What does St. Joseph, Louisiana, have that New Orleans doesn’t?
Until a few weeks ago, the answer would have been a shop that showcases the sumptuous pillows made by Rebecca Vizard of B. Viz Design.
You know the ones: They appear in upscale design magazines, all velvety smooth in mouthwatering colors, adorned with fine gold and silver braiding.
When you grow up in St. Joseph, Louisiana, on the banks of Lake Bruin, the odds are good that you will have learned to sew, most likely in a h…
“Gerrie Bremermann used to carry the pillows in her shop, but after she retired at the age of 91, there really wasn't any place for people in New Orleans to buy them, except online,” said Vizard as she was preparing for her shop’s grand opening event a few days ago.
“It just made sense to open up a shop here after that.”
The B. Viz Design New Orleans Atelier occupies half of a double shotgun at 3506 Magazine St., adjacent to Balzac, the purveyor of fine European antiques and art.
“It’s a great pairing,” Vizard said. “I have known Sarah Scott Thomas, of Balzac, forever, it feels like. My daughter is also named Sarah Scott, and she is the one who runs the store. I convinced her to move home from Colorado to do it, and we are having a ball together.”
Vizard said the New Orleans location carries jewelry (much of it custom made for her by artisans living overseas), candles and vintage items. But it’s what you don’t see when you first walk in that holds the biggest surprise.
“The ‘atelier’ part of the name refers to the fact that there is a third room stocked with fabric and wonderful items to sew onto them. It’s a room where you can come and choose the fabric you like best, the braid you want and the shape of the pillow, and we will custom make one for you,” she said.
Lenora Costa, curator of collections at Longue Vue House and Gardens, stood in the attic of the house museum holding a 19th-century creamware …
Vizard’s fascination with antique and ethnic fabrics stretches back to when she was an art student at Newcomb College in New Orleans in the late 1970s.
“I would ride my bike to the auction houses and just observe what things went for,” she told The Advocate in a 2015 interview. “I would visit antique shops looking for textiles.”
Vizard is known for her now-iconic velvet pillows with appliques of antique ecclesiastical braiding, some of it dating to the 17th century.
Although it isn’t possible to say what a custom pillow would cost (it depends on fabric, adornment, size), the handmade pillows in Vizard's new store run anywhere from $200 to $3,200. If that sounds like a lot, consider the pedigree of the fabric and braid.
“We literally go to the ends of the earth to find materials to use," she said. "I have traveled a great deal and don't like buying material from a dealer. I go straight to the source, the artisan.
“Part of the idea is to showcase these wonderful handmade works to inspire appreciation of other cultures.”
“We cut out the appliques with cuticle scissors to make sure the cloth and braid are handled delicately,” she said. “Every tiny stitch we use to apply it to the pillow fabric holds it tight to the velvet we use.”
Vizard said that although silk velvet might seem more posh, cotton velvet (she uses a blend) holds up better and ensures the longevity of the piece.
“Silk velvet will rot over time, especially if it is exposed to daylight a lot,” she said. “When you're paying $500 for a pillow, you want it to last.”
Most of the pillows are now at Vizard’s New Orleans location rather than at the shop in “St. Joe,” as the 1,100 residents call their north Louisiana home.
That small town stretches along an oxbow lake that makes it a popular destination in the summer for boating, swimming and fishing.
“Right now in St. Joe, there are chandeliers, pet collars and other fun things,” Vizard said. “The plan is to switch the inventory out, take the pillows to St. Joe and move other things to New Orleans when business slows down here over the hot summer months. That’s when St. Joe is hopping.”