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Barbie sets Carnival trends

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Barbie Paynter, the carnival costume designer (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

Like a lot of artists, Barbie Paynter can be a bit emotional about her carnival designs.

“Sometimes when I see the costume in front of me, I feel doubt,” she said. “All I see are the changes that need to be made.”

All her uncertainty melted away when she saw the promotional shots of her line, Designed by Seva.

“The costumes looked really nice,” she said. “Then I felt really excited. I love seeing the reaction from Bermudians when they see my costumes for the first time.”

Her designs are top secret until Saturday, when they’ll be unveiled during a carnival wear fashion show at the Berkeley Institute.

Her only hint: “They will be colourful and resonate with our culture.”

Barbie Paynter with one of her costumes that was worn in the St Croix Carnival (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

Her mother, Sharil Paynter, made majorette costumes.

“I would come home and there would be 50 majorettes in the living room, all waiting for their fitting,” said Ms Paynter, who won her first art competition when she was 8.

It’s not her ambition to make costumes full-time, but if that opportunity became available she would embrace it.

“I have the drive to make that happen,” she said. “Doing this is an exciting experience and I have met a lot of good people through it.”

In 2019 she won the Carnival Costume Design Challenge put on by Nova Mas International and the Bermuda Government. Winning meant that her costumes were to debut at the 2020 Bermuda Carnival. Unfortunately, the carnival was cancelled owing to the pandemic.

“It hurt my feelings when we did not have carnival for my debut launch here,” she said.

Her costumes were finally revealed during Bermuda Carnival 2022, when she sold 62 of them. She was surprised it didn’t make her as emotional as she’d expected.

“I think I was overtired,” she said. “The emotions did not really hit me as I expected. And because we were coming back from the pandemic, the carnival was not as elaborate as it was in previous years.”

What was thrilling was to see her costumes worn by visitors to the island.

“They didn’t just buy it because a Bermudian designed it,” she said. “They assumed it was a Trini designer. That made me feel ten times more accomplished.”

A friend of hers in public relations met some people from St Croix in the US Virgin Islands who chose her designs for their carnival last month.

“That was exciting, but also a stressful experience because it was not in Bermuda. Travelling with the costumes was tedious. I had to make sure that nothing was broken or ripped.”

She handed them over to the St Croix festival organiser in Miami as she was busy working on her designs for Bermuda Carnival 2023. The St Croix Carnival was not a huge event.

“It was more of a festival,” she said. “But working for them really expanded my experience. It elevated my mindset, and definitely taught me to think outside the box.”

Her design focus is more on the gem work than stitching. Someone else sews the body wear.

“I use acrylic gems,” she explained. “The gems are glued on. How many I use in one costume depends on the look I am going for. I might say I want to use 50 for this piece and then end up with 150.”

One of her biggest challenges has been getting the materials she needs to make her costumes. Often the items she needs are not available locally or too expensive, so she orders everything online.

“That is my biggest hassle,” she said. “And sometimes when items come, they don’t look like they did in the picture."

Making the costumes can be stressful, but luckily she does a lot of her best work under pressure.

Her father, the late Kenneth Dill Paynter Sr, inspired her love for soca music, the backbone of carnival.

“My father took me to my first Byron Lee & The Dragonaires concert at Tiger Bay when I was 7,” she said. “Then he took me every year until I was old enough to go on my own.”

She has recently branched out into designing accessories for brides also.

“I am not the first Bermudian to do this, but I have been the most consistent. I hope that girls under me that are just as creative can see that this is not just a pastime. It is something that they can build a career off of. While this is something I do on the side, a lot of the carnival designers I follow do this all year.”

Bermuda Carnival organiser Seldon Woolridge said it is important to infuse the annual event with local talent.

“That benefits us economically as well as insuring that we have enough local talent to keep the carnival going,” he said.

His hope is that the numbers at Bermuda Carnival 2023 will be higher than last year.

“We have now adjusted to living with Covid-19 so the anticipation and the participation will be better,” he said. “But we are still living in a world where people are gradually getting back to normal.”

The Nova Mas International Costume & Launch Party will be held at the Berkeley Institute at 8pm on Saturday. Tickets, $35, are available at www.bdatix.bm. Bermuda Carnival will be held from June 16 to 19. For more information see carnivalinbermuda.com.

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Published February 07, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated February 08, 2023 at 8:07 am)

Barbie sets Carnival trends

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