I approach a cute restaurant with turquoise benches and tables, a pink sign letting you know where you are located: Pagoda Cafe. The trees provide shade to customers and I instantly notice a woman with a full blown out afro, dressed in a blue and white kimono effortlessly placed over a black dress.
It’s hot and we meet under the cool shade. She smiles widely and introduces herself, “I’m Ericka.” I smile back, introducing myself and invite a hug, which she warmly accepts. “This is beautiful,” I slightly murmur, looking around at 1430 N Dorgenois Street. With what seems to be hyper hearing, (she has an active and stylish 5-year-old son named Christopher Jr. or “Deuce”), she responds, “Isn’t it? I come here almost every day. That’s why I chose this place.” Ericka was born and raised in the 7th Ward, her family is from the 7th Ward, “It’s the same neighborhood that my dad and his siblings were born and raised. Some of my fondest memories start off with my siblings and me walking to my grandparents home (MaGen and Big Daddy, so southern) to hang out with our cousins.”
Ericka’s kimono blows in the wind as we walk to the end of the cafe to take a few more shots. She reveals she purchased it on Amazon, “They have such great finds.”
We talk about how her style has changed pre and post-Katrina. Katrina. The name that fills almost every conversation for some point in New Orleans. “Katrina taught me not to put so much stock in material things because they are replaceable.” Clothing to Ericka, is something that is fun, a way to express her personal style.” She’s a print girl. “You will usually find me wearing at least two prints at a time. Leopard print, and black and white patterns are my version of a neutral: they go with floral prints, stripes, solids and more.” Today, Erica is wearing only one print, but a poppin’ pink lipstick by MAC called Bunnybeams that goes with her pastel pink nails. We talk about trends she’s into, including African wax prints, and she casually adds, “It’s a lot more popular now than when I first started rocking the trend several years ago.” I see you, trendsetter.
Find out more about Ericka, New Orleans, and how Katrina influenced her style with our exclusive interview below.
Name: Ericka Ann Garnett Windon
Nickname: My family only gives me nicknames…EB, ChooChooburger
Location (Which Ward/Area are you from): 7th Ward
Occupation: Attorney, and Fundraising and Development Professional
HB: Define your personal style:
I am a wife, a mother to a 5-year-old boy, and I work full-time, so it’s easy for me to fall into that busy mom trope of putting everyone else first. Between family commitments and my career, shopping for myself falls to the bottom of my list. But I make my wardrobe work with a bit of creativity and repurposing. If a dress or blouse has a plunging neckline or a zipper, I extend its usefulness by wearing it backwards for a new look. I love borrowing my husband’s bowties or pairing his oxford shirts with shorts and heels or thigh high boots for a feminine take on menswear. When I do shop, I invest in basics that will last: jeans, soft simple tees, an LBD, the perfect pant in a few color options, a moto jacket, and a trench coat. I tend to spend a bit more on my basics and then round those items out with interesting pieces such as an eye-grabbing print, a pop of color, or cool accessories.
HB: How has New Orleans influenced your style?
New Orleans culture is so rich, vibrant, and eclectic and that’s typically reflected in what I choose to wear. What I love about New Orleans fashion is that there is no one trend or style. Everyone is free to dress the way they like and wear whatever makes them feel good. My grandmothers, Genevieve (MaGen) Baptiste Garnett and Annie Mae Smith, are my biggest style influencers. MaGen taught me how to shop and what to invest in and Ann taught me how to be resourceful.
HB: What is your favorite hairstyle and why?
My fro! It’s thick and unapologetically kinky, curly, and big. The fro takes work, but when it’s good, it’s really good. My hairdresser, Blair Harris, also keeps me looking fly whether it’s styled in a fro, braids or a blow-out.
HB: Is there anything you lost in Katrina (clothing or accessories related) that you still wish you had?
I wish I had one of the hats my maternal grandmother, Ann, made or her antique sewing machine and table, especially since she recently passed away. Ann was a skilled seamstress and milliner. She made all of my pretty dresses when I was a kid, and she taught me how to sew. I can still smell the spools of fabric in her sewing room, and I will never forget the sight of her happily sewing while humming to some tune. My grandmother lived in the lower 9th ward, so she lost everything for the second time (the first being hurricane Betsy) in Katrina. The lower 9 is the neighborhood she and my late grandfather chose to raise their family, and it’s the neighborhood where they and their children forged lifelong friendships. I haven’t been back to the 9th ward since the storm.
HB: How has your style changed post-Katrina?
My post-Katrina style is both adaptive and flexible with a touch of creativity. I like to take trends and make them my own to suit my mood and my personal aesthetic. I can also take something outdated and make it fresh again; I owe that to rummaging for bargain replacement clothes.
HB: What’s one thing that people may not know about the fashion and style in New Orleans?
We wear lightweight, breathable clothing because it’s so hot. When the temperature hits south of 70 degrees, we’re breaking out our finest winter wear.
HB: Why did you choose this location for the shoot?
I was born and raised in the 7th ward. It’s the same neighborhood that my dad and his siblings were born and raised. Some of my fondest memories start off with my siblings and me walking to my grandparents home (MaGen and Big Daddy, so southern) to hang out with our cousins. Therefore, it was only fitting for the shoot to be done in the 7th Ward. Bayou Road is home to some of the coolest minority-owned businesses in the city, such as the Community Book Center, a 34 year old African and African-American bookshop and community center; Coco Hut Caribbean Restaurant; and my favorite coffee shop, Pagoda. I live in an adjoining neighborhood, so Bayou Road is nothing but a quick bike ride or a leisurely stroll away.
HB: What is something that most people don’t know about the specific Ward you reside?
In the mid-1800s the 7th ward was settled by a large population of free people of color. As a result, the neighborhood became a hub for music, culture, and innovation. The 7th ward nurtured jazz greats Jelly Roll Morton and Lionel Ferbos, groomed civil rights activist A.P. Tureaud, and continues to churn our talent such as, Mannie Fresh, Tyler Perry, Frank Ocean, Luke James, Anthony Mackie, and Tyrann Mathieu.
I currently live in the 5th Ward in Mid-City, a few blocks from Bayou St. John. I love it here because I can get everywhere rather quickly. We frequently use the Lafitte Greenway Pedestrian and Bike Path to take us from the bayou to the French Quarter, and there are quite a few restaurants, hangout spots, and green spaces within walking distance. It’s pretty family friendly and you will always get a good morning, a good evening or a good conversation from local New Orleanians.
HB: What is one thing you never leave the house without?
Lipstick in a bold color, because my son loves when I send him off with a kiss on his hand; it’s like his very own badge of honor.