As creativity goes, New Orleans is an embarrassment of riches for music, food, cocktails and art. But there’s more, much more. Clever local creators and makers craft everything from handbags and hand-sewn bead art to wearable textiles and jaw-dropping ceramics. Minimalism? What’s that? Go for broke or go broke (in the best way) loading up on local soul, New Orleans made.
When Schwing was young and a self-described “tomboy,” a handbag helped her feel “dressed up.” Carrying her handbag passion into adulthood, she decided to design her own. Researching leather led Schwing to Italy, where she earned guidance from a prominent consulting agency that loved her pluck and unique idea: a collection of handbags featuring Italian leather, lined with fabric bearing the print of original artwork from New Orleans female artists. Her Bene Bags are a hit. Smooth or stamped leather, simple or kicked-up bright colors and metallics, Schwing’s bags are modern, sophisticated and, as she says, “Italian chic on the outside, New Orleans funk and soul on the inside.”
Anchored in the city’s Black masking culture, Big Chief Demond Melancon of the Young Seminole Hunters, spent many years learning the art of hand-beading elaborate Mardi Gras Indian “suits.” These elaborate and brightly colored outfits are covered with hand-sewn patches depicting fictional and factual African and American experiences. The 200-year-old art form is deeply emotional, special to New Orleans and jaw-droppingly beautiful. More recently Melancon crafted a beaded-portrait series that was awarded contemporary craft “Best in Show” at the 2019 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. His work, which has been exhibited at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, is found locally at the Arthur Roger Gallery.
It's a magical, mystical, madcap world inside Lady Delaney's Imaginarium, a shop of handmade curios. Delaney’s “whimsical whatnots”—miniature 1940s-era dresses, itsy-bitsy furniture, thumbnail-sized books, microscopic gas lamps—are wondrous and beautiful; you’ll want some, even if you don’t know why or what for. Even her website fascinates with charm, humor, excitement and a virtual tour of what ruminates in her head and heart. Be sure to inquire about her self-guided tiny tombs tour. Jewelry, secret books, cards, candy, classes, conspiracies and lip balm; a mesmerizing and memorable collection of creativity.
William Shakespeare once said, “The eyes are the window to your soul.” At Art & Eyes, the windows showcase eyes (eyewear) and Hagenbring’s soulful, artistic fashions. A New Orleans transplant with a serious catalog of education, experience and awards in fashion, Hagenbring’s custom-designed jackets, coatdresses, scarves and tote bags are made from pieced-together, top-stitched fabrics that are then hand-painted. Beautiful, fun and colorful, the mix of textures makes for singular statements or stylish accessorizing. Favorites among Hagenbring’s work are the appliqued fabric tote bag and flowy, ethereal chiffon scarves. Her artsy jackets and dresses are standalone stunners.
Abbott’s airy, crisp meringues are almost too beautiful to eat. Almost. No detail is missed with confections of bold swirls and orbs, big hearts, mushrooms that look just plucked from the earth and shards of hand-painted meringue bark, all lushly flavored and prettily packaged. This young entrepreneur is a native New Orleanian and culinary-program graduate who—with his perfect puffs of whipped egg whites, flavorings and sugar—has earned the moniker “Lord of Meringues.” Working with local weather (humidity) challenges and seasonal tastes, Abbott creates an ever-evolving array of sweets in classic and contemporary form and flavor. Bourbon-caramel and peanut butter? Pear and ginger? Oui, chef.
Fire is an apt word for ceramicist Kuhe and her art. Fire is in her soul, reflected in her eyes—it’s even in her hair, which licks like flames framing her face. And, of course, fire is used to finish her stunning ceramic pieces. Kuhe scratches meaningful images (butterflies, cockroaches, snakes, etc.) onto clay, forming the ceramics into pieces that are joyful, decorative, humorous and functional. Her motifs and colors draw greatly, but not exclusively, from Louisiana flora and fauna, evoking the spirit of earthly communion inspired by a city filled with people she calls “unstuck.” In love with creating in clay, Kuhe says New Orleans shaped her into an artist on fire.