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Grandmother's Buttons brings antique buttons to New Orleans

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Grandmother's Buttons founder Susan Davis (middle), mother Miriam Davis (left) and Susan's daughter Anna (right) in the store.

A shipping container dislodged from its carrier plummets to the choppy sea below. The year is 1920. The container, filled with fine ladies garments from London, bobs along the rocky coast of one of America’s northern states until finally crashing into the shore of a small fishing town. Children playing along the stony beach pillage the container, removing garments and occasionally fighting over their bounty. A slight girl with soft features eyes a luxurious gown untouched by her peers. The gown glows lush blue and is ornamented from neck to hem with whimsical buttons depicting flowers and ornate pastoral scenes. Gathering it lovingly close to her form she runs home, her arms heavy with fabric, leaving a trail of stale salt air in her wake. Her mother, eyes wide, begins to reprimand her but then laughs girlishly before twirling her daughter around in a waltz and before trading to spin the dress as if at a grand ball. Some years later, the garment is long gone but the buttons remain, tucked away in a box for generations.

Every button has a story. Some more fantastic than others, but a history nonetheless. Admittedly, the tale depicted above is entirely fiction, but a trip to Grandmother’s Buttons on Magazine Street inspires even the most subdued storyteller. It is hard to avoid; the buttons are pure magic.

The Magazine Street retailor peddles an array of unique, handmade items serviced by a friendly and knowledgeable staff. “No one leaves without a full explanation of the item that they purchase,” explains Anna Addison Davis, the official second generation of Grandmother’s Buttons.

Both Anna and the store’s General Manager, Charlotte Cox, effortlessly combine and repurpose antique furniture and art to showcase the selection of jewelry and accessories. The entire staff is exceptionally knowledgeable and can provide you with personal treasure-hunting stories if you are interested, and any piece that contains antique or vintage buttons come with a Certificate of Authenticity explaining their age and style.

The Magazine Street outpost is the second location for the popular St. Francisville brand, marking an exciting milestone for this family-owned company.

“The company started in 1985 with my great grandmother’s button box,” says Anna. “My mother was rooting around in her grandmother’s button box and thought, ‘Oh, wouldn’t these make great earrings!’ and started making all of the jewelry herself.”

Over time, Anna’s mother, founder Susan Davis, built a sustainable business with her husband and co-owner, purchasing and restoring an historic 1905 bank building that looms over the town of St. Francisville, Louisiana. The namesake location boasts both a breathtaking array of custom-made jewelry, as well as, an “overflowing” Button Museum in its lower level, according to its curator.

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A bracelet made of antique buttons in Grandmother's current collection.

A button, unlike many other collectables, retains its beauty, intricacy and worth – even without a match. Anna admires how each buttons is a “unique work of art… when you stop and think about how much effort when into each tiny piece…and the fact that a woman would have worn at least 100 buttons. So…Intricate,” she finishes.

The design team of Grandmother’s Buttons hits all of the major outlets from New York to Paris, treasure hunting antique stores in search of their quarry. They repurpose the historic collectables at their studio in Louisiana, turning them into modern ready-to-wear jewelry that range in size and price. Different styles featuring buttons from glass to carved ocean pearl are presented in seasonal collections with some of the classic mainstays everlasting in both the in-store and online selections.

The craftsmanship and style behind an antique button might be a mystery to the untrained eye, but to an expert, the lineage can be traced. The buttons described in the fictional account are Picture Buttons, produced in the timeframe between 1870 through 1918. The story plays off of the limitless whimsical scenes sought after by the Victorian and Edwardian women. During that time, buttons depicted anything from flowers to characters from beloved stories. Also popular were Brass and Steel Cut Buttons, detailed and stamped, those adornments added warmth and sparkle to the garments they inhabited.

Charlotte is a personal fan of the perfume buttons that are made with a piece of velvet. With a knowing smile she tells of the allure and romanticism behind a perfume button. Of course, in a time when bathing was, well, minimum, wearing buttons dabbed with perfume from head to toe effectively masked the less-than-pleasing odors of the time. The story goes, says Cox, “that women would attach the perfume buttons under their lover’s lapel when he went off to war dabbed with her scent.”

The Magazine Street location, formerly the home of AKA Stella Gray, is not as overtly historic as its mother-store so the ladies of Grandmother’s Buttons are playful with the more simple historic space. Their window display depicts the seasons reminiscent of the button designers of yore, currently celebrating the luminescence of spring and summer flowers. The ladies note that this “draws the passerby inside” and gives them an opportunity to browse the unique selection of bracelets, earrings, necklaces and other accessories.

“The most popular are the all-button bracelets,” says Anna. Each is a different combination making each an individualized piece. When pressed about the possibility of replacing a button or matching duplicates, it was unanimously asserted that if a button is from a set, it becomes earrings.

New to the calendar is the monthly Third Thursday Soiree; this month falls on July 23, featuring refreshments and hors d’eurves inside, additional sales on store merchandise along with plans for a food truck out front.

Grandmother’s Button’s is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5pm on Sunday. Follow them on Facebook and online at www.grandmothersbuttons.com to see the latest-and-greatest from their creative minds.