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The Claiborne Mansion
Liz Claiborne and the Claiborne Mansion
If you grew up between the mid-1970s to mid-2000s in America, you probably know the name Liz Claiborne. The fashion icon launched her namesake company in 1976, and a decade later she became the first woman to found and helm a Fortune 500 company; by 1988, she controlled a third of the U.S. market for upscale womenâs sportswear.
So how is Liz Claiborne connected to the Claiborne Mansion? Her grandfather, Fernand Francois Claiborne, grew up here.
Fernandâs father (and Lizâs great great grandfather), William C. C. Claiborne, Jr., built Claiborne Mansion in 1859 and raised his family here. Fernand, the seventh son and the youngest of ten children, was around six years old when the family moved into the mansion, and he spent his childhood playing in the great room that ran the length of the attic and running through Washington Square Park.
Out of the ten children, only Fernand and two of his brothers married. Fernand and his wife, Marie Louise VillerĂŠ, went on to have a son named Omer â and in 1929 in Brussels, Belgium, Omer and his wife, Carolyn Louise Fenner, had a daughter they named Liz Claiborne.
Liz spent her first decade in Belgium, but in 1939 the family moved back to New Orleans, where they stayed through World War II. In her teens, she went back to Europe to study painting, but before she turned 20 she relocated to New York City, where she began her legendary six-decade career in fashion.
In 1988, Liz told the New York Times that her favorite street in New Orleans is St. Charles Avenue, located a few blocks southwest of the French Quarter:
âThe architecture one is likely to see on the avenue, said Ms. Claiborne, is âlike New Orleans, rather eclectic and catholicâ – all lintels, dormers, turrets and Greek columns.â
âThe New York Times
If you walk west on Royal Street, which is across from Claiborne Mansion on the opposite side of Washington Park, youâll pass directly through the French Quarter and then find yourself on St. Charles.
We donât know if Liz Claiborne ever visited Claiborne Mansion herself as the last official Claiborne resident died in 1915, but it sounds like she would have appreciated what Architectural Digest calls a âfaĂ§ade characterized by both Greek Revival and French Colonial elementsâa wrought-iron balustrade along the second-level balcony, a pilaster-flanked entrance portico.â
Points of interest
â˘ Did you know New Orleans has a Fashion Week every spring? If you plan on attending next yearâs New Orleans Fashion Week and want a good conversation starter, book a night or two at the family mansion of one of the fashion worldâs most successful names.
â˘ The New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) just concluded a well-reviewed fashion exhibition called âA Queen Withinâ that featured pieces by Alexander McQueen and other designers, but if you missed it, donât worry! You can experience a jaw-dropping collection of mardi gras costumes at The Mardi Gras Museum of Costumes and Culture in the French Quarter year round.
Family history sources:
âÂ Â Â Â Â Plus historical photos and documents kept on location at the Claiborne Mansionâ just ask Cleo about them the next time you visit.
The Claiborne Mansion earns Fodorâs Best Award from Fodorâs Travel
Weâre proud to announce that Fodorâs, one of the worldâs leading travel guides, has awarded the Claiborne Mansion a Fodorâs Best designation in âThe 7 Best B&Bs in New Orleansâ as well asÂ Â âThe 7 Best Stays for Jazz Fest in New Orleans.â
Fodorâs has been around for 80 years and is one of the most trusted voices in the travel industry, so it means a lot to us that weâve been recognized. According to Fodorâs, âwhile every hotel listed in a Fodorâs guide is deemed worthy of a travelerâs time, only those offering a truly distinctive experience are given the Fodorâs Best designation. The Fodorâs Best hotel recipients are the best of the best at providing a remarkable experience in their categoryâ [emphasis ours].
Here are some of the reasons weâve been named a top spot, according to Fodorâs editors and experts:
- An âimpeccably maintained,â âelegant Greek Revival mansionâ âat rates you would be paying for a chain hotel with much less character.â
- Located âin the heart of the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood,â âwhere walking the lively streets of music and colorful architecture is as fun as checking out some of the small, well-loved bistros, bars, and art galleries.â
- Rooms that âmaintain their original 1850s romance with understated, tasteful decor, canopy beds and soaring 14 foot ceilings.â
- A â40 foot saltwater pool enclosed in a spacious brick courtyard, surrounded by gardens and citrus trees.â
- An owner, Cleo, who is âquite a characterâ and âknown for sitting with guests and entertaining with her own stories.â
- Wonderful cats. (They didnât quite put it that way, but we do!)
If you want to see what all the fuss is about, contact us to request a reservation.
