Court & Couture: Orleans prosecutor-turned-designer creates collection of couture evening bags

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Bobby Freeman Jr. knows his way around a courtroom — and a designer evening purse.

When he’s not tending court as an Orleans Parish prosecutor, the Plaquemine native is turning luxurious silk fabrics, mink and other exotic materials into couture evening bags, which are now being carried at the Moreau-Reyes Gallery in Baton Rouge.

“I was always interested in art, but it was natural that I gravitated towards the law,” says Freeman, son of Marianne Freeman, of Plaquemine, and the late Bobby Freeman, who served as lieutenant governor from 1980 to 1988, a state representative from 1968 to 1980 and Plaquemine city judge from 1990 to 1996. “I get my artistic eye from my dad … my biggest critics are my mom and sister Lisa.”

But, first came the law.

After graduating from Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., in 1988 and making its Law Review, Freeman moved to Los Angeles, where he spent a year as a legal consultant for Paramount Pictures’ television division, ensuring accuracy when scripts related to Louisiana civil and criminal law.

He returned to Louisiana in 1991 to work at the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal and, in 1993, he took a prosecutor’s job at the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office under longtime District Attorney Harry Connick Sr. For six years, Freeman prosecuted sex crimes and murders. Then he hit the wall. It was time for something different.

Then came design.

Deciding to completely change careers, he applied to the Parsons School of Design in New York and was accepted a week later.

“I had no place to live. I just headed to New York,” Freeman says with a laugh of his 1999 move. “I finished in two years and made the dean’s list with a 4.0.”

He went to work as an intern with designer Marc Jacobs.

“I learned an incredible amount working with him,” Freeman says. “It was fantastic.”

Then came an 18-month stint with designer Tommy Hilfiger.

“I worked with a variety of designers who showed in Bryant Park (New York Fashion Week),” Freeman says. “Then I got a job as the assistant costumer for Elton John and toured with him. I remember talking to Elton at a private concert he did. He asked me where I was from. When I told him Baton Rouge, he got all excited and said Baton Rouge had some of the most elegant women in the world. I also did the Face to Face tour with Billy Joel.”

Soon Parsons came calling, asking Freeman to create and teach a course on the Business of Design.

“I got to marry my two passions — design and law,” Freeman says. “I don’t think you have to be pigeon-holed in your career. If you have the opportunity to do something, do it. I have a wide expanse of interests. I get to use both the right side and left side of my brain.”

In 2001, at the urging of friends, Freeman started his own design company in Manhattan. His couture evening bags, which range in price from $1,050 to $1,800, were a hit. Some are one-of-a-kind, but there are never more than three made alike.

“I get inspiration from wherever I’ve traveled,” Freeman says. “It’s amazing what will hit you when you least expect it.”

One collection is based on a toolbox. A trip to Venice evoked a collection made from elegant Fortuny silks while Barcelona’s Sagrada Família, the world’s largest unfinished Catholic church, inspired the hardware.

In 2004, Freeman was having dinner with former fellow Orleans Parish prosecutor Keva Landrum and she asked whether he was ready to return to the District Attorney’s office. He was.

“When I first came back I was focusing on the law, but then André (Moreau) called and said he wanted to feature my bags at his gallery,” Freeman says. “I had my sourcing all set up in New York and my patterns done, so I was able to make that happen.”