A decade on from Hurricane Katrina, young artist and creative entrepreneurs are flocking to New Orleans as part of a movement that’s revolutionising the city from the ground up.
NEON HEART, Uptown
Multi-talented husband-and-wife duo Ali McNally and Chris Scheurich met three years ago when London-based Ali was visiting New Orleans to style a music video. They fell in love and hopped between New Orleans, London and Toronto before settling in Chris’ hometown. The pair began performing as dance/pop group YYZ, then last year launched concept store Neon Heart in a former carriage house. The destination store stocks a cleverly curated collection of globally- and locally-sourced fashion, accessories and homewares.
Why ‘Neon Heart’?
Ali: It’s a song lyric I wrote. It’s actually what I wanted to call the album, but I ended up calling my shop that. And both being huge fans of neon, we had the heart locally made.
How would you describe the aesthetic of Neon Heart?
Chris: Clean white walls and shelving so each individual product is displayed as precious. It’s tightly curated so we don’t overwhelm the space…
Ali: While retaining the original features of the building.
In a changing city, how do you find your customers?
Ali: I spend a lot of time interacting on social media. And the amount of people who walk through the door and say, “I follow you on Instagram,” it’s pretty incredible.
Chris: And when college is in session [Tulane University is nearby] we have a lot of foot traffic.
You stock unique, young labels like Australian eyewear brand Valley…
Ali: I chased a girl down the street in New York who was wearing them. She was like, “Try them on!” I’m the same way in the store, I’m happy to share the brands I love.
Chris: It’s fun because no one knew about Valley but now a couple of hundred pairs have gone into the streets of New Orleans.
Ali: I strive to make things accessible. There’s nothing worse than seeing something you love then recoiling from the price tag.
Chris: New Orleans is not the place for that.
What other brands do you stock?
Ali: Maria Francesca Pepe’s jewellery – she’s a good friend of mine and her jewellery is worn by Kate Moss, Rihanna and Beyoncé. Minnow Bathers (worn by Solange Knowles) is hand-sewn by two friends in Canada.
What’s different about starting a business in New Orleans?
Ali: This is my first experience starting a business so I don’t have a lot to compare it to, however I have noticed that New Orleanians are incredibly supportive of local businesses.
How would you say the city is thriving 10 years on from Katrina?
Ali: Post-Katrina, the city has become a hotbed of start-ups and it seems like a very exciting time to be here. I didn’t choose New Orleans on purpose as so many are currently doing, but I felt it chose me – I was here styling a music video three summers ago and fell in love with and married a local, Chris, which is something I could have never predicted at the time. However I feel this city is full of very kind, open individuals who appreciate what we are doing and have embraced us with open arms. I feel very welcome here.
Where’s your secret NOLA hang?
Ali: If we’re not making music, at Lucky’s on St Charles Avenue. It’s the dingiest, most amazing karaoke bar.
LITTLE FLEA NOLA, Lower Garden District
Alabama-born Tippi Clark moved to New Orleans after 10 years working in fashion in New York. While still working as a denim development consultant for NYC-based fashion label Rebecca Minkoff, Tippi tried to find a flea market to sell her own bespoke vintage denim line, Holt McCall. Unable to find anything suitable, she joined forces with friend and artist Hayley Gaberlavage to start up vintage markets Little Flea NOLA in 2014.
When were you struck with the idea of Little Flea?
I started curating a vintage denim collection in New York, knowing that I would upcycle it or embroider it and thought, ‘When I move to New Orleans I’ll sell it at their flea markets.’ But they didn’t have any.
Why start on your own?
There are a tonne of vintage stores but no true flea markets. Literally I thought, “If there’s not one I’ll start one.” The amazing thing about New Orleans is that you can say these things out loud and everyone’s really supportive. I introduced myself to the stores I wanted to be involved and people were excited. Other businesses see new ventures as good for everybody.
It sounds like New Orleans is such a great community…
Everyone is 100 per cent supportive of one another here. I love what’s happening here but I’m protective of it; I don’t want it to grow too much. It’s on the brink. You can feel the energy.
How did the word get out?
