If you want cheap, mass produced Mardi Gras masks or just another t-shirt, walk one block down Bourbon Street in either direction, and you’ll be set.
New Orleans is a unique city, so it just follows that you’ll want something special to remember your visit. Here are souvenirs that will make you think about the Crescent City every time you see them.
Faulkner House Books
This is one of my favorite small bookstores in the whole country. It’s tucked next to the St. Louis Cathedral on Pirate’s Alley, in the house where William Faulkner lived during his time in New Orleans.
The thing that makes this bookstore special is a curated selection of books, often in particularly nice editions.
What do I mean when I say this? Any of the classics — works by Faulkner, Austen, Hemingway, Cather, Dickens — pick your author — are available in multiple editions. Too often these great novels are available in the cheapest editions: nasty paper, poorly printed, with almost no white space — you know what I’m talking about. Inexpensive books — so that at least a student can afford to read them for a class. But these are NOT the editions I want in my personal library.
Faulkner House does a great job of finding and stocking classics in editions that are such a pleasure to hold, to read. They have both new books and collectible used books. I also always find they have a wonderful selection of new fiction, as well as poetry, and essays. Of course the store keeps a full selection of Faulkner’s work, in both new editions and valuable first editions.
You’ll find their web site here: Faulkner House Books: A Sanctuary for Fine Literature.
Excerpt from Sketches of New Orleans by William Faulkner:
The Tourist -NEW ORLEANS.
A courtesan, not old and yet no longer young, who shuns the sunlight that the illusion of her former glory be preserved. The mirrors in her house are dim and the frames are tarnished; all her house is dim and beautiful with age. She reclines gracefully upon a dull brocaded chaise-longue, there is the scent of incense about her, and her draperies are arranged in formal folds. She lives in an atmosphere of a bygone and more gracious age.
And those whom she receives are few in number, and they come to her through an eternal twilight. She does not talk much herself, yet she seems to dominate the conversation, which is low-toned but never dull, artificial but not brilliant. And those who are not of the elect must stand forever without her portals.
New Orleans . . . a courtesan whose hold is strong upon the mature, to whose charm the young must respond. And all who leave her, seeking the virgin’s un-brown, ungold hair and her blanched and icy breast where no lover has died, return to her when she smiles across her languid fan . . . New Orleans.
Jose Balli Jewelry
I love this jewelry collection!
Jeweler Jose Balli uses the lost wax method to create his intricate pieces – inventive designs inspired by themes unique to New Orleans and southern Louisiana. This is lovely work in sterling silver at fair prices.
You’ll find little crabs in a variety of forms, alligators that loop themselves over sterling silver chains, and pendants of stylized Spanish moss. It was difficult to pick just one piece. I finally chose the Oyster Heart pearl necklace — the thing that first caught my eye when I was walking along Chartres Street.
Initially, Balli “worked in a metal fabrication shop just out of high school, shaping and welding custom equipment for the oil industry. One day, while waiting for a machine to cut through an enormous pipe, he passed time by carving a tiny alligator from a scrap of soapstone. Coworkers encouraged him to take up art seriously and, thus, began Jose’s 27-year career creating Bayou State designs with a naturalistic appeal.”
When we were in New Orleans the last time with good friends from Houston — all of us came away with jewelry from Balli.
I’ll definitely return to his shop at 621 Chartres Street the next time I’m in NOLA.
I’ve shopped at Hové for years. Readers who have followed my blog may remember my story of Clint Bolton, the old journalist who lived in the Quarter (To Miss New Orleans). Clint took me into the Hové shop in 1979 — to buy his wife’s favorite perfume — Tea Olive. I can still see Pat Bolton anytime I smell the fragrance.
Mrs. Alvin Hovey-King started Hové in 1931. She learned the craft of making perfume from her French Creole mother, and as the wife of a Navy Commander, she traveled the world. Her travels afforded her the opportunity to study perfumes in different countries, and her knowledge of making perfume grew.
What started as a hobby grew into a small business, and when the Crash of 1929 ruined the retired Commander’s business, Mrs. Hovey-King opened Hové at 529 Royal Street. The family lived in the apartment over the shop. While Hové has moved several times, it is still owned by the family. It is now located at 434 Chartres.
