Barbara Lacen-Keller Gives her perspective ON GETTING BACK TO ABNORMAL
Served up at MiLa
NOLA AMOUR Apparel ROUX AWAKENING THE JOY OF NEW ORLEANS COOKING
HAROLD CLARKE Couturier Atelier
Contents SOUTHERN SOPHISTICATION Served Up At Mila
TALENTED KIDS Bridgeja’ Baker
BARBARA LACEN-KELLER Gives Her Perspective
03 07 11
11 NOLA AMOUR APPAREL Street Fashion
New Orleans Cooking
HAROLD CLARKE Interview
HAVE A SEAT
Editor In Chief • Cedric S. Bloxson
Graphic Artist • Charlander “Shaq” Encalade
Nola Nights Magazine targets an unpretentious and down-to-earth reader, who desires a publication with visual soul and gives you a distinctive perspective on New Orleans art, fashion, food, music and nightlife. Nola Nights ignites conversation, promotes empowerment and celebrates aspiration. Your premier destination for New Orleans culture.
Southern Sophistication Served up at
MILA By Kathy Bradshaw
iLa, a unique and delicious restaurant in the lobby of the Renaissance Pere Marquette Hotel, is a coming together of different worlds. Haute cuisine meets good ol’ fashioned southern cookin’. Asian and French cuisines blend with southern recipes passed down through generations. Interesting flavor combinations intermingle, like pomegranate molasses with smoked pepper crusted yellowfin tuna. The restaurant’s drink menu is a successful merger of typical hotel bar and backyard barbecue: it consists of craft cocktails made with fancy ingredients, sporting redneck-inspired names like “Hoochie Coochie,” “Redneck Girl,” and “Shotgun Wedding Punch.” Even the name MiLa itself is an abbreviated combination of Mississippi and Louisiana, the home states of the husband and wife team of executive chefs. Says Allison Vines-Rushing, the Louisiana half of the couple, “Our food is a culmination of who we’ve learned from, who we’ve worked for, and where we’ve worked.” They learned French cooking in New York City, Asian cuisine in San Francisco, and of course, southern cooking in their family kitchens growing up. Allison has been in the restaurant business since she was 16. Most teenagers want to spend their
16th birthday hanging out with friends at the mall or movies or wherever it is kids go these days. Not Allison. Turning 16 for her meant reaching the age where she was now old enough to be gainfully employed. The very day of her Sweet Sixteen, she begged her mom to take her straight down to apply for her dream job. She blew out her candles and went to work…as a server at Kenny Roger’s Roasters, a southern chicken joint which sadly is no longer in existence. But Allison has come a long way since those days of wearing a Kenny Rogers uniform and singing Islands in the Stream along with the radio. She has attended culinary school in New York, won a prestigious James Beard Award for her work at Jack’s Luxury Oyster Bar in NYC, opened three restaurants, and co-written a cookbook—which was also nominated for a James Beard award-- with chef husband Slade Rushing, who, like his wife, has a very impressive resume in the culinary world. The couple met in 2000 working as cooks at Gerard’s Downtown in New Orleans, and cooked up quite a romance in that kitchen. Shortly thereafter, they packed up and headed for New York City and all its many diverse culinary opportunities. The two chefs had a real successful go of it in the big city, including the triumphant opening of Jack’s Luxury Oyster Bar,
which launched their careers and elevated them to star status. But after approximately four years in New York, they decided they had had enough. Overwhelmed by the fame, the hectic lifestyle and NYC’s special brand of crazy, they decided to return to their roots and moved back to Louisiana. But while they were blessed with success, they were also cursed with unfortunate timing. They had moved to New York just before 9/11, and now moved to New Orleans mere months before Katrina showed up. Not ones to be easily discouraged (and Katrina, of course, rained on many a parade), Allison and Slade forged ahead with the opening of their first independent restaurant, Longbranch, against all odds, in the fall of 2005. Though this restaurant also had its moment in the sun, Katrina was an unwelcome dinner guest at even the most well-established restaurants, and ruined Longbranch’s otherwise promising start. The restaurant closed its doors a year and a half later. Only two years after that, MiLa opened in November of 2007. Receiving almost instant acclaim, MiLa continues to send sophisticated comfort food out of its kitchen, to the delight of locals and tourists alike. The restaurant is constantly praised across restaurant and travel websites and social media, and is voted among the “Best Of” in all kinds of categories.
