By  on November 21, 2006

NEW ORLEANS — "It was not a question of if we would reopen, it was a question of when," said Stephen Sadove, Saks' chairman and chief executive officer, who was the host last week at the debut of the refurbished Saks Fifth Avenue here.

The party last Wednesday to mark the opening of the 110,000-square-foot store for the first time since it was ravaged during Hurricane Katrina attracted about 2,200 guests, including actress Andie MacDowell. The gala raised more than $300,000 to benefit New Orleans cultural, medical and educational organizations.

"I remember watching our store burn on TV, and that was one of the saddest moments of my life," Sadove said.

The relaunch was a time for renewal and celebration.

Guests feasted on chef Emeril Lagasse's blue cheese stuffed sirloin medallions and crispy crawfish cakes. Each of the store's three levels featured dining, dancing and shopping, as people balanced cocktails with their purchases.

During the next day's festivities, as the store opened to the public, MacDowell made a bee-line for the Oscar de la Renta boutique, one of six new designer boutiques in the store. That's where Eliza Bolen, the designer's stepdaughter and vice president of licensing, was shopping for herself. She laughed as husband Alex Bolen, president and chief executive officer of Oscar de la Renta, recounted their post-gala hours as visitors to Bourbon Street.

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