The brainchild of Robert Leleux, former Domino editor, as well as designer, writer and, fittingly, native Texan, the inaugural Southern Style Now festival and showhouse is inspired by his forthcoming Southern Style Now, a coffee-table tome, which explores design in the region via Brittany Ambridge–captured photographs of up-and-comers Leleux calls “class acts of Southern design.” Taking place along the city’s famous Magazine Street this spring, the festival will run in tandem with a celebrity-designer-decked showhouse of the same name, which will transform a residence at 1941 State Street once owned by Broadway and film star Alice Faye.
Southern Style Now’s three elements—the book, the festival and the showhouse—cull inspiration largely from regional designers’ own self-identification. Even while abroad, “designers from the South identify themselves as Southern,” reflects Leleux. “Even among the [thirty-something] generation, this regional identity is persistent. There is a whole new crop of up-and-coming stars throughout the South who form a coherent, cohesive community.” These designers face challenges unique to regional traditions, such as “how to incorporate their grandmothers’ silver—not in a stuffy way, but to use it as a launching point to do something new, fresh and interesting.”
It’s a topic that the veteran writer is exploring in the upcoming book. Leleux traveled with photographer Ambridge throughout the South, capturing portraits and stories of the region’s rising designers alongside industry icons with 65 shoots packed into just seven weeks. Among those featured are Shaun Smith, William McLure, Charlotte Moss, Marina Rust, Lynn Myers, Beth Webb, and “New Orleans grand dame” Gerrie Bremermann.
To be published by Abrams, the book won’t be available until fall 2016, but the concept will premiere in another iteration: the Southern Style Now festival (à la Los Angeles’s Legends of La Cienega), running May 18 through May 22, with keynotes (India Hicks, Mary McDonald and Moss are among the planned speakers, shares Leleux), panel discussions, parties, exhibitions, an awards program and the Traditional Home–sponsored showhouse, which launches with the festival and runs for an additional three weeks after its conclusion. (One of the festival’s highlights? A series of vingettes inspired by the seven deadly sins, with “each designer embodying a different vice.” Leleux has envisioned Young Huh with Gluttony, Antonino Buzzetta with Lust, and Amanda Nisbet with Wrath, for starters.)
Brian Patrick Flynn, Reagan Hayes, William McLure, Ware Porter and Shaun Smith pull back the curtain on an experience Leleux says is “like nothing else in the South right now.”
What defines a Southern aesthetic...and why New Orleans? “Since I am originally from Baton Rouge, Southern style always gives me a sense of home and belonging,” shares Hayes. “I like to think of Southern style as visual manifestation of the region’s hospitality and formality. There’s also an expression of heritage and identity that comes across through art and music.... It becomes hard to separate one sensory experience from another. There’s no other place in the South that brings together as much culture and style as New Orleans, with its own cuisine, music, language and customs.”
“To me, Southern style is all about honoring traditional aesthetics, updating them for modern-day use and putting a strong emphasis on creating spaces where quality time with friends and family can be shared,” shares designer Atlanta’s Flynn, who is participating in both the showhouse and the festival. “New Orleans is the best choice for SNN because of its unforgettable architecture, rich Southern history and large community of burgeoning interior design talent.” And McLure, who hails from Birmingham, Alabama, explains, “Being raised in the South has taught me to use Southern traditional style in both my decorating and in my entertaining. I want people to feel welcome, comfortable and very much at home, surrounded by beauty when they are around me and in my home.”
Southern Style Now; courtesy Brittany Ambridge
“New Orleans epitomizes hospitality and graciousness,” shares designer Porter. It’s also market that’s been underrepresented in many ways. “What’s really been exciting to see is the artistic revival in the city ever since Hurricane Katrina,” says Hayes. “There's been a surge of talent flowing into the city over the past several years set on preserving and taking forward all of the best that the city has to offer.” Adds Smith, of New Orleans, “I am so proud to be able to be a part of something that has been missing in the design industry, which is a new take on what’s happening in the design world. Many people believe the South is behind the times when it comes to design. However, I believe, in so many ways, Southern designers are trendsetters and breaking boundaries.”
Aside from further raising the city’s design profile, the showhouse will also contribute funds to the Preservation Resource Center, an organization that preserves, restores and revitalizes historic New Orleans properties and neighborhoods. “This city really deserves it,” says Leleux. “The whole country is rooting for New Orleans; it’s been kicked in the teeth a lot over the last 10 years. I’m very proud that this is going to give people a wonderful excuse to go to a city they want to visit anyway!”