We did all our advertising on social media and had no idea how it would turn out. But the first one was a smashing success. We started off with eight clothing littlefleanola.com vendors and four furniture dealers and now we have triple that with a crazy-long waiting list.
How do and Hayley decide on the vendors?
Hayley is a talented painter and she and her husband Ben have impeccable taste for mid-century furniture and architecture. So she curates the furniture vendors and I curate the fashion.
Where’s your favourite NOLA spot to chill out?
The back patio of the Half Moon.
GENERAL PUBLIC, the Bywater
After graduating with a masters in fine art in Chicago, Scott Jarrett returned to his Southern roots and launched General Public from his studio/workshop in hip neighbourhood the Bywater. The talented craftsman now designs home goods that capture colour and line like no other.
Why the name ‘General Public’?
I was thinking in terms of words like minimal, simple, community – ‘general public’ popped up and I was like, “That sounds dope.”
Your business was born out of the desire for some record shelves…
I designed my own and thought, “These are cool!” I’ve always been into furniture design and it kind of rolled from there. I made some floating shelves and coffee tables. Then I decided to scale down to what is two-dimensional, minimal design, which are these paintings and benches.
How do you see the future of General Public?
The paintings are one thing, but these benches I’m designing are going to be a whole new level in terms of what General Public can do. I’m into the idea of production. The benches will turn into seats with backs, individual chairs, tables, and all sorts of things. It’s fluid. One design influences another, they’re not that complicated to make and they look f**king great.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
Definitely minimal. I like an object to have its own presence but not take over a space. I don’t want to fool anybody. I like squares and rectangles and circles and not much outside of that. And colour is my mood-setter. You can manipulate mood and feelings by using colour. What I look for are perfect combinations, like, ‘This colour can only work with this colour’. Once I create that, it’s orgasmic in a way. Colour in conjunction with form to create a sleek, non-assuming object.
It’s a pretty cool and colourful neighbourhood you live in…
It’s the hippest neighbourhood in the world right now. The romantic part of the Bywater is that it is the way it is; a very charming, simple, chill neighbourhood.
Where’s your secret NOLA hang?
I go to Markey’s Bar, Mimi’s and R Bar to drink some beer and play some pool.
XODO, Bayou St. John
Best friends Rachel Brown and Jane Bleecker always had a love for scents. A year ago, they started experimenting with essential oils in their kitchens and by April this year XODO (pronounced zhoh-doh, a term of endearment in Brazil) had developed organically. Their online store offers 100 percent natural skincare, room sprays and candles that are handmade using lush Louisiana-sourced ingredients.
Is it true you started XODO in Jane’s kitchen?
Rachel: Yes, we started experimenting with essential oils and then we thought, “Why don’t we try scrubs, and candles and see if we can steam distilled flowers”. A lot of it is so close to cooking except we’re making things to wear on your skin and have around your house. Everything has a shelf-life so we make all our orders fresh.
You’re using natural, local scents like jasmine and gardenia…
Jane: I had a jasmine tree and a big gardenia plant in my backyard when we first started. Now we have wild roses growing in the street, and we go to City Park to collect things.
Rachel: We are constantly experimenting and thinking of new ideas and ingredients. It’s like a mad scientist’s lab in here.
Do you feel you’re at the forefront of the wellness movement here in New Orleans?
Rachel: I think it’s a movement that’s now picking up in New Orleans. Even healthy organic food, those types of restaurants are just becoming popular. People just discovered juice. I think we are tapping into an emerging market.
Is making and buying local important to you?
Rachel: Absolutely. Every time we’ve gotten in touch with a store they’ve said, “Oh, we’ve wanted something local.” And they are locally-owned stores. It makes us really happy.
Jane: At first we were so nervous about it but then everybody loved it. Since Katrina, people are excited about building a new community.
Where’s your secret hangout spot in New Orleans?
Rachel: Verti Mart in the French Quarter for their delicious poh boys (New Orleans-style sandwiches). We love to ride our bikes there, get sandwiches and beer and sit by the [Mississippi] River.
Jane: Pal’s Lounge. It’s a neighbourhood institution. You ring a doorbell to get in. They have free red beans and rice on certain days of the week, trivia and all the things your neighbourhood bar should have.