liked it more and more. I could see myself out on the town in the ruffled raspberry top and silky black crop pants, and I already had earrings and strappy black sandals to complete the look. I couldn't wait to try it on! As I walked to the shop during store hours, I thought about how much this outfit would cost. Although I hoped to find a steal, I wondered how much I could spend. Could I get both pieces for $50? Probably not, but maybe $100, or possibly $150? I was prepared to do some negotiating with Joe --maybe get just the shirt and pair it with pants I already owned. When we entered the shop, I quickly took the staircase to the ladies clothing department on the second floor. There on the center rack I found my perfect outfit! In my size! For $600.

Shopping on Royal Street was the highlight of the trip! This dream drive boasts unique shops brimming with art, antiques, jewelry, rare books and custom clothing. One of my favorite finds was Fleur de Paris. Entering this lovely shop was like stepping into a dream world of custom-made hats, day dresses and couture gowns. Paul A. Greenberg wrote about Fleur de Paris and the art of millinery in The Essential New Orleans. "Southern women are all about being ladies," the shop's head milliner Nicole LeBlanc told him. "There's a quote that says a lady can be dressed without a hat, but she cannot be dressed up without a hat. Southern women resist any kind of defeminization. My customers are from all over, and some of my best customers are not from the South. But they equate hats with the South, and New Orleans with a certain femininity." The little girl in me could have spent hours playing dress-up in this shop!

And while Joe stepped into a French Quarter cafe for a bowl of gumbo, I was happy to revisit two old favorites near historic Jackson Square: Quarter Stitch and Rendezvous Linens. After browsing handpainted canvases and fibers at the needlepoint store, I meandered my way to Rendezvous Linens. Although this shop had to close for two months because of Hurricane Katrina, it was still as lovely as I remembered. The scent of roses lingers on the layette set I picked up here as a baby gift. Souveneirs picked up for the children and their grandparents rounded out our French Quarter shopping experience in fine fashion!

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