I spoke with Carnival designer extraordinaire Daryl Key about mas inspiration, the evolution of carnival, and goddesses & gods on the road.
~Karabana~: Tell us about your background in design.
Designing Daryl: I have no formal background in design as it relates to carnival. It is all purely self taught. Over the years however, I have honed my craft and I have been a certified artist in the City of Boston by the Boston Redevelopment authority for over 10 years. Since my work has been documented, printed in media, sampled at galleries and of course sold, the BRA saw it fit that I met the criteria to become certified.
~K~: What carnivals have you designed mas for?
D.D.: I have designed costumes which appear in many of the states within the United States of America (MA, NY, ATL, FL, LA, TX, CT) but I have also expanded to the Caribbean in countries such as Barbados, Bermuda, Trinidad and Tobago and of course higher up in North America to Toronto, Canada.
Trinidad Carnival 2017, Fantasy - Jinni
Toronto Carnival 2011, Carnival Nationz - Rio, Brazilian Empire and Dominion, Pink Empire
Toronto Carnival 2011, Saldenah - Black Hole
Crop Over 2017 - Kontact, Breaking Dawn
~K~: Where do you get inspiration for your designs?
D.D.: I get inspired from literally anywhere and anything, someone once mentioned that the "gift" of design oozes through my veins and since I cannot definitively pin-point exactly where I draw inspiration from, I'd have to agree with the previous statement.
~K~: Do you take into consideration the carnival parade you’re designing for, like for example certain costumes will go over well in Trinidad, but not necessarily in Toronto?
D.D.: For the most part I do, however, I also try to bridge the gaps very well and use my influence to blend the two carnivals together as best I could.
Toronto Carnival 2016, Island Vybz- Illuminate
~K~: You brought being a goddess on the road to Toronto, and last season, a Shibue in one of your costumes. How important is it to you to introduce new, different & daring elements to carnival?
D.D.: Naturally being a pioneer, the introduction of new elements to carnival is ALWAYS very near and dear to me. It thrills me to use Toronto's carnival as my sampling pool to test ideas out on the population but all within reason. I consider it one of my features of designing for any band in Toronto. Additionally, do not forget that I was the first to premier the Ultra Frontline costume, concept and execution to the Louis Saldenah band over 5 years ago.
Toronto Carnival 2012, Saldenah - Indonesia
~K~: Who are some of your favourite mas designers (from anywhere)?
D.D.: In terms of mas designers, I have always been intrigued by the aesthetic of Peter Minshall. In all things, he is a boss! I appreciate mas designers overall however, for many different reasons - and to those designers that I tip my hat to, I admire for their pure gifts that they have toiled and delivered to the carnival as we know it today. In no particular order, Wayne Berkley, The Eustaces, Harold Saldenah, Stephen Derek, Neville Aming, The Kalicharans. The list goes on, but these are and will always be at the TOP and TIP of my tongue when coming to the world of mas.
~K~: In the past 20 years, carnival costumes went from boy shorts & sports bras to cage bras & thongs, and now jeweled body wear with no waistbands. How can you see mas evolving?
D.D.: Mas needs to evolve in order to survive, that said, I certainly appreciate the direction where we are taking a look inward as designers and forcing ourselves to push the envelope and design costumes that are much more representative of theme. Strong themes but weak costumes do not mix and while there is definitely a place for bikini, bras and beads in carnival - there is also a place for thought and execution and once designers can blend the two well and understand when elements of either are necessary then they will automatically find themselves stepping out of the box, taking risks and serving the culture better.
~K~: You create gorgeous, unique costumes for women. Do you have any plans for guys to be gods on the road?
D.D.: I am still waiting for the right guy to come along (ha ha, I couldn't resist) - sure I am up for any challenge - as long as the guy knows that to be a carnival god you can't exactly become familiar with Goodlife Fitness for just a week
New York 2016 - Ramajay
~K~: Do you have a philosophy for the kind of experience you want to give masqueraders who purchase costumes you’ve designed?
D.D.: Not really - I just want the masquerader to have the best time they could possibly have on the road wearing one of my designs. In order to achieve this, I ensure that section leaders that I have partnered with understand that in order to receive my stamp of approval that certain customer service measures must be met. It is no surprise that some masqueraders then become familiar to the section leaders by virtue of costume affiliation - so the experience is then echoed by the section leader. Once I have secured great section leaders then the customer service piece becomes the focus. I am looking for a nostalgic experience both for me and my masqueraders.
I really look forward to seeing what daring designs Daryl brings us for Toronto Carnival this year!