By Jordan Rhodes
When it comes to New Orleans, many elements make it the sought-after travel destination that it has always been, including its captivating Southern history, charming French-influenced architecture, innovative restaurants, and invigorating jazz scene. But another main reason is the world-renowned shopping, and CeCe Villere Colhoun is a big part of that.
Back in the 70's, CeCe's mother, Mimi Bowen, opened the famed Mimi boutique (originally called The Front Room) on Magazine Street, and it soon became the women's shopping destination in town. With its well-known designer labels and perfectly curated selections each season, everyone who was anyone made a point to always stop by. As a child, CeCe would reign supreme as a sort of Eloise-like character, running around the shop after school, dressing up, and cultivating her sense of style at an early age. Naturally, growing up surrounded by beautiful clothes and a dazzling mother, who wouldn't want to follow suit? So after a stint in marketing at Bergdorf Goodman in New York City, and a romance that led to her dream marriage and wedding (where she famously wore a veil once belonging to Napoleon Bonaparte's wife, Empress Eugenie, and is now a Colhoun family heirloom), CeCe eventually moved back to New Orleans with her husband, Trevor, and started her own retail business, the popular CeCe Shoe. And although Trevor once proclaimed he could never live there, he fell under the city's magical spell during wedding planning - as CeCe says, "once you fall in love with New Orleans, there really is no turning back..." The two happily settled into their new life, and CeCe's business began thriving, just as her mom's did.
However, all good things must come to an end, and both stores closed a few months ago - Mimi decided to remarry and retire, and CeCe realized that she wanted motherhood to be her main focus. But never one to stand still, she has much going on, including chasing after her two young boys, Trevor Jr and Blaise, renovating the home she adores, supporting charities, and dreaming about new adventures and projects. In regards to the future, she says,
“maybe there will be a second act for me, but for now I am happy being present for my kids, and more importantly, my husband. Maybe I can start my career at 40 like Carolina Herrera!”
If anyone can do it, it's CeCe. And who better to interview for this guide than someone who treasures her hometown, has strongly supported its economy, and whose family has lived here for hundreds of years? Below, is CeCe Villere Colhoun's New Orleans.
What are some of your favorite memories of childhood, and how has New Orleans changed since then?
One of my favorite memories was Sunday morning breakfast at the Pontchartrain hotel with my mom. It was a classy little hotel restaurant, and she would drink coffee and read the paper while my brother and I ate sugary breakfasts. The hotel has fallen to seed as of late, I heard someone is buying it and restoring it to its full glory. How fabulous if I could re-live that with my own children? Also tea at the Windsor Court - I had my 7th birthday there. Juxtaposed to that of the Pontchartrain, the Windsor Court is in a Golden Age, in full swing and their tea is better than ever! It is a must do if ever in New Orleans. The Polo Lounge there is a classic Jazz bar that is a favorite for locals and visitors alike. The hotel is magnificent.
What are some activities you like to do with your children on the weekends?
My 6 year old is in full swing with sports so we are often spending Saturdays at the Carrolton Boosters complex at Butterfly Park, known here as “The Fly." It's a gorgeous park that overlooks the Mississippi River - a secret spot I love to go even alone sometimes and watch the wonder of the ships glide down the mighty water. They are expanding the complex even more so by the time my almost 4 year old son begins to play, and I am sure many days will be spent in that grass watching soccer and baseball. The zoo is also a favorite of mine, it's only across the street from us, and I am a huge supporter. The kids both LOVE animals and enjoy the camps they offer as well.
New Orleans boasts some of the most well-known restaurants in the country. When dining out, what are some of your favorite spots, with and without the kids?
The best restaurants in town are those owned by Robert LeBlanc, of the group called LeBlanc + Smith. They own Sylvain, Meauxbar and most recently, we have had the honor to partner in his newest endeavor, Cavan. I love Cavan first and foremost because of the space - it's in an old Victorian Mansion - and Le Blanc really shows the beauty of our cities’ architecture by keeping many of the elements raw and true to their natural form. He marries that with a youthful edge and the most delectable food you have ever tasted, created by chef Kristin Essig. The menu is approachable and fresh, with small plates or full entrées to boot. There’s truly something for everyone and the seafood is fresh which is of utmost importance to locals. Try the Oyster Toast, it’s INSANE.
With Kids, we stick to Mexican joints which NOLA is not at all known for, but my family has Latina heritage so I am guessing that's why my kids love beans and rice! Taqueria Corona on Magazine Street is a favorite local dive and a hop skip from our house.
When friends visit from out of town, which hotels do you recommend? When touring around, what do you tell them is a "must-see?”
Like I said before, my heart is with the Windsor Court. My sister had her rehearsal dinner there almost 24 years ago, and we are family friends with the Coleman’s, who started the hotel. In fact, as a girl, they were my neighbors on my childhood street. It’s a stunning hotel, the service and quality is unsurpassed by any in town. There are too many must-sees to list! That's like asking me to pick my favorite child!
You and your mother started the iconic Mimi's boutique and CeCe's Shoes, which, sadly, have recently closed. Where can shoppers now go to find similar labels? What are some of your favorite shopping spots?
I always have and still do love Weinstein’s. It was our other half when we were in the biz, more well-known for its European labels and architectural and minimalistic styling. To me, they have always been cool, sleek and chic. Labels like Dries van Noten and Rick Owens are their bread and butter, and they have recently picked up some more feminine lines like Self-Portrait, a personal favorite.
If you were to leave New Orleans tomorrow, never to return, what would you do on your last day there?
I would probably visit the NOMA, take a walk in Audubon Park, take a rest by the Tree of Life, have lunch at Galatoires, and a beverage at Old Absinthe afterwards, take a ride on the Streetcar and go out late night in the Faubourg Marigny. If I was brave enough have a burger at Port of Call and a fried shrimp Po Boy from Domiciles. I’d buy a beautiful mardi gras mask and have my fortune read by a gypsy in Jackson Square. Go window shopping on Royal Street. Then of course, check into the Windsor Court!
Any general travel advice for families?
We never leave home without wipes, I love my huge Isabel Marant blanket scarf - not only is it chic but it doubles as a blanket for my kids if they want to sleep on the plane, and it doubles as a layer on a bed if its not warm enough at your destination. We love Kids gearz headphones, our iPads and our leap pads. Matchbox cars are a must, great for playing with on an airplane tray table. Snack of course, Grab the Gold bars and Annie’s bunnies are our family faves.