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The Big Easy Does It

Talk turns to future plans. Mimi has branched out into the restaurant business. Kors is launching a new accessories collection and Michael, a lower-priced line for men and women that will appear in department stores this fall at more than 350 locations. This will enable a completely different type of customer to buy into the Michael Kors aesthetic: an effortless, all-American chic. For ageless, well-heeled customers (who can, alas, live without a 10-ply Kors cashmere turtleneck in that rarefied social clime of unwrapped couture, undiluted dividends, and uneaten croissants ordered from Ritz room service), Kors will also be opening two stores this fall, on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills and at the Americana mall in Manhasset, New York. And he admits he's seriously considering creating a saloon-like restaurant in New York City. "But the smoking ban is hurting liquor sales in Manhattan at the kind of watering hole I'd like to open. I think New Orleans will be the last city in the country where you can still smoke at a bar," he says, holding one of his fall skirts against Mimi's perfect hips.

"Sugar, you can do anything in New Orleans," Mimi says. "Smoking is the least of it. As long as you're not hurting anybody else, people down here don't care what you do. Just don't scare the horses, as they say. We are the only city that doesn't close until the last customer goes home. And you know what?That customer ain't ever getting off that damn barstool."

"Now, this just might be my favorite store in all New Orleans," Kors says as he bounds into Meyer the Hatter, the South's largest and oldest hat store. The Charles Avenue shop was founded in 1894 and has been selling men's straw boaters ever since—though today Sam Meyer, the family's patriarch, sells more Kangol caps than Bailey straws. For more than 50 years Mr. Sam has been putting in an eight-hour workday, his conversation punctuated by snippets of whistled songs (some Satchmo, a little Lerner and Loewe) as he cajoles his loyal customers into just the right hat. He even persuades Kors to buy one, though the designer complains that the circumference of his head is just too big to fit under a chapeau of any kind.

"The best possibilities for me, really, are these floppy-brimmed fishing hats," he says. "But then I look like Katharine Hepburn in On Golden Pond." Kors plops one on and looks in the mirror, his voice taking on the wobbly contours of Hepburn's patented purr. "'Oh, Norman, ya' old poop,'" he says, mimicking the late actress before heading over to a hat tree of Borsalinos and striking up a conversation with a courtly Southern gentleman, lawyer T.C.W. "Tommy" Ellis.

Ellis has strolled over during his lunch hour to make a purchase. He tells Kors that his dermatologist has required him to get a new chapeau for the summer, going so far, he jokes, as to write Meyer the Hatter on a prescription pad. He and Kors compare white boaters. "My own dermatologist told me to take a mirror and look at the color of my ass," Kors tells a rather shocked Ellis, whose bristly gray eyebrows cock at such a curiously friendly Yankee boy. "Your face is supposed to be the color of your ass. Did you know that, Tommy?I said that if my face were the color of my ass, then people would be sending me flowers and making charitable contributions, because they would think I was dead. Staying out of the sun?Ain't gonna happen. I love a suntan. But I love a good hat, too. Don't you, Tommy?"

Ellis smiles at his new friend. Kors offers him some fashion tips as to the best hat to go with his lightweight suit. Mr. Sam whistles and readies the cash register.

Banana Reily, the New Orleans dowager to whom Kors is most devoted, is wearing a toffee-colored taffeta shell jacket first seen in Kors's collection 16 years ago. Her hair is styled in a golden pageboy, and she has attached a highly jeweled David Webb frog brooch to the front of her equally golden choker, resulting in an ornate necklace of her own design. The 77-year-old Banana looks like Bette Davis, if Davis had been decidedly taller and a glam-orous fashion model instead of a glowering diva of the soundstage. Banana enters Galatoire's this evening as if the restaurant were in fact her own personal runway. Galatoire's—a high-society favorite, though it possesses a distinctly egalitarian flavor—has been the city's culinary crown jewel since it first opened in 1905. Banana is with her oilman husband, Chuck, an 83-year-old decked out in a white linen suit and a custom-tailored shirt and tie. Heads turn at every table as the couple joins Kors and his other guests, Mimi and Rae.

In a town where the social order is constantly pecked at, Banana and Chuck have sat atop the heap for decades now. "I have a long history here at this place—longer even than I have with Chuck," Banana says as they take their seats. "And we've been married for fifty-seven years."

"Yeah, but the fun started fifty-eight years ago," Chuck says, winking at his beautiful wife, who overlooks this bit of nuanced ribaldry with a practiced wave of her hand.

"Banana, do you know a man named Tommy Ellis?" asks Kors. "I met him this afternoon at Meyer the Hatter."

"Oh, Lord," Banana exclaims as Chuck orders the first of many Sazeracs for both of them. "I grew up dancing with Tommy Ellis. He was a wonderful dancer. The only man who could dance better than Tommy was Chuck, so he's the one who got me."

"Chuck's still the best dancer in town," Mimi chimes in as Kors compliments the old gentleman on his white linen suit.

"He wanted to wear his seersucker," says Banana dismissively. "But I told him he couldn't wear seersucker after seven-thirty. It's just not done."

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