Irma Thomas wanted a custom-made Jazz Fest souvenir dress. So she does hers. | Louisiana Festivals

Irma Thomas really likes the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

She loves Monica crayfish. She enjoys singing both spiritual music in the Gospel Tent and secular rhythm & blues on other stages.

And she loves the distinctive fabric used to make the BayouWear Jazz Fest commemorative apparel each year.

But she doesn’t like the way official BayouWear dresses fit her. As she puts it, “My figure didn’t complement them and they didn’t complement my figure.”

So she does hers.

On stage at Jazz Fest, Thomas wears custom dresses cut from BayouWear’s signature fabric. For years, she sewed the ankle-length dresses herself. But recently, she asked a good friend to make them for her. “My schedule was off,” she explained.

On Mother’s Day, Thomas is traditionally the headliner of a concert at the Audubon Zoo. But the zoo hasn’t held its Mother’s Day concert since 2019.

Thus, on Sunday, she will perform twice at Jazz Fest, both times on the main stage of the festival.

Irma Thomas performs in the Gospel Tent during the second Sunday of the 2016 New Orleans Jazz Fest at the fairgrounds, May 1, 2016. (Photo by David Grunfeld, | The Times-Picayune)

She will join Cyril Neville, Jon Cleary and others for a tribute to Dr. John beginning at 12:30 p.m. Then, from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., she will host her own show with her band, the Professionals.

For both shows, she will likely be wearing an item of clothing created from recent BayouWear fabric. She made one in 2020 from the “BeeBop Buzz” print, in which instruments are placed against flowers, complete with buzzing bumblebees. But that year’s festival, as well as the 2021 festival, were canceled by the pandemic, so she couldn’t take it to the fairgrounds.

This year’s “Music Lines” design features instruments on scribbled lines in different colors. It is, according to Thomas, “pretty, but weird”.

She’s a big fan of the BayouWear line, marketed by Art4Now, the same company that sells commemorative Jazz Fest posters (and recently launched an online swap service for people to sell their vintage Jazz Fest posters).

She has just about every “HowAhYa” Hawaiian-style shirt on the show except for a first edition that she lost in the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina and couldn’t replace. She likes that rayon shirts are relatively low maintenance.

Her relationship with Art4Now was solidified when she appeared on the poster for Jazz Fest 2008 and spent many hours working with company staff to sign several hundred copies.

“I have a good relationship with the people at Art4Now,” Thomas said. “You know how when women get together and start talking? I said, ‘It would be nice if I could make a dress.’ And they said, ‘How much fabric would you need?’ »

Art4Now is more than happy to welcome the Soul Queen of New Orleans.

“What the queen asks for, the queen gets,” said Art4Now founder Bud Brimberg. “We are honored to have Irma wrap Her Majesty in BayouWear. She is an icon of strength, power and talent who inspires us all.


Irma Thomas performs during a musical tribute to Fats Domino on the Acura Stage during the 2018 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival on Saturday, April 28, 2018. The tribute featured the Fats Domino Orchestra and musical guests Bonnie Raitt, Jon Batiste, Irma Thomas, Deacon John, Davell Crawford, Al ‘Lil’ Fats’ Jackson and Jon Cleary play Fats Domino’s greatest hits.

When the Art4Now team starts designing a new fabric every year, “we think of the Festival, the music, New Orleans and fashion,” Brimberg said.

“But before we start making a design, we always ask, ‘What will it look like on Irma? Because she cuts her long dress according to her own design, it actually shows more of the “repetition” of the fabric. Knowing this inspires us to create fabrics with a vision unique to BayouWear.

The first dress Thomas made was the year BayouWear shirts featured a pattern of red beans and rice. She thought wearing a cloth dress would be a good way to promote the festival’s souvenir outfit, as well as the festival itself. And she’s more inclined to wear a dress than a T-shirt.

“I’m just not a T-shirt person,” she said.

She will sometimes model more than one model for different Jazz Fest performances in the same year.

In 2016, she wore the “What-A-Melon” watermelon print dress for her Gospel Tent performance. In 2018, she debuted a dress made from the ‘Tricentennial Map’ print, featuring a map of New Orleans, for her main ensemble, but switched to the ‘Vintage Vinyl’ print, featuring vinyl records. , for that year’s Fats Domino tribute.

She wore a pelican print in 2014, then brought it back for a tribute to Allen Toussaint in 2019. For her main show in 2019, she sported the 50th anniversary “Logo-A-Go-Go” design, featuring the iconic silhouette of the festival. .

In addition to her HowAhYa shirt, the official BayouWear line includes Bayou shorts, a camisole, a “mini-wrap” skirt, a “maxi-wrap” skirt and a summer dress.

“They’re selling a dress, but not like mine,” Thomas said. “Mine is unique.”

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