I promise I survived Mardi Gras intact, but you’d never believe it from the amount of work I haven’t gotten done!
In the midst of doing the White Walker on Hoth costume for my own krewe, I was also commissioned to do a headdress for the Zulu parade. If you’re an out-of-towner, Zulu is one of the “megakrewes” that rolls on Mardi Gras day. Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club was founded in 1916 and they take Carnival very, very seriously. Their costumes are outstanding and outlandish, probably second only to the Mardi Gras Indians themselves, who are the pinnacle of New Orleans costume tradition. My client is one of the “tramps” who walks the parade route in front of the King of Zulu, and he needed a new headdress.
Working with him, I looked over pictures of headdresses he liked on other members of his krewe to plot out what direction we wanted to go with his look. He wanted it to match his pre-existing costume (naturally) and he also had fabric left over that I could use to make the headdress. He also wanted to use similar jewels and embellishments. His costume is in the traditional color scheme, though some of his fellows use brighter colors.
Based on a couple examples, I came up with this for the concept sketch.
From there, it was off to Jefferson Variety, which is the magical wonderland of trims and supplies used by a lot of the Mardi Gras krewes. Here, my client decided what fabrics and trims we would end up using for the costume. Jefferson Variety is also the go-to brick and mortar store for feathers. As this was my first commission, I really enjoyed shopping with the client, because it gave me a great picture of what he was thinking. This was especially important when it came to the feathers, which are a huge part of the expense for these costumes. This piece ended up using nearly $200 worth of feathers.
After we got our materials wrangled, it was time for me to start construction. I decided to build a paper mockup out of posterboard first, to get an idea of the scale.
From there, I decided to use EVA foam to craft the piece. My client’s previous piece was made of cardboard and plastic cross-stitch lattice. I felt like EVA foam would be a superior material because of its thickness, strength, and durability. It would be able to resist damage from travel and parading a bit better than cardboard, since it can’t be creased. It also takes hot glue nicely!
In certain places, I reinforced it with tongue depressors and paint stirring sticks, since the foam is only glued on narrow edges.
I then covered all of it with black felt. I did this both for the added strength of another layer of fabric and glue, and also to cover the messy inner workings of the piece. My client’s previous headdress didn’t have of these “finishing touches,” which meant the messy edges of the cardboard and hot glue were left visible to anyone who looked at the piece.
Once I had the headdress itself together, I put the feathers on a piece of cardboard with tape, to give my client an idea of the arrangement. .
He decided after seeing this that the original allotment of feathers wasn’t going to be enough, and purchased more. We also discussed the placement of jewels on the piece. My client wanted it blinged out, so that’s what he got! I’m glad I left the inside of the headband and the back of the piece unfinished, so I could lay it flat for the jewels. The jewels were held on with a combination of hot glue and E-6000. I found that while many people (looking at you, Mom) swear by E-6000, it screwed with the silver on the back of the jewels, giving them a cloudy look where the solvents of the glue removed the silver and let the fabric underneath show through. Decorating the “Z” took about an hour and a half. In the future, clients will get charged beaucoup for a fully-blinged-out Z.
I also constructed a “cap” that velcroed inside the band, to hide his head. Part of the rules for Zulu tramps require that their heads and necks be covered, or else under a large wig. After that, it was adding the feathers and presenting the final piece to my client.
Mardi Gras day, thankfully, was clear and rain-free. I was able to catch the front of Zulu at the intersection of Canal Street and Basin, where there were no barriers between the street and the crowd. When I saw the headdress coming around the corner, I’ll admit I ran into the middle of the street, screaming like a girl at a Beatles concert. Seeing that beast in the front of one of the biggest Mardi Gras parades was pretty heady stuff.
I’m hoping for more headdresses in the future!