It was mid-afternoon in Barbados, and a tall gate opened onto a wide yard. Lauren Austin led the way through her homemade costume production factory, stepping around a dozen four-foot-tall wings, their fuchsia feathers extending across the floor.
On one side of the room, two members of her team were wrapping upholstery around wire wing frames. On the porch, another team member sprayed feathers with different colors, creating an ombré effect. Crop Over preparation was officially underway and Ms. Austin, along with his team of 15, had more than 600 costumes in production.
The Crop Over Festival in Barbados dates back to 1687, celebrating the end of the annual sugar cane harvest. Formerly known as Harvest Home, the festival began on plantations across Barbados during the transatlantic slave trade and was one of the few times of the year when slaves were free to celebrate, dance and sing. Since 1983, Crop Over has been organized by the Barbados National Cultural Foundation.
The festival lasts for three months, with parties, events and markets taking place throughout. It all leads up to Grand Kadooment Day, where revelers dress up in elaborate costumes and dance “on the road” along a dedicated route.
Those who participate in Crop Over can choose from many different “bands” – that is, design houses – to jump with, and they pay the band for various services, which can include costume, food, drinks, security, mobile toilets and goodies. bags. This was the first Crop Over festival since the coronavirus pandemic; the last one was in 2019.
The costumes are a major highlight of the experience and the Crop Over style has influenced fashion on a global scale. Rihanna and Jourdan Dunn have worked with local designers to execute their elaborate festival looks, helping solidify the signature style associated with the Crop Over today.
Although many of the designers are men, the women have a permanent place in the creation of the festival, which is steeped in history and culture. Whether they carry a family legacy of design or are self-taught innovators, their creativity and vision is remarkable.
Here are four visionary women whose work is helping to shape Crop Over fashion now.
Founder and Lead Designer: Aura Experience
This is how she describes her style: Lively and creative
Ms. Austin who is self-taught, started designing in 2011. Aura is the second band she founded and she owned it from 2016 to 2019. “I left the band as an owner because I had my baby, Saphire-Ray, and I also wanted to focus on designing,” she said. Design is her passion and her keen eye for style has attracted many celebrity clients including Rihanna, Miguel and Beenie Man.
“Crop Over is so magical,” said Jalicia Nightengale, her lead model. “On the day itself, everyone is just so free, everyone is so happy, and it’s a moment for us. It’s the main event.”
Ms. Austin’s theme this year is “City of Angels,” inspired by a friend of Ms. Austin’s who recently passed away and will include an entire gold section of costumes as a tribute.
Lead designer: Kontact Band
This is how she describes her style: Modern and sexy
Then Ms. Layne’s great uncle died, she moved in with her great uncle to keep her from being alone. In the evening, her great-uncle taught her to sew, which turned out to be life-changing for her. “She was a dressmaker and she dressed a lot of brides,” said Ms. Layne said. “She helped develop my love of sewing, and the strange thing is that she was actually legally blind at the time she taught me.”
Ms. Layne studied design in college and then spent time in Trinidad perfecting his design style. The only female designer on her team, she wants women of all sizes to feel confident and sexy on the road. It can take up to two months to make a costume.
“Living on an island, we don’t produce raw materials,” she said. “With all the supply chain disruptions right now, we’ve had to do things a full month earlier than we normally would. We want to make sure the customer gets exactly what they paid for.”
Founder, Owner and Principal Designer: Cambria Costume and Design
This is how she describes her style: Unconventional pieces that tell a story
Ms. Goddard grew up around fashion. Her grandmother was a seamstress, her mother produced costumes for several Crop Over bands, and her sisters modeled for various designers on the island. “I remember watching my grandmother get ready to jump with bands,” she said. “She would keep the costumes in her bedroom on shelves. I really enjoyed watching her get dressed and walk down the aisle.”
Ms. Goddard’s fiancé, Caleb Straker, is the only wire bender in Barbados, which is important because the wire frames are the foundation of the costumes’ signature wings. Many designers used to source frames from other countries, but as shipping costs and delays increased, they began looking for someone closer to home. Sir. Straker perfected a method to build the frame quickly.
“I enjoy seeing the end result,” he said. “When they leave here, they’re these regular frames, and then they become the costumes. To see them on the road and see people enjoy them is amazing.”
Founder, owner and lead designer: Envy Mas
This is how she describes her style: Modern with a little bit of flair
Ms. Lewis, who founded Envy Mas in 2013, wants to make Crop Over accessible to everyone. “I realized that a lot of people couldn’t participate because of the high cost of the costumes, the experience of the band and all that, so I tried to make it affordable but still fashionable,” she said.
Ms. Lewis is not in favor of elaborate stones and pearls. “We’re making a nice monokini with a few feathers,” she said. “This year we’ve been making acetone backpacks instead of making feathers and so far I’m the first in Barbados to do it.”
Part of Envy Mas’ popularity is that it’s a family affair. Ms. Lewis’ mother, Betty Lewis, has cooked all the food for the band since it started. She makes everything in her own kitchen, with the occasional helping hand from a friend or two. “Everybody that jumps with the band is looking for my food,” she said. “They shout, ‘Mom! Mom!’ I make chicken, ham slices, roti, many things.”
The team at Envy Mas consists entirely of volunteers, who each receive a free costume. “Some people may want more glitz and glamour, but there are many who appreciate us,” said Ms. Lewis said. “I love what I do for the community and for the youth of Barbados.”