Queen of Hermes Ana Luisa Rodriguez, King of Hermes Franco Valobra at the court presentation in the Hyatt Regency New Orleans. (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)
King Franco Valobra leads the Krewe of Hermes night parade during New Orleans Mardi Gras. (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)
Robert Lupo, Nancy Valobra, Maximo Valobra as she is escorted to her seat during the Krewe of Hermes presentation ball in New Orleans (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)
Dr. Devinder & Gina Bhatia and their daughter Mia Bhatia at the Krewe of Hermes ball (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)
The King of Hermes family: Nancy, Luna, Franco and Maximo Valobra at the presentation ball (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)
Kristen Cannon, Rachel Regan, April Salazar at the Krewe of Hermes gala (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)
Knights of the Krewe of Hermes in their costumes at the white-tie-and-tails gala (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)
Derek Potts, Ivonne Longoria, King Franco Valobra, Yulia & John Houghtaling at the Krewe of Hermes festivities (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)
Shelby Hodge & Shafik Rifaat at the Krewe of Hermes presentation ball (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)
Charles & Isabella Reimer at the Krewe of Hermes King's luncheon in the King's Bar at Antoine's in the New Orleans French Quarter (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)
Steve & Joella Mach at the King of Hermes luncheon in the King's Bar at Antoine's in the French Quarter (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)
Deana Blackburn, Laurie Krohn at the Krewe of Hermes King's Luncheon (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)
Ana Gershanik, Viviana Denechaud at the Krewe of Hermes King's Luncheon (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)
King of Hermes Franco Valobra rides a carriage during the French Quarter walking parade. (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)
Dr. Jorge & April Salazar, Rachel & Tom Regan join the cocktail party at Valobra Master Jewelers in New Orleans' French Quarter (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)
Steve Mach, Devinder Bhatia on Royal Street during the Krewe of Hermes walking parade (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)
Katrina Arnim, Judith Oudt at the Krewe of Hermes festivities in New Orleans (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)
Cali & Ryan Wheless at the Krewe of Hermes party. (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)
Lauri & Tracy Krohn, Mary Claire Conwill at the Krewe of Hermes walking parade watch party at Valobra Master Jewelers (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)
Chef Daniel & Katherine Boulud at the walking parade watch party at Valobra Master Jewelers in New Orleans. (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)
Nancy Valobra receives a bouquet of roses from Krewe of Hermes King Franco Valobra during the parade watch party at Blake Hotel (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)
Lisa & John Santasiero on the balcony at Blake Hotel for the Krewe of Hermes parade watch party (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)
Mignon & Steve Gill on the balcony at Blake Hotel for the Krewe of Hermes parade watch party (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)
Nicole Rodriguez, Dr. Roland Maldonado, Hannah Sohrabi, Kayvon Sohrabi at the Krewe of Hermes parade viewing party (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)
Sean Waggoner, Candace Brock at the Krewe of Hermes parade watch party (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)
Shelby Hodge & Shafik Rifaat at the Krewe of Hermes parade watch party (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)
The Talladega Marching Band in the Krewe of Hermes New Orleans Mardi Gras parade. (Photo by Daniel Ortiz)
Darlings, traveling with the King is the only way to go. Just ask the Houston entourage that joined Franco Valobra of New Orleans, Houston and Italy in Mardi Gras festivities that found him as King LXXXII leading the Krewe of Hermes and friends across the streets of the Crescent City.
It was two days and nights of glorious fun punctuated with police escorts, marching bands and the perfect perch for viewing the Krewe of Hermes (pronounced her-meez) nighttime parade. It also spotlighted Valobra’s dedication to his adopted hometown. For the only means of being selected king from among the 1,000 members of Hermes is by a secret council with voting based on personal accomplishments, generosity, charitable involvement, personality and reputation.
Those who know Valobra personally know that he checks all the boxes.
Those attributes were at play when the 2022 King of Hermes decided to toss 100 pearl necklaces — yes, real pearls — into the crowd as his parade coursed along famed St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street. As a fourth generation master jeweler with salons in New Orleans’ French Quarter, Houston and Lugano, Switzerland, Franco Valobra knows his way around the coveted pearls and he thought this a fitting tribute to New Orleans’ resilience following not only Hurricane Katrina but also the pandemic.