So… what’s cookin’ at MiLa? It is easy to spot certain elements of New Orleans cuisine on the menu, and customary southern ingredients. But the chefs serve it up with a side of creativity, and their recipes always seem to take the usual southern fare to another level: they put their crawfish sauce on the crispy baby French chicken, and their andouille is made into a soy broth that accompanies the sautéed Atlantic scallops. They make a collard green coleslaw and serve it up with the rotisserie pork panini. They brine their duck with sweet tea, and stuff the beignets with coconut shrimp. They’ve got sweet potato papardelle and Abita Root Beer sorbet. In this way, they continue to combine gastronomy with down-home soul food. Grits? They got ‘em… but theirs are blended with black truffles and served aside their signature pan-roasted sweetbreads. Expecting to see okra on the menu? Sure, what New Orleans chef worth her seasoning salt would dare forgo this southern staple entirely? But theirs is a cassoulet of okra accompanying their Vadouvan spiced black drum. Not your ordinary etouffee and jambalaya that adorn the menus of so many New Orleans eateries.
Is it fancy cooking with southern elements, or the reverse… southern cooking elevated to gourmet status? Either way, it works. You’ll also see the word “local” pop up repeatedly on the menu. Whenever possible, Allison and Slade prefer to get their ingredients from local farmers who deliver their goods straight to the restaurant. Freshness is essential for them. Says Allison, “We like to keep our menu small, and change it seasonally because everything is fresher that way.” Of course, not everything changes. Some of the signature dishes are constants. Items like their sweetbreads, barbecue lobster, crispy baby French chicken and claim-to -fame “Oysters Rockefeller ‘Deconstructed’” are nearly permanent fixtures. “We tried to take the chicken off the menu once,” Allison says, “and some guests said they weren’t coming back.” Needless to say, the chicken is back, and there to stay.
Despite the success of MiLa, Allison and Slade aren’t letting it go to their heads. They remain down-to-earth, approachable and modest. They are all about faithfulness to their recipes, superior quality, and making everything from scratch. Everything is made-to-order and nothing is mass-produced. Says Allison, “It’s important to keep things small, manageable, and super fresh.” Fortunately, that includes their egos.
Photo curtsey of Kathy Bradshaw
MILA - Sautéed Atlantic Scallops
MiLa, 817 Common Street, corner Baronne Street, in the CBD. Open Monday through Friday, 11:30 AM until 2:30 PM, and 5:30 PM until 10:00 PM. Saturday 5:30 PM until 10:00 PM. Adjacent to the Renaissance Pere Marquette Hotel.
Get their cookbook: Southern Comfort, A New Take on the Recipes We Grew Up With. Ten Speed Press. $35.00. Available online or at the restaurant.
“ They are all about faithfulness to the recipe, superior quality, and making everything from scratch.
Photo curtsey of Kathy Bradshaw
MILA - New Orleans Barbeque Lobster
TALENTED KIDS Sponsored by Kicks 4 Kids
BRIDGEJA’ BAKER is a 16 year old entrepreneur and owner of Creative Jewelry by Bridgeja’, LLC. which she started at the tender age of eleven. Who knew that an emergency visit to the orthodontist would reveal a talent that would later develope into a lucrative business. “I had my first jewelry show on 11/01/08 where I earned $1,107.00 at that moment, I knew I wanted to start my own business and the rest is history!” She has received several distinguished awards; the most recent are the 2012 SCORE Award for Outstanding Minority-Owned Small Business and the 2011 Black Enterprise Magazine Small Business Award Honoree. Bridgeja’ has taken over 30 beading classes which aids her in crafting her colorful one of a kind custom jewelry. Her latest creation “The Bend-A-Bangles” is a set of three bendable bangles you can adjust to create your own unique statement. Without a doubt this talented kid’s future is as bright as her smile. View her online gallery @ www.creativejewelrybybridgeja.com and don’t forget to check out Creative Jewelry By Bridgeja’, LLC on Facebook.