The Claiborne Cats
Faubourg Marignyâs furriest literary residents
If youâre a lover of literature, youâve probably heard of the Hemingway House, a mansion in Key West, Florida, where Ernest Hemingway and his family lived in the 1930s. Itâs now a museum dedicated to the literary giantâs life, but it also happens to be the home to around 50 cats.
These arenât stray cats. Theyâre considered permanent guests of the Hemingway House, in tribute to Hemingwayâs beloved six-toed cat Snow White. In fact, many of these current âHemingway Cats,â as theyâre affectionately called, are polydactyl, meaning like their predecessor they have six toes instead of four or five. At least some of them are assumed to be direct descendants of Snow White.
Which brings us to this line in a recent glowing review of the Claiborne Mansion: âThe courtyard is quite a peaceful oasis, but it might bother some guests that the gardens and grounds here are often shared with stray cats.â
It might bother some guests? We hope not!
The Claiborne Mansion is a pet friendly establishment, and the mansionâs owner Cleo has always embraced the rich literary history of New Orleans, which at various times has been host to treasured authors like Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, and John Kennedy Toole. When Cleo noticed that some of the neighborhoodâs âfree agentâ cats were polydactyl, it seemed only fitting and in the proper literary spirit of things to christen them the Claiborne Cats, and welcome them to the mansion grounds as unofficial guests.
In practical terms, that means sheâs had them vaccinated and spayed or neutered, so that they stay healthy and donât contribute to a feral cat population, and that she cares for them and feeds them as if they were her own.
Hopefully youâll love them, if you notice them at all. Maybe youâll see in them some of the quirkiness and welcoming spirit of New Orleans.
And if it turns out you donât like them, you may be comforted to know that the cats remain outside in the courtyard and typically steer clear of guests. If nothing else, you can take solace in the fact that at least you arenât going to one of Japanâs cat islands any time soon.
Special note: If you know of stray cats in your own neighborhood, you might want to consider participating in the national âTrap Neuter Return (TNR)â program, a âhumane approach to addressing community cat populationsâ that improves the health of cats while also reducing the overall population. Find out more at Alley Cat Allies. If you live in New Orleans, you can get started by attending a free TNR workshop.
âGood bonesâ despite being one of the most overused phrases when referring to old houses happens to be nonetheless accurate with The Claiborne Mansion. The house is well built, lovingly (and continually) renovated, and a beautiful piece of history that we love being able to share with you.
We thought youâd enjoy seeing a little behind-the-scenes glimpse of the house so we recently asked Richard Sexton to photograph the exposed rafters and typically off-limits areas of the attic. We discovered a few beams with what may be âcarpenterâs marksâ also known as âmarriage marksâ â Roman numerals or other symbols carved into rafters to match joints of timber framing. You can learn more about them at the Historic House Blog.
Weâll be sharing more photos and history of the house soon.
Creole World: Photographs of New Orleans and the Latin Caribbean Sphere
In Creole World, that old New Orleans greeting ” How’s your mama an’ nem” gains depth and resonance. We learn that “an nem” includes our cousins in Haiti (cozen nou an Ayiti), our uncles in Cartegena (nuestros tios), our aunts in Cuba, (nuestras tias), and a wealth of other friends and relations in Panama. By depicting these connections so beautifully in pictures and words, Richard Sexton has made the Creole world at once larger, smaller, and better.
âLolis Eric Elie, writer for HBO’s Treme and coproducer/writer of Faubourg Treme: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans
Kids Tour Too
Educational and entertaining tours of the French Quarter designed just for kids (6â13 years).
French Quartour Kids
For more information visit:
Trace the Footsteps of Regional Writers
Although the Crescent City is most renowned for its music, cuisine and architecture, New Orleansâ literary heritage is as significant as that of any American city. Trace the footsteps and visit the inspirational haunts of the regional writers who have defined literature itself.
New Orleans Literary Tour (Walking Tour) by Reservation Only
For more information visit:
The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans
Jonathan Yardley of the Washington Post wrote:
“Powell … has written in âThe Accidental Cityâ what should stand for years as the definitive history of New Orleansâs first century, the period that he regards as central to the cityâs formation and its character.” (Read the complete review.)
Photo of Lawrence N. Powell byÂ Chris Granger/ The Times-Picayune
You can stay up-to-date with events around New Orleans at NOLA.com.
And if you’re looking for information on the best food and restaurants in New Orleans, then visit The New Orleans Menu at NOMENU.com.
* Lagniappe (pronounced LAN-yap) is something given or obtained gratuitously or by way of good measure (such as getting a 13th doughnut when buying a dozen).