There is a buzz at YUMA headquarters again. Finally, the kaleidoscope of colours associated with carnival costuming brightens the dull display room enclosed by black walls. If you’re not careful, you can knock over a mannequin displaying the carnival band’s 2023 line of costumes. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if the COVID-19 pandemic had not wiped out carnival for the last two years, and with it, an industry that earns people their pay cheques each month.
Now, designers rush in and out of the Tragarete Road, Port-of-Spain camp. The scene is somewhat similar at other mas bands’ headquarters. In another room of the YUMA camp costumes lie on a table perhaps waiting to be examined or collected. There are conversations one on top of the other. This is a beautiful chaos that many in the Carnival industry came to miss in 2021 and 2022. Even as the World Health Organization says we are transitioning out of the pandemic, amid uncertainty, the staff press ahead with optimism that 2023 will mark the return of the greatest show on earth.
And yet, next year’s Carnival, set for Monday, February 20 and Tuesday, February 21, could be the country’s most spectacular in decades. This is not a loose statement. T&T’s 2023 edition of Carnival will be forged from the starvation of the event for the last two years, a ritual that the country was robbed of, the one thing that seems to unite a nation that often wants to go in different directions.
Already YUMA director, Tanya Gomes, is witnessing something different. “After two years of seeing the masqueraders and listening to them, we have a potential new audience of masqueraders who have not played mas before. We also have masqueraders who have not played mas in ten years and 22 years. Don’t ask me the ages of these people, but they look really good,” she jokes.
Yuma director and production manager Tanya Gomes.
Keisha Collette, who is the creative designer behind the brand Marie Collette, has been with YUMA since 2015. For someone who “challenges herself every year to be better than the last year,” Collette admitted not being able to design costumes for two years was disconcerting. She told us, “It wasn’t a loss just for my income and work, but it’s been a loss for my heart. Carnival is my joy, and it is my happiest time so not having it crushed me… It was demotivating. I wasn’t one of those designers that was able to keep that chipper up and carry on. I really fell back, so I’m grateful for it to be returning.”
Collette’s rise in the carnival industry was rather organic. Most people don’t know she started off designing and selling swimwear in 2013 with her brand Marie Collette before branching off into the carnival aspect of it. Her profile would grow with the band she now serves. YUMA prides itself in being “the voice of the young, upwardly mobile adult masquerader” and her designs connect with the target audience.
In a glittering start to her career, she is credited with popularising Monday wear in T&T. That too was rather organic. “At the start of the creation of Monday wear, bands used to give you shorts or T-shirts to use on Monday. When I first started to play mas, you wear your bra and shorts… I’m not going to try to make it sound like it was a big, creative thing, I just thought it wasn’t hygienic to wear this bra all day and then wear the shorts.” Slowly, people caught on and the Monday wear had snowballed into what it is today, a separate outfit from what is worn on Carnival Tuesday.
Keisha Collette talks about the Marie Collette brand Monday wear during an interview.
Collette would find success beyond T&T with her brand Marie Collette. Her designs are worn on the streets of Miami, London, Barbados, Grenada, St Lucia and St Vincent for their Carnivals. She has managed to not only break through the international ceiling but also infiltrate popular carnival events around the world. Oddly enough, “I’m my worst critic,” she says.
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