769. Curaçao Carnival Costume Designer

Crowd-sourced creativity on display, a deep labor of love, honoring tradition, living in the moment, tailgating and pelvic gyrations. Carnival gives us permission to escape reality for 6 weeks or so… play, dress up, laugh, drink, dance, dream… and each year promises to be more debaucherous than before!

Carnival creators tend to be volunteers who commit hours upon hours to designing and creating costumes, carriages, head and hand pieces, sourcing materials, organizing logistics, often putting their ‘real’ lives on hold… all for the memorable yearly experience.

I had the opportunity to catch up with one of Curaçao’s pivotal Carnival creators Ata-Vu Fashion designer and Curacao National Museum of Carnival coordinator, Maja Atalita-Vervuurt.

Maja with her daughters Alexandra (left) and Gianina (right)

Maja with her daughters Alexandra (left) and Gianina (right)

Maja studied fashion design at The School of Fashion Design in Boston, MA where she graduated Cum Laude (1991) after delivering a successful thesis on Curacao’s Carnival Queens. Her proudest professional accomplishment was seeing American models decked out in her Carnival designs; the Copley Plaza crowd going  wild to our Tumba music.

Maja’s mentor is legendary late fashion designer Vi Sandor who would design intricately beaded capes for the Rei or Reina di Tumba in the 70s and 80s. The Rei or Reina di Tumba ‘headlines’ our Carnival, so the cape has to be exceptionally magical, but also functional. Not too heavy. Not too hot. Comfortable so they can belt out their Tumba for 4 hours straight. And every year calls for a new cape design, incorporating the logos of our Carnival sponsors. As our parade keeps growing every year, the logos keep adding up (nowadays, 7), so the cape can get heavy and uncomfortable. But Maja found a solution: she paints all the logos by hand, then fills them in with shiny paint. No heavy beading on her capes!

Carnival Queen (Thesis) sketch.

Carnival Queen (Thesis) sketch.

Designing and creating a cape (and scarf) takes her about 2-4 weeks of (unpaid) work. Maja takes pride in outdoing herself every year and seeing her hard work in action during Gran Marcha. She’s constantly ‘designing’, carrying a notebook around to jot down her inspirations (nature, architecture, different concepts), taking photos, etc. “I have so many ideas… I just have to keep an open mind and let them flow.” Actual sketching takes her a few tries, “in design school we had to sketch 100 styles for a skirt; A-line, pencil, mini, maxi, etc. You learn what works and what doesn’t by giving it a try.” With almost 30 years of fashion design experience under her belt, she has learned to trust her instincts. But she admits that designing for Carnival is a little different: more humorous, loaded with cultural symbolism, colors, tradition but also a certain level of lokura.

Maja decided to celebrate our 10th anniversary on the UNESCO’s World Heritage list by carefully hand-painting our Handelskade façade, building by building, on the 2009 cape and scarf.

Maja’s playful nature bleeds into her work as a fashion designer as well… Here’s ‘Stuck on Me’ during Curacao Fashion Week 2012.

Perhaps our Carnival isn’t a 6-week hiatus from reality… Maybe it’s exactly who we are.

Follow Maja on Facebook: Ata-Vu Designs and Curacao National Museum of Carnival.

About 1000awesomethingsaboutcuracao

I'm Carolina Gomes-Casseres, the creator of 1000 Awesome Things About Curaçao. I live in Manhattan but sometimes miss my first awesome island. Thanks for visiting!

One comment

  1. Love the posts Caro!!

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