Byline: Rusty Williamson

DALLAS — New Orleans’s status as a party town is helping women’s specialty retailer Brenda Mac double her business — in volume and square footage.
Her store, La Vie En Rose, located in the monied suburb of Metairie, La., specializes in social occasion apparel.
About 70 percent of annual sales at the six-year-old store is generated by women in search of the perfect party dress, from teens headed to the prom to vixens hunting for sexy cocktail dresses to mothers of the bride and country clubbers.
The rest of the business comes from contemporary sportswear, fashion items and accessories, she said.
Several years of double-digit sales and an exploding customer base motivated Mac to double the size of her store to 2,100 square feet, with completion expected in November.
Mac plans a week of parties and trunk shows to rechristen the gilded French salon-style boutique, starting Nov. 8. Among the vendors expected to stage trunk shows are Bob Mackie Boutique, Jovani, Tadashi, Carmen Marc Valvo and YL.
“We’ve popped our seams — we had to have more space,” said Mac, who owns the store along with a silent partner. “The expansion will allow us to go deeper in our present lines and also expand our mix. We want to be a one-stop apparel shop for women who don’t like department stores. We spoil them with lavish attention. When we see an established customer drive up, we’ve got her favorite glass of wine waiting for her when she walks in the door.”
In addition to increasing its inventory of social occasion and contemporary items and sportswear, La Vie En Rose will stock shoes, innerwear and more bridal trousseau items.
The store doesn’t stock formal wedding gowns, but does a big business with streamlined column dresses, often favored by second-time brides.
Mac projected La Vie En Rose’s sales to surge 50 percent within 18 months of the completed expansion and rise to $1 million.
Per-sale transactions could easily jump, too, said Mac, noting the current average of about $1,200 might include an evening gown or a suit or two along with a fashion item and some accessories.
“We’re very fortunate to have a store near New Orleans — it’s a real party town,” she added. “With Mardi Gras and related events, lots of debutante parties and so many weddings you wouldn’t believe, our social calendar runs from September to June. And it only slows down in July and August.”
To merchandise for all those parties, Mac makes the most of her market trips to Dallas and New York.
“Because my clientele is so diverse, I shop for a range of trends, including young and contemporary, clean and classic and flamboyant — as in zippers and studs.”
Mac often buys only one dress per style to offer customers exclusive looks, and custom orders are a big part of her business.
Top evening resources include Jovani, Cattiva, Carmen Marc Valvo and Bob Mackie Boutique. Sportswear bestsellers are She, Mondi, Tempo, Sharragano, Banu, Nara Camice, Alberto Makali, Joseph Ribkoff and Linda Segal for Ashley.
Mac and her sales staff often customize ensembles by mixing items from the store’s vendor lineup.
“Women tell us that they want to look fashionable and fun but not like everybody else. Items are the path to unique dressing. The contemporary lines are wonderful tools to customize a wardrobe because they offer hot fashion items that can work with more basic silhouettes. And the woman wearing the outfit stands apart.”
Mac recently hired Pat Moody, a former public relations and marketing executive at Saks Fifth Avenue in New Orleans, to market La Vie En Rose, and the outreach is aimed not only at shoppers who live in New Orleans but women in other cities, too.
“My customers travel and tell their friends about us,” Mac said. “I have customers who fly in from Texas, New York and Washington, D.C. A woman recently flew in from New York for a three-day stay in New Orleans, and she shopped at La Vie En Rose every day.”