Hové continues to make all of their classic fragrances, including Tea Olive and Vetivert, but they’ve added many new fragrances in the last twenty years that have greater appeal to modern sensibilities.
Jan Fenner and Thomas Laird have created a collection of jewelry inspired by things unique to New Orleans, such as church murals, the cast iron fence surrounding Jackson Square, and architectural details of buildings in both the Quarter and business district.
The silver pendant to the left is a great example of Fenner’s work. I brought home a pair of earrings of the same design, and have loved wearing them. I also purchased fleur de lis earrings for my sister and my daughter, each different. I think there are more variations of the fleur de lis in this jewelry collection than I’ve seen anywhere.
Fenner and Laird lived in Nepal for a long time, and Jan worked with women there to use their native textiles to create products for sale. Jan talked at length about how much difference it makes when women are able to take control of their finances because they are generating income.
In addition to the jewelry, you will find textiles from Nepal and hand-printed cards on beautifully textured paper. It’s a treat to visit Fleur d’Orleans just to visit with Jan Fenner, so much so that I went back to the shop twice.
They have two locations, one at 3701A Magazine Street, New Orleans, and then the French Quarter store, which is on the corner of Chartres and Madison Street — half a block from Jackson Square.
Visit the Fleur D’Orleans website for a great overview of what they have to offer, or to place an order online.
Louisiana Loom Works
Ronda Rose has been weaving rugs in the French Quarter since 1997.
Her narrow store on Chartres Street holds three looms, six cats, and the loveliest rag rugs I’ve seen.
Traditionally, rag rugs were made from worn clothes and sheets, and were a way to get additional use out of fabric. Ronda uses only new material – cotton and cotton blend fabrics, and all of her rugs are made on the premises in her French Quarter shop.
She has many colors and sizes of rug available for immediate purchase, but most of her business is making custom rugs. Send Ronda paint chips, photographs, or fabric swatches and she will work with you to create a rug uniquely suited to your room and decor.
It takes approximately ten to twelve weeks for a custom rug order. Louisiana Loom Works is located at 616 Chartres Street. Hours of operation: 11am- 6pm (Closed Wednesday), Phone: (504) 566-7788
Stating the obvious here: if you are allergic to cats, you should avoid this shop since the kitties rule the roost :-).
Freret Street Market
If you are lucky enough to be in NOLA on the first Saturday of the month, consider checking out the truly local Freret Street Market. It’s a combination of great music, food booths, booths selling local art and crafts, and flea market offerings. Definitely a place to find the some of the coolest New Orleans souvenirs. Depending on the day, there may also be a local restaurant sharing their food.
Okay, you French speakers out there . . . leave your high-class accent at home. Locals pronounce the word Freret like this: FUR-ette.
Don’t you be sayin’ it like Frere-ay. Ain’t no one gonna know WHAT you talkin’ ’bout.
The Freret Street Market does NOT happen during the steamy summer months of June, July, and August. Any New Orleanian called tell you why. ‘Cause it’s too darn hot! What, are you crazy, baby? Get inside in dat air-conditionin.’
Freret Street Finds: The Cat Nap Company — Purses made from an old albums — front side is the album cover, and the back side is the vinyl LP. No worries — no viable vinyl was killed in the making of this product. Only scratched albums are used.
So, it’s not the first Saturday of the month and you want to find the Cat Nap Company? Go to the Cat Nap Company Facebook page or email email@example.com to place an order.
My favorite find at the market was artist Nurhan Gokturk — I fell in love with his watercolor, pen and ink work of the Carousel Bar at the Monteleone Hotel. It is a special New Orleans landmark, and his delicate rendition has great movement. You can find Gokturk’s work at Pop City at 3118 Magazine street anytime, or visit the Gokturk web site.
Incidentally, one of Gokturk’s works hangs on the wall at The Spotted Cat, one of the coolest music venues in New Orleans. The Spotted Cat is located at 623 Frenchman Street in the Faubourg Marigny.
So, there you have it. Some ideas for must-have souvenirs from New Orleans that you can also feel good about — created by local people, and not mass-marketed junk from Bourbon Street. And dat’s a good thing :-).
This article was originally published in April 2016 – this newest version has been updated with three more shops and ideas for folks traveling to New Orleans in 2017.
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