I am from Cajun country. My dad is from New Orleans. I always felt like New Orleans was a second home to me growing up, because I spent all my summers and holidays here. It was exciting to see the movement happening in a metropolitan city — the hustle and bustle of Canal Street.
[In the late 1990s) I was starting my modeling agency, so I was reaching out to a lot of department stores to pitch the idea of coordinating fashion shows for them. Back then, we had the [Lake Forest] Plaza Mall in New Orleans East, and that became a primary account for me. Shopping malls had larger budgets back then and an appreciation for putting on a fashion show.
It has been exciting to see industries that were nonexistent in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina have returned with such resiliency — fashion being one of them. There's certainly a younger, hipper vibe accompanying the rebuilding of the city. Young professionals have brought a fresh infusion of ideas, appreciation for the environment and energy.
We still have a few hurdles to overcome. It saddens me when I drive out to the East and am looking at a flat piece of land where the Plaza stood for so many years. It was very iconic in the 1980s — the most high-end shopping center of its kind in the region. Fortunately, we have new retailers and development happening there, but it saddens me that there is not a shopping center in that part of the city in general.
I think it is quite positive that we have H&M and Tiffany & Co. and the revamping at the Riverwalk. It is going to help grow the fashion industry in totality. I see the growth continuing, especially from the entrepreneurial spirit and startups.
It will take a concerted effort to compete with other top cities without becoming them, while maintaining all things uniquely New Orleans. But it's something we do well. — AS TOLD TO MISSY WILKINSON