Backstory on Batabano's creative costumes

The annual Batabano carnival may still be many weeks away, but the search is already on for the most elaborate and dramatic costumes. The eye-catching costumes take center stage at the festival and provide the multicolored visual spectacle which accompanies the vibrant soca music and entertainment.

On Saturday afternoon, May 2, stilt walkers, acrobats and limbo dancers will lead a colorful parade of masqueraders along a route from Lawrence Boulevard into the center of George Town. The parade is preceded on April 25 by a Junior Parade and Family Fun Day. Among the activities leading up to the carnival are soca classes at Anytime Fitness and at Purple Dragon.

Costume themes

This year, the costume theme of the Swanky International Mas Band 2015 is “Kaleidoscope … out of many colors,” featuring a variety of technicolor costumes. The costumes are due to arrive around April 20.

Jess Deegenaars, who works at UBS Fund Services (Cayman) Ltd., has chosen a “Wukhafmi” costume from Swanky. Deegenaars moved to Cayman August 2013 and this is her first time “jumping.” To that end, she has signed up for the full soca course at Soca Aerobics Boot Camp.

“I am incredibly excited to be a part of Cayman Carnival this year!” Deegenaars said “I’m Australian, but while living here I want to involve myself in the community and embrace the local culture as much as impossible.”

The frontline version of “Wukhafmi” includes a multicolored beaded bikini, jeweled red, orange and cream feather headdress, leg pieces and extra tail feathers. There’s an option of backline costumes without feathers for $175, or dramatic feathered frontline ones for $275, and even corsets and capes as optional extras.

Other names for costumes are “Ahlooka,” “Bubblah,” “Jamonmie,” “Teasah” and “Whininteef.”

Some people wear carnival tights underneath, and decorate suede carnival boots with jewels and feathers to match their costumes. Others just “jump” in T-shirts rather than in full costume. Men’s full costumes include shorts, feather headdress’, jeweled neck pieces and cuffs.

Soca group Swanky International was introduced by Craig Frederick, aka “Festa,” for the 2007 Batabano. Frederick was a regular at Miami Carnival when he was at school in Tampa and after his graduation.

Christen Suckoo thought of calling the band Swanky, after the Caymanian local drink made from Cayman limes and brown sugar that he and Frederick grew up on.

The group’s goals, Frederick said, are to take Cayman Carnival to the world and “invite all to experience Carnival in true Cayman style.” According to Frederick, the greatest compliment was paid to Swanky when a Trinidadian woman thanked him for making her feel like she was home watching the Trinidad Carnival.

“It’s not just the costume, but the experience,” he said. “It’s giving your masqueraders the time of their lives on the road, as they parade down West Bay Road, with great music, adequate drinks, and a sense of togetherness, no matter where they are from or their social status.”

Soca group Tribal was launched in December 2013 in time for the 2014 Carnival, and this year is offering costumes named “Oasis,” “Wild Orchid,” “Poison Ivy,” “Butterfly,” “Blue Macaw” and “Scarlet Ibis.” Run by Robert Roberts and Cheryl Barnes, Tribal partners with costume design Dexter Seusahai, who has 25 years of experience in carnivals all over the Caribbean.

The backline costume, which includes a tiara, small shoulder piece, and small feather foot and hand pieces, costs $175, and the “Ultra,” which includes large feather head, shoulder, and foot and hand pieces, costs $350.

Reba Dilbert, another costume designer on island, focuses on exotic large pieces. Her costumes have been featured at New Jersey Fashion Week in Hoboken. She designed the pieces at Pirates Week and Cayman Cookout, and this year is concentrating on the children’s carnival in April.

Makeup and hair 

Makeup and hair are a priority to complement the costumes. Olivia B, who has been doing make up for Carnival for five years, says that this year she intends to carry on the trends for bright, bold colors, glitter and lots of gems and rhinestones.

“I love being part of anything positive that allows people to truly express themselves and feel free doing so.” she said. “Life is to be enjoyed and celebrated, and carnival is all about freedom and expression of self. Carnival allows me to express myself through creativity, which brings a sense of relief and balance for me. It is cathartic. Dream It. Live It. Be It.”

Tansy Maki, a professional mural artist in Cayman since 2000, has been body painting at Batabano for many years and with Swanky for six years.

“I look forward to designing costumes for a group in the future.” Maki said. “I think this year’s trend will be the use of dark and bright makeup to create a very dramatic look with lots of contrast.”

Maki will be teaching body painting to some young Caymanians this year, and all donations will go to a nonprofit organizations.

Rock Gorgeous is one of the salons that will be very busy.

“So far, we have 30 makeups and braid bars booked for May 2,” said Kellie Campos. “Basically, we start the party at 8 a.m. with soca music blasting and mimosas circling from early on! Feather eyelash extensions are really popular, and we either hand-make them to match their outfits with rhinestones and a combo of feathers, or add super long lashes to give a full festive look.”

Kadian Edie, the head of makeup and special events, does tribal tattoos around the eyes to give a fully dramatic appearance. Ideas include “using stencils to airbrush designs into the face, for example using a piece of lace and airbrushing over the eyes for a mashed effect,” Edie said, “or airbrushing a star over one eye in a pop of color.” Edie’s top tip is to go light with the foundation, airbrush makeup, and seal with a setting spray to make it last longer in the humidity.

“Makeup for carnival is about being as creative as your imagination will allow,” said Kate Morrison, Rock Gorgeous makeup and lash artist, “be it chaneling your wild side with tiger stripes, leopard spots, or the infinite rainbow of possibilities of bird or butterfly. It’s all about clean lines with geometric shapes or literal interpretations, and perfect, immaculate blending where there are no borders. The more neon, the more glitter and the more avant garde the better!”

Campos says other trends include customizing the face with rhinestone designs, and Swarovski crystal-studded eyelids and lips. The salon also has a braid bar run by Natasa Vulovic.

“We weave synthetic hair extensions throughout natural hair to add bright colors and tons of thickness and length. This creates the most amazing funky braids to peek out from dramatic headpieces,” says Campos. “…We are always up for the next challenge or up for creating a unique look!”

For more information on Batabano, email [email protected] or call 949-7121.

Batabano was launched in 1983 by the Rotary Club of Grand Cayman. A Junior Carnival was introduced in 2002.

Batabano is, of course, the name of an area in West Bay, and is the word that describes the tracks left in the sand by sea turtles as they crawl onto the beach to nest.

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“Wukhafmi” Frontline Costume for Swanky. – Photo: swanky.ky

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Jamonmie frontline cos
tume with cape. – Photo: Swanky.ky

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Batabano 2014. – Photos Stephen Clarke

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Feathered and jeweled costumes and carnival makeup at Batabano 2014. – Photo: Stephen Clarke

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Batabano 2014. – Photos Stephen Clarke

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Bright colors, beading and feathers are all part of the carnival spirit. – Photo: Stephen Clarke
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