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Trinidadian costume designers spread wings

Looks to Carnival in Jamaica as a launchpad for brands locally

Published:Friday | February 3, 2023 | 12:55 AMStephanie Lyew/Gleaner Writer
Trinidadian designer Nikitha Cornwall (left), stands with her costume – Aja – modelled by former Miss World Trinidad and Tobago Athaliah Samuel.
Trinidadian designer Nikitha Cornwall (left), stands with her costume – Aja – modelled by former Miss World Trinidad and Tobago Athaliah Samuel.
Samuel in frontline-only section — Aja.
Samuel in frontline-only section — Aja.
Hasmatali gives eager patrons a look at Athena.
Hasmatali gives eager patrons a look at Athena.
Modelled by Keira Hasmatali (left), Athena, stands tall as the goddess of battle strategy and wisdom, a concept thought-out and designed by Whitney Shand, owner of Whitney N Co.
Modelled by Keira Hasmatali (left), Athena, stands tall as the goddess of battle strategy and wisdom, a concept thought-out and designed by Whitney Shand, owner of Whitney N Co.
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Jamaica is fast becoming a stomping ground for carnival costume designers from the United Kingdom, Miami, and the Caribbean region looking to spread their wings.

At the recent launch of YardMas Carnival’s ‘Reign of Goddesses’, several creators staked their claim on having the most powerful costume design, and this was not excluding those designers, such as Trinidad and Tobago-born designers Nikitha Cornwall, Jennerlee Ramnarine and Whitney Shand, who would be making their official debut on the Jamaican roads in 2023. Raised at the centre of the carnival culture, these designers have been busy taking inspiration from elements that embody the season’s true spirit from their sketchpads and making them life-size.

For Cornwall, 2023 is her first official year in the sector designing costumes, and she has seized the opportunity to design more than five sections for the upcoming Trinidad and Tobago Carnival season.

“The countdown has started. I’m proud of myself this year because it is my first time officially working in the carnival industry and designing so many sections, and to have Carnival in Jamaica on the list, I must say I’m excited. I also did Cayman Islands and Miami, and I see where it is a lot of work,” the designer told Living.

YardMas unveiled eight sections, namely: Oya, Athena, Khaleesi, Xena, Queen of the Dance, Oshun, Dolly and Aja, which is designed by Cornwall. In a band which features primarily female designers — goddesses designing for goddesses — there is a lot of creative energy flowing to produce all the sections, she said. However, her team appears to be one of the smallest, with the majority of the production work in Cornwall’s hands.

She shared, “It’s me and one other person. I have a technique working. I know I may need to expand because of the way the requests are coming in, but I’m a designer who values how I’m able to express myself authentically. Truth is, when a person is overloaded with work, it is hard to do that. It doesn’t happen very smoothly or in an authentic way.”

The Aja section was inspired by the goddess of the rainforest in the Yoruban culture of Nigeria. “It is originally inspired by the rainforest, which is home to many healing plants, hence the green colour, mother nature energy, and Aja is the keeper of the spirits of the animals and remedies,” she said.

“It is a frontline-only section, and my expectations are that all Jamaican goddesses will want to represent in this colour. I’m manifesting a fully sold-out, fully goddess-supported section,” Cornwall continued.

Whitney Shand is the creative mastermind behind Athena. She makes no jokes about her design for the ‘goddess of battle strategy and wisdom’ and has also manifested a sold-out section. Noting that carnival is serious business in her homeland, the designer and owner of Whitney N Co shared a desire to do justice for the YardMas Carnival execution in Jamaica.

“I’ve participated in Jamaica’s carnival as a masquerader several times before, but this is my first time designing and marketing a section locally. I’ve designed for The Bahamas, Barbados, St Vincent, St Lucia, Atlanta and Miami, and 2023 marks my sixth year designing carnival costumes out of where I am based in Miami. I expect to make an impact and for more persons to get familiar with my brand,” Shand said.

She added, “Think of the goddess Athena, that is embodying my true personality. That is me, sexy, powerful, and I am ready to throw down [anytime] (laughs). I go home to Trinidad this week, and I’ll be there for a month, but when I return to Jamaica, I want to see a pre-COVID sector, just everybody out to have a good time for the season.”

stephanie.lyew@gleanerjm.com