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Carnival is the new catwalk for local designers
It’s the day before the Panorama semi-final and clothing designer Christian Boucaud has to repeatedly break away from an interview to see to a stream of clients into her small boutique near the Queen’s Park Oval.
One regular customer, Tonya Evans, a production manager and dance teacher, riffles through a rack of clothing and holds up one item with Boucaud’s trademark African print.
“This is my Carnival short pants,” she announces before explaining why she liked the shorts and Boucaud’s clothes in general.
“I like the uniqueness of it.
“You know it’s not the exact same thing that somebody else is going to wear.”
With a multitude of entertainment events increasing the need for stylish clothes, the Carnival season usually brings an increase in sales for this country’s growing cadre of fashion designers.
But 2014 is seeing more designers involved in Carnival in more ways than ever before.
Meiling is renewing her partnership with legendary masman Peter Minshall in his return to scene for the first time in eight years with the Carnival Monday-only band Miss Miles, inspired by a play about famed whistleblower Gene Miles.
Meiling is also continuing a long-time relationship with rapso trio 3Canal, designing the wardrobe for their 10th Carnival production, Grimeee.
South designer Dexter Jennings will be presenting his first band, Outta South.
And The Cloth designer Robert Young will be bringing out his mini band Vulgar Fraction for the fourth year and dressing Panorama steelband players as he has in the past.
Tribe, whose organisers have worked with fashion designers almost from its inception a decade ago, is featuring a section from Project Runway winner Anya Ayoung-Chee for the third year straight.
A number of designers are also bringing out “Monday wear” collections—for the day when masqueraders typically do not put on their full costumes—and finding other opportunities presented by the season.
All this activity is invigorating for an industry in which practitioners worry about sustainability in the wake of competition from cheap imported clothes. Designer clothes have an advantage that is emphasised around Carnival.
“I don’t think there’s any other time of the year that the local community becomes very willing to invest in their wardrobe,” said Ayoung-Chee, in Trinidad on a break from her latest role on a fashion-based US reality series, Under The Gunn.
“There’s an emphasis on individuality on the road and in parties,” said Ayoung-Chee.
“So there is definitely that opening in the market for local designers. A lot of the retail stores bring in multiples of an option, then you run the risk of someone else wearing it.”
Ayoung-Chee launched the CANYAval Shop back in November, a collaboration between her, Meiling, Monday wear designer Keisha Als and others to sell clothes, shoes and accessories to masqueraders. The CANYAval Shop has a Web site and a physical presence at Meiling’s retail space at 6 Carlos St in Woodbrook.
“Carnival, fashion and music are intricately linked,” said Ayoung-Chee. “Carnival is when women—and men as well more and more—become very conscious of what they’re wearing. They spend more because of that.”
Boucaud started doing Monday wear in 2009. She can’t recall anyone else doing it at the time. Now, she says, “everybody doing it”.
Boucaud said her Monday collection—50 pieces not including foreign orders—sold out in a little more than two weeks.
“People keep saying, ‘After spending (thousands) on a costume why would I need Monday wear?’” said Boucaud.
“My friend told me that it’s about being a fashionista, it’s about being different.”
Designing and producing clothes for performers are a bit more of a challenge. Boucaud has outfitted Patrice Roberts and Nadia Batson in the past. And Ayoung-Chee famously dressed a pregnant Fay Ann Lyons in 2009. Neither of them is designing for any performers this year.
“It’s always a wonderful collaboration, but it’s a real labour of love,” Ayoung-Chee said.
“It’s expensive. It’s time-consuming. I think the artistes want to wear more local, but it just takes more work in a season where everyone is inundated with stuff to do and time is just too precious.”
Boucaud designed a section for the band Island People last year but didn’t this year in order to focus on her new boutique.
Carnival brings with it more opportunities but also more work to add to the already heavy load of local designers, many of whom complain that it is difficult to find skilled labour.
Boucaud, who usually produces her clothes alone, is hiring two workers to help out but she still faces long hours.
On top of everything Carnival–related she has to do, Boucaud is designing clothes for a couple who decided that Carnival Friday was the perfect day for a wedding.
It’s not, of course, for Boucaud.