LACEN-KELLER Gives her perspective ON
GETTING BACK TO Abnormal An intimate look at race, politics and culture in A post-Katrina New Orleans
his documentary really surprised me because I did not expect so much of me to be captured. I knew the topics were going to be about race, politics and mainly it was supposed to be more about Stacy (Stacy Head, District “B” Councilmember), but even though this is true, it featured more about me and I found that to be somewhat surprising. I also found the documentary to be extremely raw. What I mean when I say, “raw” is that it was actual. It was actual people, places and things. There were no script; no rehearsals, no “Cut, let’s do this over”. Everything we said and did happen one time and that was it. I was also really pleased and appreciative with the producers. They were able to capture a lot of sensitive things. The most emotional part for me was when they
talked about my friend Temple Brown. He has been gone for quite some time now, but he was an inseparable friend. Everyone was amazed at our relationship because he was a very rich man. I wasn’t the nanny, I wasn’t the maid or the child of the maid; None of that. We just develop a relationship and he had so much confidence and faith in me that he would go beyond to do things for me. For them to capture that in the documentary was beyond what I expected. It shows a side of me that people don’t get to see. You know, I am a person that’s always misunderstood. I believe that sometimes I’m appreciated and I also believe that sometimes I am loved, but I believe most of the time, I am misunderstood because of my abrasive and frankness. I think that is one of the reasons why Stacy and I have
“Barbara Lacen-Keller, a New Orleans Freedom Sister, a grassroots leader, who has unselfishly volunteered for 43 years in neighborhoods of New Orleans to actively engage residents and community based organizations to collaborate on identifying and solving their problems, inspiring and empowering.”
the relationship that we have because we are so similar in a lot of ways, but our hearts are in the right place. We may come off to people as being insensitive, but I think that has a lot to do with our impatience and wanting to see things happen for the good. ”Getting Back To Abnormal” has done something for me that I would never
imagine. In spite of whatever folks may think that I’ve accomplished, I don’t think I’ve been able to give all my work and worth. I feel like I just can’t do enough to get things done for the betterment of everyone.
By Kathy Bradshaw
Awakening A Northern Transplant Discovers the Joy of New Orleans Cooking
first discovered New Orleans and its cuisine in Paris, France, of all places. I was living abroad, working in a tiny American restaurant called “Thanksgiving”, which served Cajun-inspired fare and delicious American-style brunches. It was here that I was introduced to jambalaya, red beans and rice and gumbo. That little restaurant was owned and run by a bi-Atlantic couple (in geography, not sexual orientation. He’s French, she’s from New York). They made their own boudin from scratch, served fresh boiled crawfish, played Zydeco music over the loud speakers and talked incessantly about this far-away, mystical and supposedly wonderful little oasis known as New Orleans. As soon as I moved back to this country, I had to high-tail it to Louisiana as quickly as possible to see what all the hype was about. Naturally, I was far from disappointed. In fact, I fell in love with New Orleans instantly: the architecture, the fun-loving atmosphere…the endless supply of frozen drinks that are fully portable no matter where you take ‘em (hooray for the go-cup!). And, of course, the food. There was a whole new realm of undiscovered deliciousness to taste here. No wonder New Orleans is so well-known for its food. It’s amazing. When in Rome, go ahead and do whatever the Romans are doing. But as long as you’re in New Orleans, just eat. It took me another twelve or so years to actually move down here, and now that I have, I don’t have any intention of leaving. In the ten-plus months I’ve
been a local New Orleanian, I have had the chance to compare many of the familiar dishes I already loved, discovered many a new treat, and adopted a few as my own special favorites. Here is a list of some of the most common New Orleans eats, a little background info you may or may not know, and my impressions of all of them.
