Ma Petite Boutique Brings Another Touch of France to New Orleans
French influences are of course found all over the New Orleans area, but few are more delightful and accessible than the little slice of France found at Ma Petite Boutique in the Riverbend. An eclectic mix of clothing, jewelry, accessories, small gifts and more fill the shelves and racks, and all reflect the unique esthetic of owner and native Frenchwoman Corinne Saunders.
“I’m really picky,” she said. “If it’s in my boutique, it’s because I love it.”
The boutique offers a mix of new and used items, including some vintage pieces. Saunders is a master of browsing garage and estate sales, websites, flea markets and more to pluck under-appreciated treasures for her shop. She cleans, repairs, and sometimes enhances each item by hand before setting it out for sale. Selections from both local and French artists and craftspeople round out the display.
Many items in the store fall into the $10 – $20 range, which is often a fraction of their original value. Saunders keeps a particular focus on finding things that were seldom if ever used, so their condition is like-new. She introduces new merchandise constantly, including some seasonal items (yes, those seeking Mardi Gras outfits and accessories have a lot to look for in the shop).
Having struggled often with financial challenges, Saunders is committed to making her wares as affordable as possible. “I never had money in my life,” she said, “so I want to give the possibility for everyone to come and buy something.”
While Ma Petite Boutique only opened in late 2022, Saunders has many years of experience in her trade. Her journey began in Orleans, France, where at age sixteen she began a singing and acting career. Having children curtailed her time on stage, but led her into selling clothing, for which she immediately discovered a surprising passion.
In 2008, an American troupe landed in Orleans for a month-long run, performing a show about Josephine Baker and New Orleans. “I was a fan of Josephine Baker since always, I sang her songs,” recalled Saunders. “I just had to see the show.”
Little did she know that one of the musicians would become her future husband. They met on the last night of the show, and pretty much fell in love immediately. Only a few obstacles stood in the way of their bliss, like the fact that neither spoke the other’s language, plus they lived an ocean apart.
Nevertheless, they communicated over the years using computer translation software, and managed to see each other two or three times a year. They actually got married in 2011, by the captain on the steamboat Natchez. Finally, in 2019, Saunders moved to New Orleans; soon thereafter, she embarked on her unique approach to the boutique trade.
Initially, Saunders conducted monthly clothing sales out of her house. “People loved my style, it was very successful,” she recounted. This led to renting a booth in a shared retail space on Decatur Street, where she offered clothing and jewelry. Unfortunately, this happened in February 2020, and the pandemic soon shuttered the operation. Saunders pivoted to managing a boutique on Oak Street, then returned to her own business in February 2022. While back in the shared space, this time she upgraded both in terms of what she offered and by getting the business licenses required of an independent operator.
This proved prescient when the Decatur Street space closed again, really pushing Saunders out on her own. She found the 8125 Hampson Street location last fall, and quickly geared up to open for the holidays. Having her own space has enabled her to express her particular style and approach.
“I love color,” she said, which is evident from the moment one walks into Ma Petite. “I love to mix everything. When you come here, you need to have the time to look at everything. In the middle of a rack with fifteen tunics, you will find exactly what you want.”
Saunders makes that even easier by making sure each customer gets her personal attention, and by maintaining a wide a variety of sizes as well as styles.
Happily ensconced in her own store – and leasing from a fellow immigrant, which gives her an extra little pride and pleasure – speaking English well, no longer managing a trans-Atlantic marriage, Saunders is in many ways living the American dream. Yet she remains very clear about one thing.
“This is a Frenchy boutique!” she exclaimed.
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