PostedSep 7, 2015
The West Indian Day parade will light up Brooklyn today, winding (andwining
) its way around Eastern Parkway for an estimated two million people. Held on Labor Day annually, the festival is New York's mini Carnival, an undisputed nod to the early theatrical masquerades held in Trinidad and Tobago. Women in intricately beaded costumes, feather headdresses and jewelry have become part of the main attraction at New York's festival, with each dressed up according to her masquerade's (or mas) theme.
These women in costume follow a synchronized dance routine, and are judged by officials and onlookers as if models on a fashion week runway. And so it makes sense that the designers of their costumes - many of whom toil for a year to complete their mas band's looks - are revered within the niche community — Karl Lagerfeld's of the Carnival set, if you will.
Like Roy Pierre, one of the most awarded designers in Brooklyn's parade. He and his associates have nabbed handfuls of this Carnival's coveted awards for dressing up to 600 participants in one go.
So, what is it about his looks that turn heads?
"The rest of [the designers], they follow a norm that I like to call bathing suits, beads and feathers," he tells me, surrounded by old designs cased in plastic. "It’s like what you see in one costume band you will see in a bunch of others. I’m not putting them down, because that’s what young people usually want now, they have been weaned on that for the past 25, 30 years..."
Thank modern fashion trends, a setting thousands of miles from Carnival's birthplace, and, well, Caribbean pop stars for the - ahem - trimming of traditional costumes. This dress-less approach is widely referred to as "pretty mas", and coupled with suggestive dancing, is a "brief relief" from the patriarchy of society, professor Kenwyn Miller told the NYTimes.
Trinidad-born Nicki Minaj opened last week's MTV VMAs in a red mas number with yards of feathers, and Rihanna took to her homeland of Barbados in a bejeweled bikini for its carnival celebrations. Both looks a far cry from the more intricate, labor intensive, draping costumes that Pierre adores.
Photo via Keith Getter, Roy Pierre's 2012 Harlequins and Pierrots theme mas (Via: Caribbean Beat)
Is all the nakedness and overt sexiness too much, I ask? "My concept of nakedness is within the context of the Mas I am producing," Pierre pipes up. "[For me,] its not just some madness of throwing nakedness out there for nakedness sake. It has to be in my story line."
Despite pretty mas's less is more approach, women can still pay a pretty penny to participate in the parade — reportedly in the thousands for a look, the designer told me.
And it's just not worth it for a "bathing suit", he critiques. "Bathing suit after bathing suit. You buy one orange bathing suit for a mas, the next year you can jump in another orange bathing suit band and fit in. See if anyone will know the difference! And you're paying thousands!"
West Indian Day Parade (Via NY Daily News)
So, what has Pierre designed to continue his winning streak this year? His mas will wine, or dance, as mermaids and pirates. But rest assured, "My mas is not just to get my artists to draw women up in bathing suits and beads and feathers. I can't do that, I have created complete stories and every character in my band has their own look."
Roy Pierre's sketch of this year's theme, "Jolly Roger (Pirates Meet Mermaids)"
by: Chelsea Rojas