SAVORY FLAVORS OF NEW ORLEANS
Where have you beignet all my life? Anyone who’s ever been to any sort of county fair or amusement park has certainly tried those arteryclogging delights known as funnel cakes or elephant ears. Big globs of fried dough with various sugary substances on top. Sometimes fruit. Sometimes cinnamon. Even chocolate. Well, if you’re familiar with this sweet, greasy flavor… now think beignet. A New Orleans-style beignet has often been compared to a doughnut. And not without reason, of course. They do share certain similarities, and as you probably already know, “beignet” is the French word for doughnut. But I find that beignets are far more similar to carnival chow: a big square hunk of fried dough, crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside. Drowning in copious amounts of powdered sugar, which tends to disperse everywhere (if planning to indulge in beignets, don’t wear black… unless you don’t mind looking like you have serious scalp issues or a really bad coke habit). People worship these things (though I am convinced that the line around the block to get some is only half obsession and half good publicity). But personally, I think they are overrated. That said, they are something you need to try, in order to judge for yourself. Don’t forget the coffee. Where to get ‘em Skip the crazy long lines at Café du Monde and try Café Beignet. They have locations at 334 Royal Street (504-524-5530), and at 311 Bourbon Street (504-525-2611), in the Musical Legends Park. While there may be no such thing as a bad beignet (what is there to mess up there?), I do give a slight nudge in flavor and consistency to Café Beignet’s goodies. Not to mention they have half the wait time. Yet,
“In New Orleans, gluttony is a way of life.” -- Morton J. Horwitz, Harvard Law School
Boiled Crawfish Photo curtsey of Kathy Bradshaw
like all good things, Café Beignet is catching on… I walked by one morning and saw a line out the door. Still beats the one all the way around the block at the other place, though.
A Fine Kettle of Crawfish Crawfish are practically the unofficial state animal of Louisiana. Otherwise known as crawdads. Crawdaddies. Crayfish. Mudbugs. Freshwater lobsters. Some even call them yabbies. They are freshwater crustaceans which live in rivers and streams and love to burrow in the mud (thus the nickname mudbug). It is a known fact that most crawfish can’t survive in polluted water, which is particularly ironic, since they are often found happily living in the Mississippi River. There are more than 30 species of crawfish in Louisiana alone, and at least ten times that many good recipes for them. Yes, they sure do love their crawfish here in New Orleans. They are plastered across restaurant menus in all their many forms: crawfish cakes, crawfish pasta, crawfish cream sauce, crawfish bread, omelet, bisque…. And no wonder. Louisiana produces at least 95% of the entire crawfish supply in the country, and around 90% worldwide. And of the up to 55,000 tons of the tasty critters being harvested annually, we consume 70% of them right here in our home state! That’s a lot of crawfish to cook up. So it comes as no surprise that crawfish are a common find in so many restaurants, and an ingredient in such a wide range of recipes. Personally, I like a good crawfish dish. To me, they taste just like
shrimp, to which they are related. I am particularly fond of the crawfish cakes and pasta, though many people have to have theirs fresh-boiled-- which is not only a type of preparation, it is an entire ritual. One of Louisiana’s many excuses to party is, of course, the famous crawfish boil-- basically a Cajun’s take on the backyard barbecue. A whole bunch of folks get together with music and fun and doubtless a slew of alcohol (it is New Orleans, after all). They boil up a bunch of crawfish with some corn and potatoes, drink and dance and rip the little guys apart to suck out and devour their insides. Yum. This process is usually referred to as “sucking the heads”, though the heads are naturally not digestible. While I love the idea as a fun social gathering and a great source of merriment and nutritious revelry, there will be no sucking of any