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Christian Louboutin signs his stylish shoes at a New Orleans event

Chris Waddington, staff writer By Chris Waddington, staff writer
on October 19, 2012 at 4:03 PM, updated October 19, 2012 at 8:37 PM

What will people do for a signed shoe by Christian Louboutin, the high-end Parisian designer whose footwear customers include Angelina Jolie, Oprah Winfrey, the Olsen twins and Danielle Steel? In New Orleans, Jessica Alvendia headed the line at Saks 5th Avenue -- and she arrived at 9 a.m. Friday for a 3 p.m. appearance by the designer.

A few steps behind her a husband from Charleston, S.C., explained that he had driven 12 hours straight, purchased an $835 pair of shoes, and had hoped to surprise his wife. (He answered his cell phone and spoiled the surprise).

The staff at Saks was pretty excited, too: Louboutin only does about 20 signings a year in the United States.

Christian Louboutin.jpg French shoe designer Christian Louboutin poses for photographers as he opens his first ever retrospective exhibition, at the Design Museum in London on April 30. AP Photo / Jonathan Short

It was the first-ever New Orleans appearance for the designer, who has come to command the top of the women’s market with shoes that always have a glossy red sole. For Louboutin’s signing, the store hired a New Orleans Police Department detail cop, engaged a jazz combo, and directed hovering journalists to a lounge that offered a nice view of the backstage scurrying that occurs when a big name is in the house.

Away from the hubbub, Louboutin was the picture of calm. A genial fellow with a trim, gray goatee, he was sequestered in a side room with two assistants, a selection of markers, and about 50 pairs of shoes that waiting customers had pre-purchased. He wore jeans and a golf shirt. He set his glasses high on his forehead, smiled easily, and generally looked like someone’s French uncle on vacation, except for the three-toned patent and suede lace-up shoes with the orange piping: an item from his men’s collection.

“When I look at the shoes these customers have selected, I can tell that New Orleans is different compared to other cities. Most of my American customers purchase plainer, more classic designs. Here they have selected shoes with vivid colors and lots of embellishments,” he said. “I also notice this: there seems to be a special interest in my highest heels: no flats for New Orleans.”

When I look at the shoes these customers have selected, I can tell that New Orleans is different

How high? Make that 7 inches, folks. And the materials are equally extravagant, with some styles featuring startling combinations: one shoe included suede and red velvet tops, heels covered with fuzzy cowhide in a cheetah pattern, and a constellation of gold studs. Every shoe has red soles: a trademarked element that was recently upheld in federal court, when the French fashion house of Yves Saint Laurent, tried to market shoes with a similar element.

“I think a lot about silhouettes and how to make an object that will look good in movement, but I have a tendency to celebrate detail and ornament. It’s comes through in everything I do, whether collecting furniture or looking at art when I travel.”

ChristianLouboutin_pigalle_spikes_patent_calf_red.jpg This Christian Louboutin spiked red-patent pump was named the sexiest shoe of 2012 by Footwear News. It's available in similar colors at Saks. Christian Louboutin

Louboutin, a native of Paris, gestured expansively as he discussed his shoes, including the spiked, red-patent pump that was just named the sexiest shoe of 2012 by Footwear News, a trade journal produced by Women’s Wear Daily. (At Saks, a pair was already signed for a New Orleans customer). When he overturned a glass of water, his assistants jumped to save the shoes, not the cell phones that sat on his signing desk. That’s what happens when some popular styles cost around $4,000.

“I didn’t grow up imagining that I would be a shoe designer, but in Paris one is exposed to the idea of luxury, to the artisan tradition. It is something that came naturally to me,” Louboutin said.

Selling shoes also comes naturally to the designer: “I started out with one shop in Paris and I did the selling with one other person. I don’t have time for that now, but I need to keep my link with customers, with the stories they tell me, with the dreams and the special requests. It’s a direct personal link that informs my designs --- and it continues with these personal appearances.”

When it comes time to design, however, Louboutin prefers to be alone.

“For two weeks, I unplug the phone and draw. I work with a single assistant,” he said. “At my factory, outside Milan, I still work hands-on. I trim and correct. I love the smell of leather.”

His home base is an apartment over the factory.

“In the early days, I was forced to leave the factory at closing time and go to some boring hotel and watch videos,” he said. “Now, I have the run of my own factory after hours. If I get an idea, I can test it out by myself. Even when I’m asleep, I keep working. The shoes are under my pillow. The ideas float up. I dream about shoes and I try to make them come true.”


Harahan cuts property tax to avoid $15,559 windfall

Drew Broach, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune By Drew Broach, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
on October 18, 2012 at 9:27 PM

Harahan cut its property tax Thursday night to avoid collecting an extra $15,559 in revenue amid slightly rising real estate values. The City Council voted 5-0 to reduce the tax from 15.81 mills to 15.62 mills for 2012.

