Fashion designer Octavia Jones believes every woman should feel beautiful and sexy, whether attending a formal dinner or a picnic in a meadow. She opened Tomato (834 Chartres St., 566-7666) four months ago, offering fresh, innovative fashions to help women express themselves from head to hemline.
In fact, the name Tomato was inspired by a 1930s and '40s jazz term for a really sexy woman. "The store is (painted) pink," Jones says. "It's very feminine, very flirty. I love buying dresses, sarongs, sweaters."
The shop owner says she opts for clothing lines not normally found in the area and fills her racks with apparel that offers a variety of fabrics, textures, styles and colors.
"I carry a bunch of fashion-forward clothing from a lot of young, New York designers and supplement that with a couple of jean lines, T-shirts, local jewelry designs," says Jones, who previously worked as a designer for Tibi, a fashion label named after her grandmother. Tomato carries Tibi, of course, along with lines by Jill Michelle, Shoshanna, Rebecca Taylor, Milly, Beth Bowley, Velvet and I.D.O.M. The store also stocks a multitude of uncommon handbags, jewelry, sarongs and accessories from names such as Moyna, Harvey and A.E. Rifkhoff Designs.
Tomato's merchandise covers a range of tastes from flirty and frilly to more tailored cuts in sizes 2 to 12 and a variety that will delight customers from teens to the more mature. The atmosphere is very girly, cozy and fun, with personalized service.
"I love the idea of intimate shopping, where you can really talk to the shop girls," Jones says. "Tomato is a small store. It's cozy, whereas some of the bigger stores are intimidating." The goal of the staff is to make the customer feel like she's shopping with a girlfriend.
"We try to cover the range," Jones says. "A customer can come in and find clothing for any occasion. We always have something available for business meetings, dressy occasions or jeans-and-T-shirt event. People can come in and find fashion for a cocktail party or a garden party or a Saturday night at F&M (Patio Bar)."
Jones, a Tulane graduate, worked in New York and Hong Kong before moving back to New Orleans to raise a family three-and-a half years ago. She lives in the French Quarter with her husband and two sons: Booker, 2, and Wheaten, who was born less than a month ago. She chose the French Quarter as a location for Tomato because it provided a cohesive neighborhood and she saw it as a way to be part of diversifying the strengths of the Vieux Carre.
"I love living in the neighborhood," Jones says. "I opened the store because I saw there was a possibility for a place like this in the Quarter. We're getting more cute little boutiques. We're getting a lot more fashion here, instead of the French Quarter just being known for eating and drinking."
The local fashion shop owners also support each other by trying to avoid carrying the same labels and referring customers to them to fill in needs and keep customers happy. "I really love when you can go to a store and the person behind the desk wants to help you and isn't intimidating," Jones says. "I'm always sending people over to Basics (a lingerie store) for this or that. I don't carry shoes, so I send them somewhere else." Keeping things intimate also means the staff gets to know customers and their fashion preferences, and often call them when new items come in that they would like. The strategy -- and word-of-mouth recommendations -- has made Tomato a hit among locals, who come from around the city to browse through the racks regularly.
"At first I thought I would have to settle just for the tourist crowd," Jones says. "But people have been very open. I've gotten a lot of Uptowners who have come down to visit the store. We have some regulars already."
New Orleans retailer David Rubenstein, of Rubenstein Bros. (102 St. Charles Ave., 581-6666) is among nine fashion leaders selected as "Arbiters of Style," in an article by that title in the September issue of Robb Report. In the article, Rubenstein, Peter Rizzo of Bergdorf Goodman in New York, Scott Hill of Scott & Co. in West Hollywood, Calif., David Neff of Trillon in Palm Beach, Fla., and other industry notables discuss the secrets behind dressing well and their individual approaches to style.
Rubenstein focuses on pleasing color interactions and the versatility of sports coats in beautiful fabrics and a variety of ties.
Robb Report is a California-based publication considered one of the top magazines of luxury lifestyles.
- Tomato boutique sales clerk Andrea Loest shows off a skirt and blouse by Tibi, a line named after the grandmother of fashion designer Octavia Jones, who owns the French Quarter shop.