After suffering a devastating fire in May, longtime retail boutique gae-tana's (7732 Maple St., 504-865-9625; www.gaetanas.com) finally reopened Sept. 7 in its original home. Owner Carolyn Billet says the shop has been completely repaired, offering a fresh variety of women's clothing, accessories and gifts after losing its entire inventory.
A New Orleans native who grew up with three sisters, Billet took a keen interest in fashion when she got to college. "I always had a tendency to like clothing and style," she says. "But when I got to college I studied merchandising and felt like it would be a good way to support myself."
She opened the Riverbend store in 1984 after deciding it was time to establish her own business. Prior to setting up shop, she gained valuable experience in the industry by working at Leon Godchaux's (now-shuttered) department store on Canal Street, where she was responsible for setting up its first sportswear department.
Her work in merchandising and retail also led her to Paris, where she spent a year. The experience altered her view on fashion, and to this day she seeks clothing and items that have a European flair.
"I always followed the European color trends," says Billet. "I like the casual sophistication, and it complements our lifestyles here in New Orleans. I like to find trends that are of-the-moment and interpret them into something affordable."
This fall, she says the shop will feature items made with luxurious fabrics — including velvet — along with embroidered items and other garments that exude sophisticated but casual elegance. She also notes that tassels embellishing jewelry and purses will be prominent.
Billet believes high-quality customer service sets her and her staff apart from competing businesses. They understand their repeat customers' personal preferences and cater to their needs.
"We pay attention to our customers and their clothing," she says. "We try to sell them things like accessories that will go with what they already have in their closet."
The shop is versatile in its appeal. "Some of our clients are in high school, and some of them are 70, 80 years old," says Billet. "We're all about lifestyle and attitude, more than trying to cater to a certain age group. It makes a difference."
The customers also were helpful and supportive when Billet was working to repair the store over the summer. "We had good karma for it," she says.