Wearing leopard print heels, a chunky gold chain necklace and her signature high chignon, Yvonne LaFleur (8131 Hampson St., 866-9666; www.yvonnelafleur.com) conducts her interview perched on a chaise longue. A Jean-Pierre Serrier print, mood boards and vintage Shirley Temple paper dolls adorn her office walls. If, to paraphrase Yevgeny Zamyatin, every artist of importance creates his own world in his own image, LaFleur's artistry is unparalleled.
"I want people to feel like they are stepping back in time, but forward in fashion," LaFleur says of her eponymous boutique, which is redolent with the the violet and Italian bergamot notes of her fragrance line. "In Gone with the Wind, Rhett brought Scarlett to New Orleans to shop. I like to feel this is where he would have brought her in a contemporary time."
LaFleur's career in fashion spans six decades. Even as a child, she knew the direction she wanted her life to take. "I started to sew at a very young age, and by time I was 11, I could make anything without a pattern — coats, suits, formals."
A former clothing designer, LaFleur opened her shop in 1969. The 10,000-square-foot building houses a custom millinery, bridal boutique and fragrance business, along with accessories, sportswear, suits, dresses and special occasion gowns. "Yvonne LaFleur is a brand," LaFleur says. "The store is built on collections I put together. If the customer buys something this year, the piece will evolve into something that can be updated next season, because everything is through one point of view."
Rather than filling closets with impulse buys, LaFleur advises her customers to follow the European approach of seasonal clothes shopping, updating a core wardrobe periodically. "The (shop) girls are trained in building peoples' wardrobes," she says. "A wardrobe we wear season after season is really about 10 go-to pieces."
While working in a Parisian atelier in the 1970s, LaFleur learned the nuances of tailoring, which she passed on to her in-house seamstresses. Alterations are provided at no extra cost. "A fine store should never send you out without the dress being altered properly," LaFleur says.
A mother of seven, LaFleur is pleased her two daughters, Mary Jane and Elizabeth, have chosen to work in the store as merchandise manager and creative technology manager, respectively. "People who shopped with me in the '70s or '80s are now bringing their daughters back, and I think that's one reason our business is very good," she says. "It's that next generation of people."