A local New Orleans legend. Mignon Faget is an inspiration

New Orleans
New Orleans

Located in the fashionable, The Shops on Canal Street, in the center of New Orleans’s French Quarter, is a bijou of a boutique, Mignon Faget. It’s here that I’m surrounded by some the most creative, textured, fabric -looking silver jewelry. And whatever I knew about Faget before I came to the Big Easy is all true. This local legend is one of the finest and creative jewelry designers.

Virginia Saussy, the executive vice president has been with Faget for the past 19 years and knows every aspect of the company, Faget’s jewelry and her philosophies..indeed a fantastic spokesperson. “ Most of the employees stay a very long time. It’s like a family. Some of the craftspeople have been here longer than I have

And since it’s the designer’s 40th anniversary in business, the vitrines are filled with some of the original pieces that made Faget’s ideas and jewelry so famous.

“We’re bringing back designs that have been tucked away in the back of the vault for years. There are so many I’ve never seen,” says the savvy 44 year old, fashionable woman wearing ,of course, multi rings and many items I see on display. But who won’t?

“There are so many pieces that I’ve always wanted.” And what does Saussy favor. It’s her bean bracelet. “ It was my first piece of jewelry when I was young. Now, I never take it off. And my first piece after the storm was a Fleur de Lis. It’s been around for a long time but now it’s the symbol of our recovery,” she says referring to Hurricane Katrina which brought the city to a stand-still with horrendous post circumstances.

She points out how many are like mini sculptures. One of Faget’s earliest pieces is a silver fig which still is a great seller and hangs from a chain. There’s are pears , apples plus red peppers and beans. Bracelets, earrings and rings are from the early phase of Faget’s works.

But then there are the larger pieces. Bows, knots, shells, architecture all are part of this vast collection which are an important part of this designer’s imagination. The knots are especially wonderfully crafted. Imagine silver that looks like you’ve just tied that bow or know! Then there is the collection of banners. I must admit that my pulse rate went sky high when I held the definitely outstanding large cuff which I had seen in the window and which propel led me into the store.

“They’re like grosgrain ribbon caught in the winds,” Saussy tells me as I finger the large, stunning, textured silver bracelet . This is a major statement piece and any woman who is lucky enough to own one is sure to be the envy of every jewelry collector, silver or not. However, for those who don’t worry about price tags, Faget does make any piece, including this hunk, in gold. With her base of collectors (which she calls her clients(Collectors)), this piece is certainly one of their prize items and without question, my favorite.

“You don’t see Faget’s larger pieces coming and going. They’re really limited editions since they are all hand crafted and obviously time intensive,” Saussy tells me as though she too, is seeing them for the first time; her enthusiasm is contagious.

And it’s not only silver, Faget works with pearls and precious and semi precious stones which show up in her silver adaptations of shells and sea creatures and anything to do with nature.

New Orleans
One of Mignon Faget’s silver banner cuffs

To make sure that I know the various steps including the wax adaptation, she notes that all the items are not mass produced therefore are limited quantities. The studio/workshop is on Magazine Avenue, about 6 miles from where we are sitting. It’s also the street renowned for the top antique shops, art galleries and independent fashion boutiques. Not too far from the offices is Faget’s foundry where there are 45 artisans and it’s here that there do the polishing and buffing and have very serious quality control . And still on the same street is the large flagship retail shop with a much larger representation of Faget’s work with representation of her other designs e.g. colorful pareos, chiffon scarves, baby gifts, pens and glassware (these made in Hungary (the crystal is made in Hungary)) but all designed by Faget.

“So many jewelry designers have their designs made in Thailand, China and Malaysia, and although they do beautiful work, we want to do something of a different quality level . We sell all over the country plus we have an important and busy website with our clients scattered around the country and the world,” says Saussy

What intrigues me are some of the unusual combinations. For example there’s another of my favorites…a raw bamboo soft colored fabric rag ribbon neckpiece studded with colored peals all strung together and held with a beautiful sterling center piece. “There’s a lot of look for the price.” It’s under $500.

