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Daryl is ‘King of the Carnival’

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New design: Daryl Cox working on a Carnival costume (Photograph supplied)

Born in Trinidad, Daryl Cox can’t remember a year without carnival.

In his native Port of Spain, the two-day festival is filled with huge musical performances, vibrant colours and massive crowds; multiple parties are held in the lead-up to the main event.

To say he was surprised by the “carnival” he hunted down when he moved to Boston at 16, is an understatement.

There was music, but little else. Spectators turned out in T-shirts, some waving bandanas or small flags.

“So I started making my own carnival costumes,” Mr Cox said. “I felt I had something to contribute.”

Now 38, his skills have grown alongside Boston’s celebrations held in the Dorchester, Mattapan or Roxbury neighbourhoods every August.

Those in the know, call him “Designing Daryl”. His jaw-dropping costumes — everything from fierce lions to bejewelled birds — are sported by people all over the world; entertainer Wyclef Jean is one of his celebrity fans.

His goal: “To make people’s eyes open wide.”

Mr Cox is most proud of the costume he made for Nova Mas International in 2016 after the band’s leader, Seldon Woolridge, found his designs on Instagram.

“When I first came here, I was captivated by the Gombeys but when I said I’d make a gombey carnival costume Nova Mas was a little nervous,” he said.

“I think they thought it might be sexualised or disrespectful.”

Today he’s pretty sure he hit the nail on the head.

“It was reverent and to theme and went over well at the launch.”

This month, he’s back in Bermuda, leading costume design workshops for Nova Mas International.

Key skills like gemming and feathering are on offer. Three participants will be chosen to make a costume from prototype to finish.

Although he’s never given workshops on costume design before, Mr Cox is used to teaching — albeit about affordable housing — through his job with the City of Boston.

“So I get the concept,” he said. “It will be interesting to see how I can manage with something I love.”

He’s been in love with carnivals since he was a child in Port of Spain. “In most Trinidadians’ lives, carnival is a staple,” he said. “It is usually held the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, usually in February.”

His interest in costume design grew as a young teen.

“I would often be unhappy with the costume I received,” he said. “Often they were oversized for me, so I’d alter them.

“I learnt alterations, doing basic sewing purely by trial and error. Then my friends started bringing me their costumes to alter. This is the classic way people get into costume design.”

Entirely self-taught, it “took [him] about two years to get good”.

When it came time for carnival Mr Cox loved playing “king characters”, oversized costumes usually on wheels.

“Falling is always a possibility,” he said. “Sometimes people want to jump with you, and they don’t help the situation. I’ve only fallen once. I was in this big costume on three wheels. We went around this corner and there was a wind tunnel. The wind caught us and spun us. I knew I was going over before it happened.”

Once he’d fallen there wasn’t much he could do, but wait for his team to get him up again.

“You can’t get right up because often you’re strapped into these things,” he said. “Sometimes, you’re bolted. But the adrenalin is going, and nine times out of ten you don’t even feel it. You just get up again and keep going.”

He left Trinidad for Boston to study business administration at Northeastern University.

“I had my own carnival band in Boston from 2010 to 2015 called IslandPride,” he said. “When we came to the end of the 2015 season, I made the decision to further my designing career full-time and broaden my horizons.”

The Trini spends 80 per cent of his free time travelling to carnivals, mostly in the Caribbean, United States and Canada.

“It’s not a sacrifice,” he said. “I don’t really have a family in Boston, and carnival is my baby.”

Invariably, there is someone in one of his costumes at such events. He appreciates it when they thank him for his work. Women with weight concerns are often particularly grateful.

“The costume allows them to spend a couple of hours on the road, throw their inhibitions away and celebrate their heritage,” he said.

Mr Cox was named “King of the Carnival” six times, at Brooklyn’s West Indian Carnival. He stopped competing in 2015, when he decided to dedicate himself more to costume design.

Since then, he is careful that his own costume never steals the show. “The focus is on the client,” he said. “I don’t want to overshadow them.”

His biggest challenge is keeping his designs interesting from year to year.

“How do I think outside of the box while keeping things culturally appropriate, while not boring people,” he said. “That has been my challenge.”

Daryl Cox will lead Nova Mas International’s Carnival Costume Production Workshops on November 17 and 18 at CedarBridge Academy. Tickets start at $100 and are available at www.bdatix.bm or info@novamasintl.com

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Daryl Cox in an Indian groom costume he designed (Photograph supplied)