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Louisiana Jeweler Doesn’t Have Customers, It Has Collectors

Renovated store reflects the spirit of New Orleans.

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Mignon faget; Canal Place, New Orleans, LA

URL: mignonfaget.com; OWNER: Mignon Faget; FOUNDED: 1969; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 1984; LAST RENOVATED: 2013; AREA: 813 square feet; EMPLOYEES: 31-plus; ARCHITECT: David Waggonner of Waggonner & Ball Architects; LOCATIONS: 5


AT JEWELRY DESIGNER MIGNON Faget’s stores, where customers are known as collectors, it seems only natural that her work be presented in an archival manner.

“A friend told me that my work is my diary,” says Mignon Faget. “Whatever it is that I am particularly interested in at that phase of my life comes out in my work.”

Walking with Faget through her recently renovated Canal Place store at the edge of New Orleans’ famous French Quarter, it’s easy to see how true that is — from the jewelry inspired by her mother’s antique lace collection — to the icons inspired by her Roman Catholic background — her jewelry tells her life story.

So, too, does her reinvented store, designed to be a journey through her decades of creation.

Her collections are displayed in wall cases, allowing for an easy and unobstructed traffic flow for a store with a modest and narrow footprint. Beneath the wall cases, much more jewelry is displayed in drawers, which customers can peruse themselves, or while guided by sales staff, who are versed in the Mignon Faget story.

An archival room, she says, brings collectors closer to knowing the artist behind the designs. “Collectors like to discover what’s in a drawer. It’s a curiosity thing,” Faget says. “You see a little bit of it and you want to see more. People feel they are behind the scenes, in the archives of a jeweler.”

Sales staff stands side-by-side with customers, rather than being separated by jewelry cases.

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The setup was inspired by the drawers in a case in Faget’s Magazine Street studio, where she keeps artists’ proofs.

Faget, a fifth-generation New Orleanian, has a bachelor of fine arts degree with a concentration in sculpture from Tulane University’s Sophie Newcomb College in New

Orleans. She spent her junior year abroad in Paris and took the opportunity to immerse herself in exploring Europe.

When she returned home, she married and had three children in less than three years. But she felt restless. Stay-at-home mom wasn’t exactly her calling; she detoured to the Parsons School of Design in New York to satisfy her aesthetic drive while learning the technical side of drafting.

Faget designed her first ready-to-wear clothing line in 1969, and began opening retail outlets back in New Orleans in 1973. The success of the clothing line prompted her to consider what might be the perfect belt, pin or necklace to enhance her ensembles. That keen interest in accessories and her studies in sculpture led her to create jewelry forms.

She began to experiment with colored glass and metal, accented with mineral and stones. She even melted down some wedding gifts — including bon-bon dishes — to make her first jewelry, which had a seashell theme. (“I don’t go in for bon-bons,” she says, a hint of her wry wit on display.) Another early collection was called

“Animal Crackers,” inspired by her favorite cookies. Jewelry quickly became her all-consuming interest.

Faget’s inspirations often take on a life of their own. Her jewelry aesthetic is reflected in the store’s design, too.

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For a collection of jewelry called Ironworks, she was inspired by the wrought iron famously used in the balconies and galleries of New Orleans’ “Vieux Carre,” or French Quarter. Her Serpentine Jeweled Cuff pays homage to the roofline ironwork of Le Petit Theatre, for example, part of which was built in the 1790s. New Orleans artist Julie Neill, collaborating with Faget, used the cuff as a model for the eye-catching chandelier in the store’s center. The steel frame is coated in four layers of hand-applied silver leaf, and solid rock crystals are used in place of the semi-precious chalcedony found in the cuff.

In planning the store, Faget worked with David Waggonner of Waggonner & Ball Architects, to balance traditional New Orleans materials with modern architectural forms.

The interior walls of the store are made of pickled cypress, an indigenous building material used along the Gulf Coast since the 1850s. The floor is Noir Stone, which references the slate used in historical New Orleans buildings, while a “Gros Rouge” (Big Red) finish used for the custom-built armoire reflects a traditional hue used in furnishings.

The store, like the jewelry, has a strong sense of place, which is vital to creating a unique selling proposition in New Orleans. “The most important lesson I have learned as a retailer is that if you sell a product that represents the experiences, traditions, and culture of the local population, it will appeal to both locals and tourists alike,” Faget says. “Tourists will come into our location at the mall with a national competitor and tell us that they could buy that particular brand anywhere, but while they were in New Orleans they wanted an authentic experience and they wanted to support local merchants.

“Our local customers are proud to support us, and repeatedly shop with us to ensure that we have a long lasting future in their community. We sell jewelry that expresses why Louisiana is unique, and that is something that no national retailer could import.”

PHOTO GALLERY (8 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Mignon faget

1. COMMUNITY BENEFACTOR: Faget has long been an active preservationist and art advocate, who has served on local museum boards. She donated proceeds of her designs to the Louisiana Cultural Economy Foundation in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana to aid in the Gulf oil spill cleanup, and NOLA for Life to combat gun violence. Her first gallery building was donated to the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans. The Historic New Orleans Collection and the Louisiana State Museum Capitol Park honored Mignon Faget with a retrospective exhibit examining her life’s work, titled Mignon Faget: A Life in Art And Design.

2. LOCALLY INSPIRED AND LOCALLY MADE: Faget has five stores in Louisiana and a manufacturing facility and company headquarters in Uptown New Orleans. Faget is driven to design jewelry derived from natural and architectural forms found in her local environment. “What is so beautiful about Louisiana comes out through my work. It is a mysterious place.” Her collections also continue to tie in to her personal life. Her “thorns” and “crosses” collections reflect her Catholic background. Her mother’s antique lace collection sees new life in her Air Blanche and Air Noir collections.

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3. IN-HOUSE MARKETING TEAM: A three-person marketing staff works with a photographer and outside designers to produce a newsletter, and advertises consistently with billboards, streetcar signage, local magazines and newspapers, and hotel publications. They also work closely with concierges, who provide referrals. Amina Dearmon, VP of sales and marketing, says just about half the visitors to the Canal Place location come from out of state. “The challenge is we have a very limited time to introduce them and educate them about what the brand represents,” Dearmon explains.
“You really have to work harder at building that relationship and following up.”

4. THE PORTRAIT: Each store features a portrait of Mignon Faget. In the Canal Place location, the portrait was painted by artist Josephine Sacabo.

5. THE NEWSLETTER: Once a year, the store produces a newsletter to generate excitement about new collections. It includes information about what Mignon Faget has been doing, and a brief Q&A of frequently asked questions.

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Mignon Faget has a brand ambassador program. The staff selects local women who are visible in the community — attending society events and parties — to borrow jewelry and wear it out to public events. They are also able to purchase it at a discount.

Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

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