Local stylist and owner of The Hair Show, Kelli Hutchinson, lost most of her material possessions in the late-2016 Baton Rouge flood. Among them was her wedding dress, with the big day just a few weeks away. This month, her story will be featured on TLC’s “Say Yes to Dress,” making her wedding even more of a treasured memory.
She met her now-husband Adam Chappuis seven years ago at the Varsity Theatre, and immediately she knew their meeting was a “game-changer” right up to his proposal at the pavilion on the lakes at LSU. Hutchinson’s story really begins right when it started raining leading up to the flood. She and Adam had moved into their home with their three daughters, along with their two dogs 12 days before the flood.
“We hadn’t even had two weeks into our house yet that we saved our money to purchase and do all the necessary things [for] the new house,” said Hutchinson, who explained their home didn’t require flood insurance.
Hutchinson first became aware of the rising waters after receiving a phone call at home from one of her employees who could not come to work due to flooding. Being a business owner for several years, Hutchinson was at first skeptical of the call, believing they wanted a day off until they prompted her to look outside.
“I had laughed a little because I thought it was funny. I thought ‘You’re trying to get out of work,’ but whenever I looked outside I realized I couldn’t leave my home either,” Hutchinson said.
While she could use her SUV to leave her home, she did not go to work that day because the rain was worsening. The following day, she stayed home from work, purchased sandbags and placed two layers of them around her home to keep the waters at bay. By the time the family cooked dinner that night, the water had receded only a little bit. It was while Hutchinson was getting ready for a bath that her fiancé came in and told her the water had finally reached the house and the National Guard was out evacuating people.
“We had been holding down water for two days,” Hutchinson said. “Once we finally left, the water was shooting under our door rapidly. It was real scary to see the water come in so quickly; it reminded me of a scene from like the Titanic or something.”
The water wasn’t anticipated to be very high in the house, so the only items Hutchinson could bring with her were the clothes on her back and a diaper bag.
“It was a crazy experience and a crazy moment when you realize you’ve just lost
everything, like everything you have is just about to be underwater and so is everyone around you,” Hutchinson said.
At the same time, Hutchinson was concerned about her business, The Hair Show, though it did not look good knowing that S. Acadian Thruway, which was quite close to her building, was closed off and flooded.
Upon returning to her home, Hutchinson found three feet of water that had been there for three days. The water pressure knocked down several pieces of furniture, and the only things that could be salvaged were things hung and on top of the closet.
“I did my best drying things out, but as I was out drying photos, it was raining still,” Hutchinson said. “We tried to save things, but there were so many things with mildew and mold that most of them had to be thrown out. I went from being having very well dressed children, and then going from that to children with two t-shirts and five diapers. We had to throw everything away.”
Afterward, the family began to rebuild their lives. Thankfully, Hutchinson’s business survived and the house could be salvaged, but they were left with very little to call their own.
But with a new perspective, Hutchinson didn’t focus too much on what was lost, choosing to be grateful for what was saved.
“Your things are just things,” Hutchinson said. “If I would have lost our dog or one of our children that would have been so much worse than losing your home and your stuff. All of those things, well, most of those things, can be replaced, but when it comes down to a family member or an animal, it would be a lot worse.”
It was that perspective that would aid Hutchinson in the coming days as the flood had put a hold on her wedding, which originally had been weeks away. One of the items lost was her brand-new wedding dress, which she had picked up only a few days prior to the flood.
“I made them hold it at Blush…and on that Thursday, right before the flood, I went and picked it up,” Hutchinson said. “Because I was so excited to get it home.”
As she was putting her life back together, she began to feel that the wedding would have to be put off again. Meanwhile, a good photographer friend of hers, Brad King, had nominated Hutchinson to appear on “Say Yes to the Dress.” He had worked with the show previously, and producers had reached out to him looking for any brides who had been affected by the flood. He gave a few nominations, including Hutchinson, who was then sought out for an interview. Much to Hutchinson’s surprise, she and her fiancé were selected.
“We were really excited,” Hutchinson said. “That was the silver lining, you know? At that moment, I was like “Oh my gosh, this is amazing.’”
Host of “Say Yes to the Dress,” Randy Fenoli, had spent most of his childhood in Louisiana and was affected by Hurricane Katrina, during which he was trapped in a second story apartment. When he heard about the flood, he wanted to do something to help.
“I felt like I’ve known him my entire life,” Hutchinson said. “Like there was a kinship between us, and I think we’ve made friends forever. There was something about him that made me feel very comfortable and very excited. He’s a contagious, happy person, and it’s awesome to have people like that in your life. I’m just really grateful to him.”
The film crew flew in to Baton Rouge, and built a set replica of Kleinfeld Bridal, a Manhattan-based bridal salon that the show is inspired by.
“There were tons of dresses, jewelry, shoes, they just basically built and a created a store here for me to go to,” Hutchinson said. “It was such an amazing experience. They helped us out more than just helping me. It allowed our family to find hope again and get excited about our big day again.”
Some of her fondest memories from the show were the crew having her repeat some of the silly things she would say on set as well as their generosity. This included allowing her to take home one of the large mirrors used on the set for her house, and getting her a hotel room, so she didn’t have to wake up in a camper on her wedding day.
According to Hutchinson, the greatest part of her story was how everyone in the city came together to ensure Hutchinson had the wedding of her dreams when she had no budget. Local businesses such as Les Amis Bake Shoppe, Kristine Nastasi Designs, and the LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens, helped Hutchinson see people’s generosity.
Through the kindness of others, Hutchinson felt like a celebrity in her own town.
“It was humbling,” Hutchinson said. “These people donated so much to us for our wedding. Baton Rouge, our city, truly gave back. They gave me more than I could ever give. We didn’t pay for a cake; we didn’t pay for a photographer or a wedding planner. Our food was donated. The flowers were the most beautiful flowers of any wedding I had ever been to, and it was my wedding, and it was gifted to us by all of these people that wanted to make this day special for me. In a million years, I could never imagine so many people donating so much.”
Wedding photos courtesy of Amy K Photography.
Top photo by Amber Law.
Photo with Randy Fenoli courtesy of Kelli Hutchinson.
*Editor’s Note* The LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens was originally referred to as the Burden Center in this story. The name has been changed to reflect the rebranding of the facility.