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How BayouWear Came to Represent New Orleans Style

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It all started with a poster.

In 1975, while in graduate school at Tulane University, Bud Brimberg had to come up with a project for a business class. His idea: have an artist in New Orleans create a poster as merchandise for a local music festival.

That event, now known as the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, has become one of the city’s cultural staples. This year’s Jazz Fest, held over seven days in April and May, featured hundreds of performers across 14 stages. According to organizers, about 460,000 people (including staff and vendors) attended.

Since 1975, each Jazz Fest has been commemorated with an artist-designed poster. Mr. Brimberg, 73, still oversees their production. And since 1981, he has also made printed Hawaiian shirts sold at the festival. After introducing the shirts, which also feature a unique motif each year, Mr. Brimberg started to offer other pieces, including shorts and dresses.

BayouWear garments are made entirely of rayon, which Mr. Brimberg said he chose because it dries fast, hangs loose and displays colors more vividly than other fabrics. “The gradations were missing in cotton,” he said, zooming in on a photo of the 2003 print (a jumble of crawfish) to show how the color of the crustaceans faded from a deep orange into a pale coral.

Mr. Brimberg — who grew up in Brooklyn and has the mannerisms, and accent, of Larry David — comes up with ideas for BayouWear prints himself before finding artists to help bring them to life. He said his references over the years have included pointillist and Cubist art, the brand Marimekko and the French glassmaker Lalique.

The ideas for the prints themselves, he said, typically strike at random, often while he is roaming around New Orleans. The first print, in 1981, was inspired by a palm-tree-dotted shirt on a man playing an upright piano in that year’s Jazz Fest poster.

Kathy Schorr, a textile artist in New Orleans who helped make BayouWear’s 2023 architectural print, said she loves how fluid the designs are. “You can’t tell what it is until you’re right up on it,” Ms. Schorr said. “They just look like a beautiful pattern from a distance.”

The buttons on many BayouWear shirts are no less thoughtfully designed than the prints. To match certain motifs, Mr. Brimberg has had buttons custom made to look like tiny drums (for a percussion-themed print from 2016), guitar picks (for a print from 2006) and water-meter covers (for this year’s architectural print).

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