On my journey to capture the fashions of Jazz Fest 2017, I discovered expressing oneself in New Orleans through fashion goes far deeper than threads woven together to create the latest trends.
Ingrid Frank wore a smile that captivated me.
“My name is Ingrid Frank and my t-shirt has a picture of Robert William Guthrie (1955-2014), a well-known artist in New Orleans that passed away a couple of years ago. He had a booth here—selling his art every year until he passed away. I wear this t-shirt, which was made for his funeral, at Jazz Fest because I always think about him, especially at this time.”
Her smile matched his, and his spirit was very much alive through the memory of Ingrid. I couldn’t help but feel an immense amount of joy when I looked at Ingrid and Robert’s smile.
Her dad is black, her grandmother is white, and she is Lavender Pate. At only 8 years old, Lavender parades through Jazz Fest with confidence far beyond her years. She is part of the Washitaw Nation—A derivative of Big Chief Tootie Montana’s old Mardi Gras Indian tribe. Suzanne Bebert gloats about her granddaughter as she kindly holds my mimosa so I can capture Lavender’s authentic beauty. It’s in her blood, Suzanne tells me, “Her dad is the Flag Boy (a very important position that communicates information from the Spy Boy—who goes ahead of the tribe to warn of approaching dangers or other tribes—to the Big Chief).”
“I have to wear something that goes with my Kabuki hat,” Cathy Hightower proclaims. “I come to Jazz Fest every year to dance and I wore this outfit because I love the woman who designs these hats. She’s a local artist and she’s here at Jazz Fest today.” Modeling one of Tracy Thomson’s unique straw hats, Cathy is redefining age through fashion and I hope that my spirit remains as youthful as Cathy’s!
Stylishly showing off her boot, Madeline proves that even a broken foot couldn’t keep her away from Jazz Fest. “I broke my foot at my sorority formal this year. I was coming down the stairs of the school bus and someone stepped on my foot with a high heel.” Her two friends delightfully ensure Madeline is not left behind. “We are walking really slow with her, taking care of her— getting her beers, napkins, anything she needs,” they say.
He appeared in front of me—I never got his name. What he was wearing was highly important, though. “I am a musician, but I travel around giving exposure to men and women who are locked in prison for things they didn’t do. This [pointing at shirt] is H. Rap Brown, a Baton Rouge native. He’s in federal prison although he’s not a federal prisoner. They claim he shot two Sheriff’s deputies (killing one and injuring the other) in Atlanta.
The deputy who was shot says that he shot the guy that shot him and H. Rap Brown was never shot. So, we concluded that he’s not the guy who shot him (along with other discrepancies). He received life in prison without the possibility of parole plus 35 years. I personally know him because we were in the movement together. I was a youth at the time and we were both connected with the Black Panther Party. He was with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He was given the title Honorary Minister of Justice by the founders of the Black Panther Party, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale because he would speak mostly about justice and still does. I use to have a shirt with a picture of him on it wearing a t-shirt with Malcolm X on it—but I don’t have it anymore.”
And just when I thought this day could not get any cooler, it does. New Orleans’ own inspirational Steve Gleason, shows that literally “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades!”
What we wear in New Orleans is our hearts on our sleeves and leaves no one behind. That’s fashion!