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Fashion in Bloom 

Yvonne LaFleur has seen it all in her 35 years in the retail fashion business, starting with a store that specialized in jeans hand-altered to fit perfectly to a boutique that can fill women's fashion needs from lingerie to a custom-made hat, plus everything in between.

Her namesake Yvonne LaFleur boutique (8131 Hampson St., 866-9666; www.yvonnelafleur.com) has clothed New Orleans women for all types of events, from casual picnics to weddings, Mardi Gras balls to professional meetings. She even developed a signature fragrance made from all-natural flowers and herbs that has become popular with women -- and the men around them -- all over the world.

She's seen trends come and go and come back, but her focus has always been on offering women the finest of the designs in style at affordable prices and helping them feel better about themselves.

"The self-esteem is a big thing," LaFleur says. "When people start wanting to dress [nicely] it is because in the back of their head they are trying to build their self-esteem. Every year in retail you reinvent yourself because of fashion (trends). We keep developing the departments and everything that goes in them and trying to be of the moment with what New Orleans needs."

Most items in the store bear the Yvonne LaFleur label, a trend that started when she owned a factory in New York in the 1970s and has continued through relationships she developed with people in the industry who will create small collections for her.

LaFleur, who is very hands-on in helping her customers find clothing to improve their outlook, says she has noticed people beginning to emerge from the "dressed-down" look to something more refined.

"There's a lot of talk in the industry that this dress-down look is a reflection of people's lack of self-esteem," she says. "I want to make people feel better about themselves by what they're buying, to choose something that enhances their lifestyle and makes them happier." She sees people turning toward upgrading their casual looks with nice sweaters, fashionable belts and pretty lingerie as a first step, she says, a trend that reflects what she observed in the 1960s when women started upgrading their jeans with pretty tops.

"Women are learning earlier in life that clothing can make a statement, and they can do that with items," she says. "As you change to a different cycle in life, they want something exciting: the new sweater, the new belt, something that will be definitive for them. They're not interested in buying a bulk of things; they want something that will look great on them."

LaFleur says she gets to work in the fun end of the fashion business, offering women the more beautiful clothes, jewelry, brooches (the season's hot fashion item), lingerie, handbags and accessories. "I still love my business," she says. "I love coming to work every day and having company all day; that's what retail is all about. I sell pretty things, so I think of what I sell as what people buy for celebrations of life, so it's a happy time."

click to enlarge Fashion aficionado Yvonne LaFleur has seen numerous transitions in style since opening her namesake shop in the Riverbend 35 years ago and has transformed the store from a purveyor of jeans to a full-service women's boutique.
  • Fashion aficionado Yvonne LaFleur has seen numerous transitions in style since opening her namesake shop in the Riverbend 35 years ago and has transformed the store from a purveyor of jeans to a full-service women's boutique.
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