Rene J.L. Fransen

And his waterproof loafers

Local landscape architect Rene J.L. Fransen, FASLA, wore Gucci loafers before he discovered Swims, a spiffy, waterproof loafer from England.

“After ruining more than one pair of $500+ Gucci loafers wading in mud and wet grass, I was amazed to find Swims, a handsome rubber loafer made in England that I can get as wet and muddy as my profession demands and then simply get into the shower and rinse them off,” he says.

While maybe not the fashion statement of a Gucci loafer, Swims are half the cost and come in a variety of colors that allows Rene to make a style statement while not worrying about ruining yet another pair of his favorite leather loafers from Italy.

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“My Swims are the very latest in my life-long shoe fetish,” he adds with a smile. “My friend Barbara Batt Claiborne loves to tease me about my Bass penny loafers that I wore with a dime where a penny should have been in the sixth and seventh grade. Little did I realize that collecting great shoes would become my life-long obsession.”

The seeds for Rene’s love of gardens were also developed at a young age.

“I had a best friend who lived on Gentilly Boulevard and he had a neighbor in her 70s who had a beautiful garden. I loved to stop and visit with her. She taught me about propagating everything. It wasn’t long before I was hanging out on weekends at Farley’s in Gentilly exploring its numerous greenhouses. If anybody would ask what I was doing spending so much time in the greenhouses, I would simple answer, ‘I am going to be a horticulturist when I grow up.’”

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And indeed he did. A graduate of Louisiana State University’s class of 1977 with a degree in landscape architecture, he is now considered one of the premier landscape architects in the country with more than 500 completed residential projects, not to mention his countless commercial jobs.

 When pushed to select three of his favorite projects, he lists a 10-acre garden he did for a home on the Atlantic Ocean in the Hamptons, a house outside Columbus, Mississippi, that is featured in architect Ken Tate’s book “The Classic House – Windy Hill,” and the just completed four-year project of extensive gardens for a Pensacola mansion, “I am proud that I have redone gardens for three different owners of the same house in New Orleans on more than one occasion because they loved my work,” he says.

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“What excites me the most are always my current projects. It is interesting to start a new garden with a vision of doing something wonderful.” And he keeps his wardrobe of eight pairs of Swims shoes handy to always look his best on any assignment. “I purchased my first pair at “duh” in Pensacola and I have purchased some of my shoes at Saks in Canal Place. Of course, they are always available on Amazon.

“Neiman Marcus hasn’t lost all of my business for Gucci shoes,” he adds. “They are still my favorite ‘dress-up’ shoes because they are so comfortable.” And Rene does need to dress up with all of his cultural and civic duties that include being co-chair of the French Quarter Citizen’s Progressive Dining Experience that will take place at three private homes in the French Quarter on November 6, and the Magic in the Moonlight seated chef’s dinner on October 16, to raise funds for the New Orleans Botanical Garden Foundation.

He also still finds time to serve on the board of Longue Vue House & Garden — in an emeritus status due to his former service as president. To be sure he will leave his rubber shoes at home when he steps out for the elegant benefits he will be attending this fall, but they will slip back on his feet the next time he ventures into a garden.


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