heads for me. Not only can I not seem to get past the idea of gnawing on the exoskeleton of a dead crustacean, but frankly, it’s just too much work to get to the good stuff. I prefer to have my crawfish already prepared for me, without having to work for it. And I want the tail meat on my plate (which, incidentally, is essentially the only edible part), not the whole little craw-carcass. In any case, crawfish are a versatile ingredient which tastes good in just about any meal they are a part of. And they are as healthy as they are appetizing. Crawfish are high in protein and low in fat, so if you skip the cream sauce and avoid the fryer, they are virtually guilt-free. Unless, of course, you feel remorse for killing someone’s potential beloved. Because apparently, they make good pets, and having them as such is a fairly common practice. I saw one at a pet store once. Cute little bugger. I wanted to adopt him, stick him in a fish tank and name him Etouffee. Instead, I went to the restaurant next door and scarfed down a few of his cousins with a good remoulade sauce. I still have guiltinduced nightmares to this day. Where to get ‘em Try the crawfish cakes at Chartres House Café, 601 Chartres Street, corner of Toulouse Street. (504) 586-8383. The crawfish pasta and crawfish bread is also amazing there. Another place worth checking out is Bon Ton Café, at 401 Magazine Street in the Warehouse District/CBD. Their crawfish etouffee gets rave reviews. (504) 524-3386.
SHRIMP & Grits Photo curtsey of Kathy Bradshaw
Roux the Day Gumbo is part soup, part stew, and all delicious. It is a meal as old as New Orleans itself. First served in Louisiana in the 1700’s, gumbo has since become the “official cuisine” of the state. Gumbo is judged on its thickness, color and flavor-- with okra and the sassafras-based filé powder frequently being used to thicken it, and onions, peppers, celery and spices usually used to season it. Gumbo often starts by cooking a roux, which is a fat and flour combo browned in a pan before the other stuff is thrown in the pot. Though gumbo is sometimes just a mish-mash of anything and everything you have on hand—a good kitchen cleanse and a way to get rid of leftovers, it is also a much more complex and complicated dish than it is given credit for. My first gumbo experience took me a bit by surprise. I wasn’t used to dark soup, especially one that is meant to be as thick and dark as possible. Admittedly, I am of the chicken noodle soup school of soup eaters, so most of the soups of my life
have always been pale yellow and poultry-brothed. And if I did encounter a brown soup, it inevitably came from a can and had meatballs and alphabetshaped pasta floating in it. So to be honest, gumbo frightened me a bit. I feared eating it would be similar to licking the gravy ladle after Thanksgiving dinner. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised. Gumbo is excellent. It is rich and flavorful, hearty and chock full of goodness, usually in the form of either seafood, or chicken and sausage (so I can still get a little chicken in my soup after all). I am now a gumbo convert. No more of those wimpy, faded, albino soups. I want something with substance. Chicken soup may be good for the soul, so they say. But we mustn’t neglect the taste buds either. Nor the stomach. After all, it’s not my soul which is growling to be fed. And that’s where gumbo comes in. Serve it up with rice, and you have a meal sure to leave you satiated and content. Besides, gumbo is a crucial part of enough festivals, cookoffs and special events, including Mardi Gras, that it’s bound to be associated with fun as well. And that’s definitely good for the soul. Not to mention it tastes darn good. Anyone who says otherwise is just talking a bunch of mumbo, um… gumbo. Where to get ‘em Hands down, the gumbo at Verti Marte is the best I’ve had in this city. I have a friend who discovered Verti Marte’s gumbo while visiting from New York City last spring, and he turned me on to the stuff. He loved it so much I am convinced he would walk all the way here from the Big Apple just for another bowl. (Verti Marte, 1201 Royal Street at Governor Nicholls Street, (504) 525-4767. Open 24 hours).
