We live in a city that embraces both life and death. We revel, with great force, all holidays, milestones, and passages. What is equally captivating about New Orleans’ celebrations, both merry and solemn, is the incorporation of mysticism and spirituality; we rejoice and praise life and death in tandem.
Our rich history of ghostly homes, grand graveyards, Voodoo rituals, and piracy often lends inspiration to artists, designers and writers. These creative minds, like many New Orleanians, see the beauty in celebrating life to the fullest — knowing death is eminent and believing that there are powers stronger than us that are very much immersed in what transpires in the here and now, and in the afterlife. What others might deem as wicked, locals see as wickedly good.
The practice of Voodoo, its ciphers and principles, are habitually misinterpreted as malevolent, intending to cause harm, revenge or illness. Although there are minute parts of Voodoo that are said to conjure up ill intentions, many of its exercises are for helping those less fortunate, the sick and the elderly. One figure often synonymous with black magic and evil is the serpent. The snake in Voodoo culture is highly revered and is said to possess intuitive knowledge while also representing the spiritual balance between the genders. Unlike its Western representation and the Old Testament of Adam and Eve, the serpent is viewed as a beloved deity and protector of the ailing, the elderly and children.
Fashion designers frequently find artistic faculty in the iconic image of this reptile, the juxtaposition of life and death, and other symbols associated with the Voodoo religion, such as skulls, nails and arrows. Like enchanting Voodoo practices, one charming local accessory designer, Ashley Lyons, is launching an intriguingly mystical collection centered on these beliefs, icons and rituals.
Who Do the Voodoo?
Porter Lyons, the namesake of Ashley Porter’s line, is intensely entrenched in the culture of New Orleans, the state as a whole and the environment that makes it so precious. Porter Lyons’ design mission is to document this culture while preserving and paying tribute to the distinctiveness of our past, present and all that dwells within it. The designs highlight the wonders, idiosyncrasies, magic and mysticism that set New Orleans and Louisiana apart from the rest of the world.
Porter, who is originally from California, has roots that run deep in New Orleans. (Her grandfather started a pharmacy called I. L. Lyons, which sold to the iconic New Orleans’ pharmacy, K&B, in the 1900s. And her grandmother, maiden name Porter, was in the second graduating class of Metairie Park Country Day.) After she graduated from Tulane University with a Masters of Finance, Porter went to work for Merrill Lynch in Los Angeles. As a result of her desire to create, she decided to pursue another degree in fashion. She went back to school and graduated with a degree in Fashion Design from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles. She then interned in Paris, and she worked for the fashion houses of Milly, Balenciaga and Ralph Lauren. It was during her term at Ralph Lauren that she decided to start her own line. “I was saddened by disconnect in the fashion industry,” she says. “I wanted to do something that was real and genuine.”
The initial model of Porter Lyons was to create a line of exotic-skin belts. While visiting her alligator skin source in Galliano, Louisiana, Porter was able to tour the property and was permitted to take the discarded bones and skins that would have otherwise been considered refuse. These finds were the catalyst for her jewelry collections. Porter unearths and creates beauty from indigenous animals and items that are tantamount in local culture — without being obvious. Her pieces are edgy, high fashion and surreptitiously sexy.
The Voodoo collection, launching this month, employs precious and semi-precious stones, metals, black rhodium, black tourmaline (believed to rid evil spirits) set against cobra spines, bones and quartz. Spiritual characters of the Voodoo faith — like snakes, nails, skulls, arrows and lightning bolts — are assimilated into the line. “I was inspired by the rich, haunting history of Voodoo,” Porter says. “I wanted to capture the imaginative and fun characteristic of the religion.” Porter also draws parallels between her philosophies and the spirit of the practice, such as creating positive wishes, reinvention of the spirit and acceptance. “One of my favorite pieces is the Believe ring,” she says. “It sums up the line in its entirety, which is to believe in want you want and to accept all — regardless of their beliefs.”
Fashion, like Voodoo, can be mystical, magical and beautifully enchanting. Embrace the otherworldliness of Porter Lyons and New Orleans. Happy shopping and Happy Halloween! Porter Lyons is available locally at Haute Boutique, Hemline and Clover Boutique. porterlyons.com