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The Claiborne Mansion

Liz Claiborne and the Claiborne Mansion

Liz Claiborne

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 women’s sportswear.

So how is Liz Claiborne connected to the Claiborne Mansion? Her grandfather, Fernand Francois Claiborne, grew up here.

Fernand’s father (and Liz’s 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 Villeré, went on to have a son named Omer — 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:

”The architecture one is likely to see on the avenue, said Ms. Claiborne, is ‘like New Orleans, rather eclectic and catholic’ – all lintels, dormers, turrets and Greek columns.”
The New York Times

If you walk west on Royal Street, which is across from Claiborne Mansion on the opposite side of Washington Park, you’ll pass directly through the French Quarter and then find yourself on St. Charles.

We don’t 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 “façade characterized by both Greek Revival and French Colonial elements—a wrought-iron balustrade along the second-level balcony, a pilaster-flanked entrance portico.”


Points of interest

• Did you know New Orleans has a Fashion Week every spring? If you plan on attending next year’s New Orleans Fashion Week and want a good conversation starter, book a night or two at the family mansion of one of the fashion world’s most successful names.

• The New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) just concluded a well-reviewed fashion exhibition called “A Queen Within” that featured pieces by Alexander McQueen and other designers, but if you missed it, don’t 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:




●      Plus historical photos and documents kept on location at the Claiborne Mansion— just ask Cleo about them the next time you visit.

The Claiborne Mansion earns Fodor’s Best Award from Fodor’s Travel


We’re proud to announce that Fodor’s, one of the world’s leading travel guides, has awarded the Claiborne Mansion a Fodor’s Best designation in “The 7 Best B&Bs in New Orleans” as well as   “The 7 Best Stays for Jazz Fest in New Orleans.”

Fodor’s 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 we’ve been recognized. According to Fodor’s, “while every hotel listed in a Fodor’s guide is deemed worthy of a traveler’s time, only those offering a truly distinctive experience are given the Fodor’s Best designation. The Fodor’s Best hotel recipients are the best of the best at providing a remarkable experience in their category” [emphasis ours].

Here are some of the reasons we’ve been named a top spot, according to Fodor’s editors and experts:

  • An “impeccably maintained,” “elegant Greek Revival mansion” “at rates you would be paying for a chain hotel with much less character.”
  • Located “in the heart of the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood,” “where 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.”
  • Rooms that “maintain their original 1850s romance with understated, tasteful decor, canopy beds and soaring 14 foot ceilings.”
  • A “40 foot saltwater pool enclosed in a spacious brick courtyard, surrounded by gardens and citrus trees.”
  • An owner, Cleo, who is “quite a character” and “known for sitting with guests and entertaining with her own stories.”
  • Wonderful cats. (They didn’t 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 Marigny’s furriest literary residents

The Claiborne Cats

If you’re a lover of literature, you’ve probably heard of the Hemingway House, a mansion in Key West, Florida, where Ernest Hemingway and his family lived in the 1930s. It’s now a museum dedicated to the literary giant’s life, but it also happens to be the home to around 50 cats.

These aren’t stray cats. They’re considered permanent guests of the Hemingway House, in tribute to Hemingway’s beloved six-toed cat Snow White. In fact, many of these current “Hemingway Cats,” as they’re 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: “The courtyard is quite a peaceful oasis, but it might bother some guests that the gardens and grounds here are often shared with stray cats.”

It might bother some guests? We hope not!

The Claiborne Mansion is a pet friendly establishment, and the mansion’s 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 neighborhood’s “free agent” 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 she’s had them vaccinated and spayed or neutered, so that they stay healthy and don’t contribute to a feral cat population, and that she cares for them and feeds them as if they were her own.

Hopefully you’ll love them, if you notice them at all. Maybe you’ll see in them some of the quirkiness and welcoming spirit of New Orleans.

And if it turns out you don’t 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 aren’t going to one of Japan’s 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 “Trap Neuter Return (TNR)” program, a “humane approach to addressing community cat populations” 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.

Good Bones


“Good bones” 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 you’d 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 “carpenter’s marks” also known as “marriage marks” – 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.

We’ll be sharing more photos and history of the house soon.

Creole World: Photographs of New Orleans and the Latin Caribbean Sphere

Creole World

Wonderful new book by Richard Sexton published by The Historic New Orleans Collection:

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.
—Lolis Eric Elie, writer for HBO’s Treme and coproducer/writer of Faubourg Treme: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans

Purchase a copy and enjoy.

Kids Tour Too

Educational and entertaining tours of the French Quarter designed just for kids (6–13 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 Orleans’ 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

The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans
Lawrence N. Powell

Jonathan Yardley of the Washington Post wrote:

“Powell … has written in “The Accidental City” what should stand for years as the definitive history of New Orleans’s first century, the period that he regards as central to the city’s formation and its character.” (Read the complete review.)

Photo of Lawrence N. Powell by Chris Granger/ The Times-Picayune


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* 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).