The decision came after Jefferson Parish Assessor Tom Capella determined the total value of taxable property in Harahan this year is $78.5 million, up 1.3 percent from 2011. Were the City Council to retain the 15.81 mills, the maximum approved by voters, this year's revenue would run $15,559 higher, or $1.68 per resident.

Lawrence Landry mug 4.jpg Lawrence Landry T-P archive

Reducing property taxes to avoid collecting such a windfall is required by state law. But local governments have the option, once they approve the reduction, of raising the tax to the maximum that voters have approved. Harahan officials chose not to do that.

"Everybody's taxes stay the same," Councilman Lawrence Landry said after the vote.


U.S. housing construction up 15 percent in September

The Associated Press By The Associated Press
on October 17, 2012 at 8:14 AM, updated October 17, 2012 at 8:37 AM

WASHINGTON -- U.S. builders started construction on single-family homes and apartments in September at the fastest rate since July 2008, a further indication that the housing recovery is strengthening.

Housing starts up in September.jpg U.S. builders started construction on single-family homes and apartments in September at the fastest rate since July 2008, a further indication that the housing recovery is strengthening. The Commerce Department said Wednesday that builders broke ground on homes at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 872,000 in September. That's an increase of 15 percent from the August level. AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that builders broke ground on homes at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 872,000 in September. That's an increase of 15 percent from the August level.

Applications for building permits, a good sign of future construction, jumped nearly 12 percent to an annual rate of 894,000, also the highest since July 2008.

The strength in September came from both single-family construction, which rose 11 percent, and apartments, which increased 25.1 percent.

Construction activity is now 82.5 percent higher than the recession low hit in April 2009. Activity is still well below the roughly 1.5 million rate that is consistent with healthier markets.

Still, the surge in construction suggests builders believe the housing rebound is durable.

Builder confidence reached at a six-year high this month, according to a survey by the National Association of Home Builders. The group's index of builder sentiment rose to a reading of 41. While that's still below the level of 50 that signals a healthy market, it has steadily climbed over the past year from a reading of 17.

Sales of new and previously owned homes have been slowly improving this year, and home prices are starting to show consistent gains.

Record-low mortgage have encouraged more people to buy. And the Federal Reserve's aggressive policies could push long-term interest rates even lower, making home-buying affordable for the foreseeable future.

Housing is expected to keep improving next year. But many economists say economic growth will stay muted until companies step up hiring and consumers start spending more.

Though new homes represent less than 20 percent of the housing sales market, they have an outsize impact on the economy. Each home built creates an average of three jobs for a year and generates about $90,000 in tax revenue, according to data from the home builders group.


Tales of the Cocktail infuses more than $14 million into New Orleans

Todd A. Price By Todd A. PriceThe Times-Picayune on October 13, 2012 at  2:47 PM, updated October 13, 2012 at  7:29 PM

In July, the 10th annual Tales of the Cocktail attracted more than 23,000 bartenders and drink enthusiasts to New Orleans. It also brought $14.3 million to the local economy, according to the UNO Research Department.

Attendance was up 7.8 percent from last year. The attendees hailed from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Argentina.

meet me at tales of the cocktail.JPGMore than 23,000 people followed the advice on this napkin and showed up at Tales of the Cocktail in 2012.David Grunfeld /The Times-Picyaune

At seminars, tastings and parties, the thirsty attendees downed 156,000 cocktails. Who knows how many rounds they bought in New Orleans bars? To make it all work, Tales relied on 174 volunteers, most of whom were locals.

In other Tales news, the popular winter party Tales of the Toddy is scheduled for Dec. 20. At the annual event, attendees can taste local bartenders' takes on cold weather classics while browsing gift ideas from area shops. Tickets for Tales of the Toddy, which cost $30, go on sale Oct. 15. For more information, visit TalesoftheCocktail.com.

Todd A. Price can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Read more about the bar scene at nola.com/drink or nola.com/bar-guide. Follow him at twitter.com/toddapriceNOLA.


New Orleans airport proposed hub for start-up airline; city administration not on board

Claire Galofaro, The Times-Picayune By Claire Galofaro, The Times-PicayuneThe Times-Picayune on October 10, 2012 at  6:04 PM, updated October 11, 2012 at  9:38 AM


A Baton Rouge businessman, whose investment group has long been looking to bring a low-cost airline hub to Louis Armstrong International Airport, told the Regional Planning Commission this week that there's just one thing standing in the way: He needs a nod from New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. "It's in the mayor's court," said John Miller, managing principal of M7 Capital. "If he says yes, it comes. If he says no, it doesn't."

