Mardi Gras New Orleans Style
Go to the source for creative ideas
As Amy Teal O'Hara, manager of New Orleans Party and Costume can attest, Mardi Gras is a magical time, especially in New Orleans.
"Elsewhere in the U.S. it may just be another party, but here it is an important part of our culture and who we are," O'Hara said. "It allows us to be very creative and escape reality for a day or two, which is something all of us need from time to time."
Located in downtown New Orleans just seven blocks from the French Quarter, New Orleans Party and Costume gets a lot of their Mardi Gras sales from people visiting and staying close to the store - both locals and tourists.
"Mardi Gras gets bigger each year," O'Hara said. "This year was one of the biggest in many years due to it being so late in the season and coinciding with many spring breaks across the U.S. We are open during some of the parades so we get folks coming off the route looking for a funny hat, beads, masks, etc."
O'Hara said that Mardi Gras is about being someone else for a day, almost more than Halloween, and costuming in New Orleans for Mardi Gras is a very eclectic style. At Halloween most people want to be something scary like a superhero, vampire or witch. Mardi Gras is much more creative. Instead of buying a packaged costume, locals especially will be more likely to dress from head to toe in one color, or go in a group of people all dressed the same.
"We have to keep our craft section fully stocked this time of year because people tend to create their own costumes with feathers, glitter, craft paint, rhinestones, plain masks to decorate etc.," O'Hara said. "We start early in the morning Fat Tuesday and go until midnight in full costume and alternate personas.
"And it is not just on Fat Tuesday that we costume," she continued. "The whole weekend leading up to it you will find people dressed in a different get-up every day and night. Masks and masking are a very big part of Mardi Gras and we sell more Venetian Masks this time of year than any other. If people don't wear a costume, they will usually at least don a mask."
Over the years O'Hara has found the need to make some of the unusual items that they could not find from suppliers.
"We pay attention to trends both local and nationally, but we dance to a different beat down here," she said. "What may work elsewhere, may not work here in New Orleans and vice versa. There are a some vendors who represent Mardi Gras well in their lines, but it's not always what we need locally. This year it was tutus in Mardi Gras colors (purple, green and gold) and a rainbow of others. Whimsical hair accessories that we fashioned were a big hit and sold as soon as we put them out."
Kelly DeMoraes of Midwest Design Imports, Inc. agreed that masks, wigs, fashionable headbands adorned with butterflies and feather hair accessories are hot commodities now and predicted to remain strong well into 2012.
"These fashionable hair pieces come in a wide variety of styles and colors and can be used for almost any occasion - Mardi Gras, St. Patrick's Day, weddings, etc.," DeMoraes said. "Boas are also a top seller no matter the time of year. We suggest displaying boas by hanging them up or putting them on a mannequin so the customer cannot only see what colors are offered, but can touch the product as well. By showing the product in use, they are able to gain a new perspective and different ideas."
DeMoraes added that Mardi Gras colors are festive and fun and can be used for just about any party, no matter the time of year. More and more masquerade themed proms and parties are rising up, something Warren Berkowitz from Forum Novelties has noticed as well.
"We've also found that Mardi Gras themed parties are catching on throughout the country and are even being held throughout the year," Berkowitz said. "Many graduation parties in June have been themed as Mardi Gras themed parties, which has given our customers a second chance to sell product beyond the usual selling season."
He said that the old trend of just having purple, green and gold as colors for Mardi Gras has changed, and that there has been a greater interest in other colors such as gold and black for New Orleans and various other color combinations in other parts of the country.
"We also find that beads, which used to sell mostly for Mardi Gras, have now become a staple party favor," Berkowitz added. "With this in mind we are unveiling now a new range of beads packaged on racks for all year-long sales."
When it comes to displaying these items, New Orleans Party and Costume has a three-bay display window used to create fun scenes with their family of mannequins.
O'Hara said they try to change the display weekly - one window will be purple, green and gold costumes, another will have funny costumes or something related to a themed costume ball coming up and the third will show party supplies and décor.
"We have two floors to our store," she said. "The first floor is party supplies and some costume items. The front of the store has a main display that changes with the season, and in this area we rotate out the solid color tableware and whatever themed holiday is in season. It makes it easy for our customers to get in and out."
They sell mostly large décor pieces, bunting and garland that people hang from balconies and solid color tableware in purple, green and gold. Balloons are their second biggest department, and they have a number of repeat customers they do jobs for each year. Most events they cater to are balloon related - many Carnival Clubs will have balls, and they will do balloons arches, sculptures and bouquets for them.
"The second floor is all costumes and related items and we tend to change the layout from Halloween to Mardi Gras, as different items are sold during each season," O'Hara said. "We rotate where merchandise is displayed to make the customers' shopping experience as easy as possible, but also in such a way that it will draw them through areas that they may not necessarily have gone to otherwise."
O'Hara said they pride themselves on providing each person that walks through the door with a fun experience, whether they purchase anything or not.
"Living in a city like New Orleans that has gone through more than her share of devastation, Mardi Gras is a time to let loose be happy and forget about our troubles," O'Hara said.
So throw on some beads and keep the magical spirit of Carnival in your store all year long. Because regardless of location, the point of a party store is to help customers let loose, be happy and forget about their troubles.
That's something we all need from time to time.
By Abby Heugel