“I have a lot of interests,” says New Orleans artist Jennette Lavin. “It’s hard for me to nail them down.”
Lavin paints. She makes lingerie. She collects vintage things. And she does photography and self-portraits under the moniker, Madame Ette.
If you follow her Instagram, you’ll see her paintings, her photography of New Orleans architecture and her own, beautiful portraiture. And you can buy all of her work at her online store.
Lavin was born in the Crescent City, but returned only four months ago to be closer to family, take in the city’s romantic architecture and crank out some work. We spoke with her about all of this and, just as important, how to make a tasty mint julep.
InsideHook: How would you define your style?
Jennette Lavin: I find that things of a time past were made so well, and people put time into craftsmanship and things were made more beautifully. Everyone was an artist. When it comes to a chair or dresser it was beautifully carved wood. I love Impressionism, the foggy pastel. I shot on a Porta 400 with 35mm film, and I smear stuff on my lenses because I like a dreamy, melancholy hazy feel. It’s sensual. I’m influenced by eroticism and the 80’s. I collect tons of old porn, like Playboy magazine. They used to have such beautiful shoots.
IH: What things have you accumulated to help you express your vision of beauty?
JL: I don’t own anything modern. My clothes are all vintage, my car, my furniture. And they range from different eras as well. My car is a 1981 Mercedes. And I have 1930’s vanity. The car I got in a car lot and my uncle found it. I call her Dolly and I fell in love with her. My furniture I got at Pelican Thrift, and they have knick knacks and porcelain things. Vintage glasses and plates.
IH: It would seem that New Orleans and your aesthetic would go hand in hand.
JL: Oh yeah, it’s definitely a big reason I moved here. I was born here, yet I don’t know the city as an adult. It’s beautiful. I love the architecture and all of the Victorian homes. It’s really preserved a lot of the culture that I love. It’s really unlike any other American city.
IH: Has that paid off in inspiration?
JL: Definitely. I do feel I have a tendency to romanticize things a bit much. I love New Orleans but I do feel a bit isolated down here. I’ll probably eventually move back to New York. It’s nice to get away from the city though, especially in the winter because winter in NY sucks. It’s brutal. I needed a break from that so I now go down to the south and drink mint juleps.
IH: What’s your favorite place to get a mint julep in New Orleans?
JL: I make them myself. I don’t go out much.
IH: Okay, what’s Madame Ette’s mint julep recipe?
JL: Mint juleps are super simple. It’s just bourbon with sugar and mint. Powder sugar is ideal because it dissolves easily. Then crush the mint and sugar together. I don’t use too much sugar because it’s too sweet; your hangovers will be so bad.
IH: Our readers wouldn’t realize this, but we had to call your roommate’s cell because you don’t have a cell phone. Why don’t you own a cell phone? How does this affect Instagram?
JL: I use an iPad. I hate talking on the phone, which is kind of ironic, so how do I avoid that? I just don’t have a phone. Of course, my roommate gives me shit because I’m always using her phone for things, like if we need to navigate somewhere. I do use Skype. I develop my photography on film and then have to digitize it for Instagram and my store.
IH: Will this be your first Mardi Gras?
JL: I went to Mardi Gras as a kid and was in the parade and wore the big ball gown. I was on the float. My grandma made the gown and I have no idea where it is now. I had a garbage bag full of beads and I remember chucking them at people. I actually had little plastic poops.
IH: Like, from a gag store?
JL: Yeah, and I don’t know why but I was really enjoying throwing them at people.
IH: Here I thought Mardi Gras was a family-friendly holiday.
JL: It’s funny because it really is so long as you stay out of the Quarter and stay Uptown. There’s marching bands and amazing floats. It’s so much fun. But I also remember going to a ball that was super boring. But I don’t recall much else. My grandparents lost their house to Katrina. They lost tons of photos and all of their stuff. It was really sad. Their house was completely under water.
IH: That’s horrible. Did they manage to rebuild?
JL: They did. My grandmother died and she never got to move back into the house. My grandfather was obsessed with rebuilding it and making it exactly the same so he did rebuild it. And he lives there by himself. My mother grew up in that house. They had that house forever, since the 50s.
IH: What’s your favorite thing to do in NOLA?
JL: I’m such a recluse. But I do like Cane & Table — it’s really nice cocktail bar. And Oak Alley is a beautiful plantation. It’s terrible because it was a plantation, but it’s still really interesting.