Faget could have probably be a stay at home mom. Her family, is considered Creole aristocrats in society and came to New Orleans in the 1790s. While her father was a doctor, Faget’s three siblings became dentists but she couldn’t imagine “putting her hands in people’s mouths all day” so she became a sculptor.

Faget is now in her 70s and a grandmother which is one of the reasons for the children’s dishes and other baby and children oriented items she has developed.

And with all tales of success there’s a beginning. Hers started when as a school girl it was a mandate to wear an uniform. However away from school, she would design dresses which were then sewn by her talented mother ,(who lived to 104 years old). The output was always very vogue-ish . Later she studied in France, got married and had children “as women were supposed to do at that time.”

Perhaps her entrepreneur side would never had been developed had she not divorced thus having to find a way to fulfill her needs both financially and emotionally.” She was really a pioneer in business. Who in the 1970s, was doing wearable art?” asks Saussy.

New Orleans New Orleans
New Orleans New Orleans

And the transition must have been difficult since she started her career in her mid thirties going into what came naturally, designing a clothing line. It wasn’t easy going for a while since Faget had to look after children, her business, go to marketplaces, so the selling and producing and coming out with collections four times a year. In fact, she didn’t even have an atelier but worked out of her son’s bedroom each day after he had left for school and she moved the bed to make room for her work. Eventually she rented a small work space . It was then that she began accessorize her designs with jewelry she had created. Many of her designs were shells from the Gulf coast. Pretty soon the jewelry took over and by 1980 the clothing side drifted away and she focused entirely on jewelry.

The collection evolved but at the beginning she concentrated on nature and Louisiana culture. What is really unique is that she also had the courage in this conservative fashion environment to produce whimsical pieces. With the popular red beans in silver she accented them with pearls. Off the menu of local dishes, gumbo, one of the State’s famous trademark foods, became a collection where she combined geshi pearls to represent the rice adding okra, shrimp and crab in silver to the recipe.

New Orleans

“She likes to bring the ‘collector’ into the design process.” Well, before it was as chic as it is today, stacking Faget’s rings was a rage a decade ago.

In the 1980s she took botany courses and was intriqued by plants especially those who protect themselves with thrones. Then she became fixated with Zea,- Mayan for corn- and their kernels and outer leaves, now evident in her output.

It’s also in New Orleans is where she finds many of her inspirations. Certainly the signature of this city are the cast wrought iron balcony’s trims and their architecture. From these she has found many designs which have been translated into her jewelry. And this year, the fluffy snow ball has come out in silver and colored non precious stones, some on a chains and others hanging from charm bracelets and these multi colored non edible yummies have become a great hit for all ages.

Which was the segue for her more precious gem stones. I’m told that Faget sends a few savvy staff to markets where they hand select gemstone which they know will be of interest to Faget. A perfect example is her love for raw stones…opals, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, in their natural form as seen inserted into some round pendants and also on a bamboo shaped cuffs with diamonds in the rough/ As for coral, this eco friendly designer who shows stunningly neck pieces gets her coral from the Pacific’s non endangered coral.

New Orleans

At this point, Virginia turns more serious and picks up a heart, turns it over and shows me what it says. “ “If ever I cease to love” which is the anthem of Mardi Gras. But post Katrina, this phrase is often inscribed on the back of pieces such as the State’s logo, a Fleur de Lis.

“Post Katrina, we started raising money to bring artists back to the city. We opened our shops when there were only 10,000 people who had remained in the city. The Fleur de Lis is our badge of courage and a percentage goes to bring people back,” Saussy tells me. Now it’s about the oil spill disaster so Faget has designed a black oil covered oyster and pins of oysters, pelicans, redfish and speckled trout –(the two latter specifically endangered by this oil spill disaster), using the sales of these silver treasures this to raise funds for the coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana.

After the storm, most of the employees were hired back by December 1, 2005.

So it’s easy to say that Faget is in touch with her city, the people, nature, various philosophies and a love for beautiful designs that we are fortunate to be able to see and purchase. Yes, Mignon Faget is a doer, a generous and thoughtful woman and a legend in our time.

For more information contact Barbara3@rogers.com.