Kiss my Grits Grits are the southerners’ oatmeal. Tiny little pearls of corn and southern love. We don’t see them much in my (former) neck of the woods. I seem to recall grits turning up on a breakfast menu or two at the occasional NYC diner, but for the most part it’s an oatmeal world up there. I didn’t have much grit-exposure growing up… They were a foreign concept, a thing of fairytales and bad TV shows. I was convinced that grits were what the Three Bears were really eating when Goldilocks invaded their home (I mean, come on, what on earth is porridge?) And, of course, in that old television sitcom “Alice,” Flo the waitress at Mel’s Diner was always telling everyone to kiss hers. (Does anyone even remember that show?) For us northerners, grits were given a
very bad name. We thought they were what poor, little, tortured children (especially orphans) were forced to eat in all the movies and musicals. (Wasn’t that what Oliver wanted more of?) But now the grits-myth has been busted. The reality is they are a lovely little side dish, sometimes an entire meal… to be respected and savored. And in the south, grits are everywhere. Southerners eat their grits sweet, they eat ‘em salty. They mix anything and everything with them: meat, cheese, cream, butter, sugar, bacon grease… I even knew someone who loved to put hot Cheetos in her grits. But grits most definitely aren’t just for breakfast anymore. You’ll see them on the menu any time of day, and it is never a bad time for a good bowl of shrimp and grits, a fairly standard meal in these parts. Shrimp and grits started out as a breakfastonly treat in coastal towns and fishing villages, especially in those places teeming with shrimp. It was a quick, easy, and flavorful way to serve up the daily catch. Shrimp and grits has now evolved into a New Orleans staple that you will see at even the trendiest eateries. Should you want to forgo the seafood and prefer old-fashioned, macho meat, another popular way to do grits is with grillades-either beef, veal or pork served with veggies atop the obligatory grits. These are both brilliant combinations and a couple of very appetizing dishes. Not to mention, clever. No one up north would dare put shrimp or meat in their oatmeal! Come on Yankees, be adventurous. Ya’ll need some courage, some daring, and maybe a little grit. Where to get ‘em Go for the shrimp and grits at Lüke, at 333 St. Charles Avenue, between Union and Perdido Streets, in the CBD. 504-378-2840. Another great spot for a bowl of shrimp and gritty goodness is Café Fleur de Lis, at 307 Chartres Street between Bienville and Conti Streets. (504) 529-9641. There are far too many wonderful things to eat in this city to fit in just one article, so this is only the beginning. Stay tuned for the next installment of hunger-generating press, when I will be exploring the world of the po-boy, muffaletta, bread pudding, and jambalaya. Until then, go forth and eat. And enjoy. I wish you happiness and gluttony. May all your cravings be fulfilled, and may your dreams be served to you on a silver platter. With a side of rice.
Behind the seams With
HAROLD Clarke Couturier Atelier
NOLA NIGHTS: How long have you been in business? H. CLARKE: Since 1994 NOLA NIGHTS: You started in New York, so why the decision to move to New Orleans?
H. CLARKE: I had a client that wanted a dress to be made, but she couldn’t find what she was looking for locally. So, she flew to several different places and finally she found her dress in Paris. I was in an European magazine there and her daughter saw my dress in the magazine. She went to the publisher and he told her that I was in New York City. So, they flew to New York and came to the showroom. She told me her daughter was getting married and she had 11 bridesmaids. So, I told her that she would save a lot of money if she flew me and my partner into New
Orleans to have everyone fitted for their dresses. We did, and fell in love with the place and never left. NOLA NIGHTS: You’re originally from Jamaica, right? H. CLARKE: Yes, I’m originally from Jamaica. I’m a Jamaican guy. I immigrated to New York and now I’m in the fabulous state of Louisiana which we love dearly. NOLA NIGHTS: Why the transition from Jamaica to the states? H. CLARKE: People immigrate for different reasons, more than likely it’s for a monetary thing. It’s all about money basically. You want to build a family. When I was a kid growing up, we would watch the old movies and with me, it was always fashion. Sketching
“Success is all relative. For me, it’s about getting the job done. A lot of people are closed and I’m still open.