“The king wants to show to all of the revelers, that Mardi Gras is rare and valuable to all of us, for our tradition, for our economy, for everything else,” Valobra told New Orleans’ WWL TV. “These are going to be handed out to people along the route to let them know that Mardi Gras is here to stay, no matter what. No hurricane, no pandemic, no crisis will stop Mardi Gras.”
Although the pandemic quashed the 2021 festivities, there was no sign of restraint or scaling back for 2022. The Krewe of Hermes festivities at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans began with the white-tie-and-tails presentation evening. In charming old school tradition white gloves were required for both men and women and for the presentation that followed a champagne reception, ladies were seated and gents stood in the back of the ballroom. Rituals that have been honored since the founding of the krewe in 1937.
The ball revealed a stunning tableau of glittering gowns, spectacular trains, ostrich plum headdresses on costumed and masked knights, scepters, herald trumpeters and choreographed presentations of the king, queen, ladies of the court and youthful ladies in waiting. All but the colorful knights and pages in white-tie were dressed in white with silvery embellishments. An orchestra provided the presentation music. Dinner and fevered dancing followed in yet another ballroom.
The King’s Traveling Party
The following day found the king’s entourage arriving at Antoine’s in the heart of the French Quarter via police escort through streets that were already teaming with revelers. Valobra’s family and guests dined in the famous Hermes Bar, where the bar was open and the meal a New Orleans feast. Meanwhile members of the krewe dined at the Men’s Float Luncheon around the corner at Latrobe’s on Royal.
Following lunch several dozen of the Hermes gents — wearing requisite coats and Krewe of Hermes ties and carrying cigars and adult libations — began their stroll down Royal Street, led by the Talladega Marching Band of Talladega College in Talladega, Alabama. Known as “The Marching Tornados,” it is considered one of the best, most well-known marching bands in the South. The route passed Valobra Master Jewelers where a a champagne and Bloody Mary-infused viewing party was held for guests. The king, of course, rode in a horse-drawn carriage.
Some of the Houstonians never made it back to the hotel before the parade viewing party. Others took a breather and a nap in preparation for the big night.
For the parade the king’s guests were hosted in cozy second floor event rooms at Blake Hotel where the balcony stretched wide and long, enough for the dancing, partying guests. A creole-style buffet and open bar fueled the dizzying party scene that rocked on as the parade passed by. The king tossed one of his coveted pearl necklaces to the balcony and presented a bouquet of white roses to his bride Nancy Valobra.
Much of the Valobra family participated in all aspects of the celebration including the couple’s children and the kings’s sister and brother, Cristina Valobra in from Zurich and Giorgio Valobra.
While New Orleans is his family residence, Franco Valobra spends enough time in Houston to plant bountiful roots. Much of the philanthropy that he launched in New Orleans, he has repeated here.
Valobra is the founder and past president of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Foundation and a former chairman of the Harris County Constable Precinct One Foundation. He is a senior member of the President’s Leadership Council of the Houston Methodist Hospital. In 2007, he founded the annual Houston Ferrari Festival benefitting Texas Children’s Hospital Cancer Center. The event continues to attract thousands of visitors and raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for pediatric cancer research.
In addition, since opening his store in Houston in 2006 following Katrina, Valobra has donated to nonprofit fundraisers hundreds of thousands of dollars in jewelry for auction.
In 2015, Valobra was honored by the president and prime minister of the Italian Republic with the Knighthood of the Italian Republic for his outstanding service to benefit the Italian people, Italian brands and the Italian way of life in United States.
PC Seen: Renowned chef Daniel Boulud and wife Katherine, and Houstonians Gina and Dr. Devinder Bhatia, Mignon and Steve Gill, Rachel and Tom Regan, April and Dr. Jorge Salazar, Derek Potts, Ivonne Longoria, Yulia and John Houghtaling, Isabella and Charles Reimer, Edward Sanchez, Joella and Steve Mach, Kristen Cannon, Laurie and Tracy Krohn, Viviana Denechaud, Katrina Armin, Judith Oudt, Cali and Ryan Wheless, Lisa and John Santasiero, Dr. Roland Maldonado and Kayvon Sohrabi, and Derek Potts.