Since Hurricane Katrina, fleur-de-lis jewelry has made a major impact that started in New Orleans and spread around the country. We know the fleur-de-lis came with the French heritage and has a history that travels back centuries, but where did it start and has it always had a prominent place in Louisiana?
The legends about the fleur-de-lis origin are countless. Fleur-de-lis means flower of the lily, but many think the flower that inspired it was an iris or lotus rather than a lily. One popular legend supports the idea of a lotus. Clovis, the first Merovingian king and the first Christian king of the Franks, lived in the 400s. Legend says that Clovis needed to cross a river with his army to battle the enemy on the other side, but could not find a shallow place to cross. Almost miraculously, water lilies pointed out a shallow spot in the river and Clovis crossed and was victorious. In gratitude, he took the lotus flower of the water lily as his emblem and the fleur-de-lis became the symbol of French royalty.
Others believe the fleur-de-lis comes from the yellow irises that grew along the riverbank. No one can be sure which of the many stories about the origin of the fleur-de-lis is correct, but we do know it got to Louisiana through its French founders in the early 1700s. It became the symbol of New Orleans and can be seen on the convention center and many public buildings.
Besides New Orleans, the fleur-de-lis represents Louisiana. The area from Lake Charles, up to Alexandria, and back down to Baton Rouge is called the Cajun triangle. This is the heart of Acadiana and the Acadian flag also contains the fleur-de-lis.
No doubt the fleur-de-lis is rooted in Louisiana history, but when did the infatuation with fleur-delis jewelry begin? It wasn’t always there. Accessory Wholesale has been wholesaling fashion jewelry in New Orleans since 1985. In the mid 1990s, Prada made an impact on fashion that ushered in an era of minimalism. The natural look was in and dramatic looks in fashion jewelry were out. The fashion jewelry business wouldn’t pay the light bill, so Accessory Wholesale developed a line specialized for the tourist industry.
Everything Louisiana was expressed in jewelry, resulting in a very original line. The best selling items were alligators, crawfish, and peppers. Pelicans, frogs, egrets, and cypress trees were decent. Fleur-de-lis jewelry was part of the line, but fleur-de-lis sales at that time were dreadfully slow.
By 2005, we had little fleur-de-lis jewelry left and we weren’t worried about restocking it. Then at the end of August, Hurricane Katrina struck. New Orleans was traumatized and the story dominated the news. The fleur-de-lis, the symbol of the city, suddenly became the rallying point for citizens struggling to rebuild. Everyone wanted to express their connection to the city with fleur-de-lis jewelry or accessories. Supply could hardly keep up.
Five years have past and every time that I think fleur-de-lis jewelry has run its course and will slow down, I’m wrong. There is something mysterious about the city’s connection to its symbol. Maybe this will explain it. Relatives came from out of state for a visit recently. While eating, they asked about the Hurricane. At that point I realized we don’t talk about it; we don’t think about it; we just rally around our City’s symbol and move forward. Perhaps that’s the power of fleur-de-lis jewelry.