while looking at these actresses on the big screen and seeing what they’re wearing. At the time, I was about 16 and dreaming one day to go to America and actually doing the same thing and when I actually came to America, the dream started to come true when I started designing for Patti Labelle, Vivica Fox, Kim Fields, Delta Burk and Linda Evans. These are the people that I use to dream about designing for and now I have them right in front of me. NOLA NIGHTS: Any other celebrities? H. CLARKE: I also designed for Vanna White from the Wheel of Fortune. I designed for the show as well. I’ve done some things with Jim Carey on a show called, “ I love you Phillip Morris”. They used some of my dresses. We’ve also done some things for a few movies as well. NOLA NIGHTS: What is one of your most memorable moments designing for a celebrity? H. CLARKE: I like Vanna. Vanna was very nice and very professional. The crew was fabulous to work with. I also like Arsenio Hall. Vivica Fox was through Arsenio Hall. The good thing about Arsenio is that he pays. He pays well (Everyone laughs), but my most memorable moment would have to be with Patti Labelle. It was right after 9/11 and the Super Bowl was in town. They were doing a patriotic themed halftime show. Apparently, Patti Labelle was opening the show, but they sent her the wrong dress. They sent her a burgundy dress. Patti was livid. She needed a red, white and blue dress and they sent her a burgundy one. She tried to borrow a dress, but it didn’t work. So, they started looking for designers and they came to the store. I told them my store closed for 6 p.m. and I had some clients coming in for fittings. So, I couldn’t see them at the time. They were like, “But it’s Patti, you got to come see her at the hotel”. So, I went to her
hotel after the store closed and did some sketches for her and she was like, “Oh Harold, I love that, but can you have this for me by tomorrow morning?” I said, “Patti, it’s Saturday and tomorrow is Super bowl Sunday” then I said, “Ok, we’ll do it”. So, we worked all night and we did it. It was fabulous, but it wasn’t easy getting the dress to Patti because of the Secret Service that was in town for the Super Bowl and it was right after 9/11. It was 7:30 in the morning and we just couldn’t get through. There were roadblocks all over the place. So, luckily for me, I explained to a local cop that I had a dress for Patti Labelle and she was performing in it for the Super Bowl during the halftime show and he didn’t give me any problem. He just said, “Ok” and let us through. We got to the front entrance of the hotel and we couldn’t get any further. We had to get a Secret Service guy to take it to the Superdome. We didn’t know she was opening the show and she received it 5 minutes before she had to go on. Patti didn’t even know that she was opening the show. If it wasn’t for that Secret Service guy, there’s no way she would’ve gotten the dress. The next day it was on the cover of the national newspaper. It was all over the place. It was amazing! NOLA NIGHTS: Wow! In one night? So what’s the process in making a Harold Clarke gown? H. CLARKE: It’s just like anything really. If it’s something that you do, you have to make it work. Some people would of said, “Are you crazy, one night? There’s no way we can”, but whenever you make the decision to go into business for yourself, you made that choice. So, whatever it is you got to do, you got to do it and make it happen. My thing is making things happen as oppose to worrying about things. You got to make it happen. That’s what we did, make it happen. I really don’t worry about things that I can’t control. I know what I can control. So, I worry
“The Harold Clarke brand is for the woman who has arrived and entered a world of sophistication.” about what I can control. NOLA NIGHTS: How would you describe a Harold Clarke gown? H. CLARKE: Well, a Harold Clarke gown is for a lady that has arrived. She’s at a point in her career that she can afford to go out and get what she wants as opposed to waiting on someone to buy something for her. She says, “I want that”. When she puts it on she knows that she’s going to be very confident. There’s a reason why Vanna White left Los Angeles to come all the way to New Orleans to get a Harold Clarke gown.
NOLA NIGHTS: How did you meet your “Boss”?
NOLA NIGHTS: So, that’s pretty much the difference between purchasing a gown from you and a high fashion store?
