The month of May is carnival season in the Cayman Islands. During the cultural celebrations of Batabano and CayMAS, music, dance and togetherness fill the air; and no matter the festival or parade, it’s the colourful elaborate costumes that garner the most attention. Meet a few talented designers to learn about their inspirations, collaborations and design process.
Iconz Cayman’s Creative Director Courtney McTaggart worked with a number of costume designers to bring to life its “Festival Fashion” theme. Inspired by popular festivals across the globe, the costume styles range from bohemian to futuristic to post-apocalyptic. The “Caychella” costume, for example, pays homage to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and is a kaleidoscope of desert- and turquoise-hued feathers and intricate beadwork, designed by Trinidadian designer Liana Teixeira Khan.
How did you choose your theme?
CM: We wanted to conceptualise a theme that was relevant but somewhat cutting edge; trendy but also appealing to all demographics. We chose three festivals based on overall popularity and their already-established styles. Then we presented our designers with… three festival fashion–themed sections. I was in constant contact with all designers and had a huge part in the overall look and end product.
Liana, how did you come to collaborate with Iconz?
LTK: I submitted sketches and then was chosen as a designer. From there I created a prototype that was sent to Cayman, where the team was able to see it in person and make whatever changes they wanted. Then I created the second and final prototypes (one for each style option), which were sent to the team again; and that is what was photographed and modelled at the launch.
What advice do you have for someone who may be too shy to take part in carnival?
CM: The beauty of carnival is the inclusivity and comfort shared amongst revellers. It’s a day where we come together as a people to enjoy a tradition, and it really cannot be explained, as you must take part to understand. We want to flatter all body types and styles, so we go through a process of sitting with women of all different ages, shapes and sizes to come up with options.
For Leanne Ritch and Kenzie Rose, it’s their first year designing carnival costumes together. Even though Ritch is an accountant, she always had an eye for creativity and is on the Swanky International committee, whilst Rose is an accomplished costume and pageant designer who has her own line, K. Rose. Their vision was to create something truly “out of the box,” and hence, Rocc & Rose was born.
What was your inspiration for the “Valyria” costume?
LR: When we first chose “Valyria” to design, instantly we both thought of the famous HBO series Game of Thrones. Valyria, also called Old Valyria, is a ruined city in Essos, which was once ruled by Dragonlords.
KR: We both decided it would be unique to tell a story through the designs of our costumes: We start with our “Baby Dragon” costume; its small folded wings represent the birth of Valyria. Then comes the “Dragon of Youth” costume, which grows into a more mature dragon with bigger wings and even more detail. And finally, the “Mother of Dragons,” which has the most bling and the biggest wings. You can’t miss her roaring down the road.
What are the main embellishments that will make “Valyria” stand out?
KR: The bright red costume base is the colour of fire. Different shades of gold and bronze gems and the gold spikes give it a fun, edgy look. Gems with dragon scale patterns and shaped like dragon’s eggs — as well as long golden spikes on the wings (backpacks) — really bring out the dragon aesthetic.
For those who feel they don’t have the right body for these sorts of costumes, what advice would you give?
KR: We design our costumes in a way that any body type can wear them and be comfortable in them. We also ensure that we get our clients’ likes and dislikes. Everyone is beautiful inside and outside, and there is no such thing as a specific body type when it comes to carnival. Carnival is about coming together as a family to enjoy the festivities our Island has to offer.
Renegade Mas Band, created by Danielle and John Watler, participates in both CayMAS and Batabano carnivals. It is only Danielle’s second year as a costume designer, after garnering much recognition for putting her own spin on carnival costumes she wore at previous carnivals. Now she wears many hats, including costume designer, owner and marketer.
What is your inspiration, and do you have a signature “look”?
DW: I spend a lot of time researching different styles, cultures and markets, and try to find the best way to infuse them into my designs. I love bold trims, mixed patterns and statement neck-pieces. I have to look at it and say, “Wow, I would wear that,” before even putting it out to the public.
What is your design process when creating a costume?
DW: The planning process takes up the most time, especially when you have limited resources on island. This year I started planning three months in advance of the costume launch and began developing a team to assist in the areas I’m not as skilled in, such as feather construction and sewing costume bases; but they were done under my design supervision.
It’s like a puzzle, and every piece is so important to the next. I buy what I like, and then I spread it all over my dining table and have fun “playing with the pieces.” I’m not one to draw out my design beforehand. I will start with an idea, and many times halfway through it changes. I allow my intuition to lead, and if it sparks joy in me, I proceed.
What advice would you give for someone who wants to take part in carnival but is too shy or modest?
DW: Go for it! Be bold and fearless. I promise you, when everyone is on the road and that soca music starts playing, we are all the same standing as one band in unity — no matter your body type. This is the time to let go of insecurities and allow yourself to shine.
Nik Stewart and Tigerlily Hill have joined forces for several fashion projects in the United States, but this is the first time the Cayman-born design duo collaborated as costumiers for Batabano. Stewart is a busy model who won the title of Caribbean’s Next Top Model in 2013, whilst Hill is an award-winning fashion designer and celebrity stylist. Together, they’re best friends and brand-building influencers with their own swimsuit line and talent management agency.
What was your inspiration for designing these costumes?
TH: Our approach was artful, majestic and unassuming. With the theme of “magic,” we knew the central accord would be all about fantasy, which is why we incorporated complementary, iridescent, metallic colours to bring our female and male costumes to life.
NS: The women’s crown is meant to evoke a beautiful eccentricity that matches the harmonious cosmopolitan atmosphere of the Cayman Islands… we wanted our diverse section of girls to exude magnificence, strength, beauty and empowerment. The men’s costume, on the other hand, is meant to be a complete reflection of the women’s in the form of a resilient echo. This is why we constructed the kaleidoscopic shorts out of reflector fabric. All of the costumes are made from environmentally friendly fabric.
How did you go about creating these costumes, and how long did it take?
TH: The costumes took a full two weeks. We began by sourcing fabric, then hand-constructed the silhouette and hand-sewed the first sample for the women’s costume before amply embellishing with crystals, jewels, rhinestones, beads and other accoutrements. The wings (also known as the backpack) took a few extra days based on the sheer size. With the men’s form we collaborated with a manufacturer in getting the goggles completed, then we sewed the cloth mask and shorts. After both samples were completed, the last step was to have a production sample sewn and have the costumes be mass-produced for carnival.
Why does the costume have different styles?
NS: We didn’t want a division, so we created essentially one costume so our group of girls will experience togetherness yet exclusivity. A plus-size option (fuller bottom) is available, as we are on a mission to promote body positivity.
Author: Lisa Boushy