Miller's group wants to buy Denver-based Frontier Airlines, call it New Frontier and establish a second hub at the city-owned airport in Kenner. The state has already signed an agreement and offered a hefty incentive: $50 for every additional passenger the airline lures to Louisiana. Miller promises to double the number of flights into and out of the city, from 120 a day to around 240. All they need from the mayor, he said, is a thumbs up.

But the Landrieu administration says it is not, really, so easy. The airport suffers from a demand problem, not a supply one, said Iftikhar Ahmad, the airport's director. Despite fares lower than the national averages, the airport's nine current airlines sell below 80 percent of their seats on average, three percent lower than nationwide figures.

louis_armstrong_international_airport_exterior.jpg Louis Armstrong International Airport.Times-Picayune archive

"It's like saying, 'If McDonalds would just make more hamburgers, they would sell more hamburgers,'" Ahmad said. Miller's business plan, he said, fails to take into account whether there are customers willing to come into the restaurant to buy the burgers.

Miller, who led the group that developed the Country Club of Louisiana in Baton Rouge and has tried for nearly a decade to launch various incarnations of a subsidized low-cost carrier, counters that his plan is to expand the footprint of the New Orleans airport by millions.

They will create satellite counters in the state's six major cities -- Baton Rouge, Alexandria, Lafayette, Monroe, Shreveport and Lake Charles -- and offer cheap shuttle flights into New Orleans, which would then connect to major cities around the globe. Ticket prices will be designed like the Southwest Airline model.

Every person in the state of Louisiana or near its borders would be within an hour of the airline's reach, he said.

The Louisiana Economic Development office signed an agreement with Miller's firm in October 2010. Under the deal, Miller's investors would start the company at their own expense. Once they reached 125 flights per day, the state would pay the company $50 for every "incremental passenger," vaguely defined as every passenger the airline brings into the state.

The $50 figure was based on an analysis that showed each person that travels into Louisiana through the New Orleans airport generates $130 in tax revenue, so the state would, in a sense, be giving a fraction of that back to the airline.

"It's like a utility for the state," Miller said. "It's essential. It's essential if we dream of being a global player."

The Regional Planning Commission signed a resolution on Tuesday that urges the city administration to consider the proposal after doing its due diligence. And the city confesses that being a "hub," or a global connection site, sounds alluring.

"Tourism is the lifeblood of this community, the airport is how we get them here," Ahmad said.

But the city sees its role as maintaining a proper balance at the airport, said  Aimee Quirk, the mayor's adviser on economic development. A start-up airline establishing a hub with government incentives that the other airlines are not afforded has potential wide-reaching side-effects, the city figures.

While Miller said he's been waiting for years for the mayor to make a decision, the city says they've been negotiating with him just as long. They've asked him for business plans and route analyses that he couldn't produce, Quirk said. He presented Power Point presentations and sales pitches, but had little data to back them up, said Quirk and Ahmad.

Robert W. Mann Jr., an independent New York-based airline industry analyst, said if he were an airport director considering a proposition for a start-up hub, he would have to be convinced of two things -- that the new company would provide more non-stop destinations, both domestic and international, at cheaper fares than what the current airlines are offering; and that the current lineup of carriers would not get angry, reduce their offerings or pack up and leave entirely.

The latter concern is one of the major questions for the city.

If New Frontier, with help from government subsidies, doesn't lure new travelers and instead just moves those already traveling from other airlines to their own, they could eventually establish a monopoly.

"What we're concerned about is where that demand going to come from without cannibalizing the exiting low-cost carriers that we have today," said Doug Thornton, the vice-chairman of the Aviation Board.

In cities with one dominant carrier, fares go up, other lines move out and service tends to deteriorate, Ahmad said. And that's if New Frontier is successful.

Miller says his proposal offers no risk to taxpayers - the state will only pay for those passengers who would not have come otherwise. If it fails, no harm has been done to the establishment.

Mann - and the city and airport - disagree. If a subsidized startup comes in, irritates incumbent airlines, then fails, the existing airlines will be left to clean up the mess.

"That's the worst-case outcome," Mann said, "if it chilled the incumbent carriers' interest in continuing to serve the community."

Mann said, odds are, that would be the case. A startup airline is an inherently risky venture.

"Startups have a really checkered record," he said. Since the industry was deregulated in 1978, somewhere in excess of 200 airlines have been founded.

"I can count the successes on one hand," he said. "If it works out, that would be a wonderful outcome. But at the end of the day, most of them don't last very long."

Mann says that a hub in New Orleans also has a lot working against it. Coastal cities are not ideal. Successful hubs are supported by huge population bases and big hometown businesses, neither of which the Crescent City offers. St. Louis and Kansas City, which suffer some of the same population and business deficits as New Orleans, have both failed time and again as proposed hubs, Mann said.

Miller, however, says New Orleans is the perfect place to build his hub.

But the city is not convinced.

"This is a transaction for them," Quirk said. "But for us, it's the lifeblood of our city."

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