NOLA NIGHTS: Are there any particular fabrics that you guys like to use?
H. CLARKE: Yes. Basically, I’m giving them a 100% of myself. My partner and I put everything into our garments. My partner is my wife, her name is Iona. She’s the boss; I do whatever she tells me [Laughs]. We are here to support the people. Instead of going to Dallas or New York to get a dress, you can get it right here. Not only that, you’re going to see Harold Clarke. If you go to New York, you’re not going to see Vera Wang or Calvin Klein. If you come here, you’re going to
see me. 9 times out of 10 I’m here or you can make an appointment and I’ll be right here collaborating with you with the dresses, showing you the sketches, the embroidery and everything.
H. CLARKE: I’ve been marry to my wife now for 43 years. She was my first model in New York. I actually used some of her money to start the business. So, I had to be very careful in making sure this worked. [Everyone Laughs]
H. CLARKE: We actually make our own fabric. We’re at the point in our career now where we can do embroidery, beading, we can call up the Mills and say, “We want to play with textures and merge some fabrics together to get something” and they’ll do that for us. Lets say I’m working with a client and she’s a dancer and she wants something very unusual that’s going to really stretch because she’s going to be doing high kicks. We would have to create that fabric for that client. Sometimes the manufactures would come
right here to New Orleans to see me. When you get to a certain level in the business they treat you with respect. NOLA NIGHTS: What was the inspiration behind your fragrance? H. CLARKE: When the ladies come in they want to be feminine. They want to have something of Harold Clarke that they can say, “Well, ok Harold, I don’t really want to buy a dress today, but I still want a piece of that Harold Clarke experience”. The fragrance is very floral base. A little peach, a little jasmine and a little tropical flowers NOLA NIGHTS: What’s next for Harold Clarke? H. CLARKE: We’re doing a lot of social networking right now, but our mind set is globally as opposed to just locally or the U.S. based. We have people from Saudi Arabia, London, Italy, Paris and China that buy from us. “Destination Couture” basically, being that the brand is based in New Orleans and the experience is unique to the city, we are incorporating that into our branding to draw people in. They fly in, and stay somewhere fabulous. We would meet them at the airport with a limo, bring them into the city, they come in for their fittings, after their fittings, go have something incredible to eat, come back and fit some more. We would do a series of fittings while they’re in town, work on their clothing and ship it out to them. They would get a great basket of New Orleans experiences. Also, we’re very mobile. We came up with a concept that we would fly anywhere to see a client. AIMEE (H. CLARKE’S DAUGHTER): I guess with wealth
you get to a certain point where you can buy anything and so can anyone else around you, but when you have something created for you, when you walk into that event, it’s yours. You own that look. You can spend $10,000 on a gown these days and walk on the red carpet and there’s three other women wearing the same thing. You see it all the time in the magazines and on TV. Everyone is trying to be someone else, but here you have the luxury of being yourself and owning that. NOLA NIGHTS: Do you have any advice for any up and coming fashion designers? H. CLARKE: Well, the bottom line is you have to believe in your product. You really can’t listen to what everybody says. You have to believe in yourself and just go for it. Nothing is wrong with making a few mistakes. If you don’t make mistakes, you can’t grow. So you have to just do it. Make it happen. When I started out in school, my professor used to tell me that my sketches weren’t good enough. They said it was too European. You just have to go with what you feel. NOLA NIGHTS: How do you define success? H. CLARKE: Success is all relative. For me, it’s about getting the job done. A lot of people are closed and I’m still open. The ladies are coming in and buying the dresses so that’s success for me. People are actually wearing the clothes. I don’t look at it as big a monetary situation. There are people with a lot of money and they’re committing suicide. Also, success for me is family. I can see my kids and help them with their business.
Harold Clarke Couturier Atelier
Headline Designer for Fashion Week 2014 102 St Charles Ave, New Orleans, LA 70130 (504) 638-1579 Rubensteins 2nd Level
Harold Clarke (designer fragrance for women)