From Ancient Egypt To The ‘Who Dat’ Nation: The Mysteries Of The Marketable Fleur De Lis Revealed
You can find it on political flags and dynastic coats of arms. It’s become a symbol of French republics and the Catholic Church. It’s even been adopted by the New Orleans Saints’ ‘Who Dat’ nation.
The fleur de lis, a stylized lily or iris that has been used as a decorative design emblazoned on everything from Medieval castles to gift shop shot glasses, has become a priceless Gulf Coast commodity.
But, author Morgan Molthrop has put a price on it. $12.95. That’s what it will cost to buy his new book “La Fleur de Lis: Histories, Mysteries, Recipes and Mixologies of the World’s Most Enduring Symbol.”
“There really is no way to estimate its value because so many companies create objects with fleur de lis on them,” Molthrop, owner of New Orleans publishing house Barataria Communications, said. “Every time you walk down the street you see them. If I don’t see at least a dozen, it wasn’t a good day.”
Molthrop was a former Wall Street executive who graduated from New York Law School, taught at NYU and is now the Chief Creative Officer of Custom New Orleans, a cultural destination management company. He said he undertook the project that was inspired by his collaborator Casey Delmont Johnson, Chief Designer at fleur-de-lis.com, because of its controversy.
“When Casey approached me to write the text and provide images for a book on the fleur I hesitated because some African Americans believe the symbol resurrects the ghosts of slavery,” New Orleans native Molthrop said. “In fact, the fleur was branded on enslaved Africans who tried to escape in the French colonies. However, like most divine and royal imagery the symbol originated in the Ancient Near East and Africa, not France.”
“When I became the designer for fleur-de-lis.com products I knew we needed a guide, a book to reinvigorate interest in the symbol,” Johnson said. “People were telling me that the fleur was ‘out.’ Well, the fleur de lis has never been ‘out.’ It has been a part of every important civilization since the dawn of man.”
Johnson’s fleur-de-lis.com is a division of Roux Brands in Port Allen, LA. The company was conceived in 1982 to provide fleur products to the gift market. Johnson, who received his philosophy diploma from LSU, took over the reigns of the company last year. An artist by nature, he has provided depth and vigor to the brand, increasing fleur-de-lis.com’s visibility and adding to the product line’s vitality.
Johnson encouraged Molthrop to explore both the positive and negative implications of the fleur in the book. The two worked together to include references to the occult and connections to Marie Laveau, the Vodou Queen of New Orleans.
“We wanted the kind of edgy, gift book that reflects the new spirit of South Louisiana and the Gulf Coast,” Johnson said. “Molthrop’s books fit that bill. Our line of products will likewise contribute creative perspectives for an emerging generation of Louisiana and Gulf Coast immigrants, as well as travelers interested in the authentic aspects of our culture.”
“The fleur de lis is one of the oldest symbols in history, “Molthrop said. “We discovered it blends symbols from Upper and Lower Egypt and it can be found on ancient columns and in hieroglyphics. From Mesopotamia to half way around the world in Mesoamerica during the time of the Aztecs and Incas, you can find the fleur. There was no original connection to France. The fleur was eventually adopted by the Catholic Church, and it’s since become a timeless symbol of divinity and power which we hope will translate into lots of book sales.”
The potent power of the fleur de lis was illustrated in 2010 when the NFL sent cease and desist letters to local New Orleans stores who were selling merchandise with “Who Dat” and the fleur de lis designs on them.
Since “Who Dat” is a phrase so closely connected with the New Orleans Saints, and the symbol is featured prominently on their uniforms and helmets, the NFL was claiming to own the trademarks and said they were trying to prevent unauthorized uses of identifying marks of the Saints.
Attorney General Buddy Caldwell quarterbacked the issue, and when it was resolved told the Associated Press “the NFL conceded and they've said they have no intention of claiming the fleur de lis, which would be ridiculous, or the 'Who Dat,' which would be equally ridiculous.”
“The NFL tried to take ownership of the logo, but they lost,” Molthrop said. “It’s because the fleur de lis is so prevalent in New Orleans society. It’s public domain.”
Molthrop and Johnson’s 64-page book, encased in a 10”x10” hardcover binding, outlines the fleur’s importation to the Gulf Coast and its regional meanings as they changed through the centuries. But, it also includes recipes for fleur inspired dishes and fleur de lis cocktails. In the book you’ll find how to prepare the trinity of Louisiana cooking: red beans and rice, gumbo and jambalaya. You’ll also find out how to make Muriel’s Jackson Square restaurant’s popular “Fleur de Lis” libation – a refreshing splash of Stoli Raspberry Vodka, orange juice, pineapple juice and Chambord.
At the same time, the book examines the continued use of fleur-like symbolism in power politics. For instance, in Johnson’s introduction he notes that the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge is the same height as the Great Pyramid in Egypt, where fleur de lis abound in architecture and hieroglyphs.
“Like the fleur itself – a top-heavy mirrored symbol – Johnson’s inspiration reflected my efforts,” Molthrop said. “Casey is a talented designer who is one of the South’s emerging talents.”
Molthrop said “La Fleur de Lis: Histories, Mysteries, Recipes and Mixologies of the World’s Most Enduring Symbol” is available for presale, but they’re going fast. The original presale press run was 2,000 copies, but demand encouraged them to print another 1,500. To date, almost all 3,500 have been presold through fleur-de-lis.com.
Molthrop said he’s planning to print 40,000 copies in total when it will be released to Amazon.com and additional retail outlets. And, because of the early response, the collaborators said a follow-up book is already in the works.
“It’s an instant classic and an assured hit,” said Johnson. “It seems the fleur is still revealing its mysteries.”
“People will be surprised about the history, and delighted that the book is not your average gift store book,” Molthrop said. “I didn’t know what I thought I knew about the fleur de lis until I wrote this book.”
“La Fleur de Lis: Histories, Mysteries, Recipes and Mixologies of the World’s Most Enduring Symbol”
By Morgan McCall Molthrop and Casey Delmont Johnson
Published by Barataria Communications
Distributed by UL Press