Notting Hill Carnival is known as being one of the most exciting and colourful events on Earth! This event is steeped in Afro-Caribbean culture and is attended by millions every year! One of the main reasons this carnival is so magical is largely due to the costumes, which steal the show every year! Revellers come out dressed to the nines wearing the most colourful, bright, beautiful and intricate costumes in the world, with dazzling headpieces, feathered wings, and diamante creations.
“My aspirations as a designer are to just become the best version of me”
Behind the scenes is a big community who works tirelessly for an entire year to make Carnival the most spectacular celebration that it can possible be. Every year the costumes get brighter, bigger and bolder! We talk to talented costume designer Marelle Steblecki, who is an incredibly passionate and creative designer, that has been involved in the carnival scene since she was a young teenager.
We got a chance to interview the talented Marelle Steblecki, to find out what it is like to design and bring these incredible costumes to life!
First of all, what does carnival means to you?
Although it’s quite hard to explain what carnival means to me on a personal level it’s been a part of my life for so long now that I don’t think that I would be able to go through life without carnival! I was first introduced to carnival when I was 14 and it was during a time when I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. And yet it carved out my path in life! I was introduced to a world of colour and fun and togetherness and pushing the boundaries of creativity and from then I was hooked.
When did you feel the “call of carnival” for first time? And do you remember the first time you fell in love with carnival?
The first time I fell in love with carnival was when I had my first experience. I was doing work experience in school and I was put with the carnival band called South connections. I was working behind the scenes on getting things ready for the summer months when everyone comes down to camp to help make costumes and from then on I just wanted to be involved all the time!
I used to call my mum and ask her if I could stay late just to be involved in everything. I was lucky enough to get the chance to play mas that year and once we got out on the road and I turned around and saw all the little details that we had spent such a long time making on everyone’s costumes and just the fun and the family aspect of everything that was when I knew that I wanted to do this all of the time.
How did you become designer?
My path to becoming a designer is actually full of lots of twists and turns. Initially I studied art at a GCSE level because I figured out that I could actually mimic drawings of fabric very well, once I started working with South connections and learning how to produce the designs and just helping out with the small aspects of things, my curiosity grew and I began wanting to know more and spent more time at camp taking on tasks and learning from everyone.
Eventually I began sketching out designs of things that I wanted to see or wanted to make and I was very fortunate to get the opportunity to show the committee my designs and they were approved and from then it kind of became a thing where I just got into the flow of creating I felt like my purpose was to create.
I went to university and I studied and womenswear and even through doing that I learnt so many skills about construction, fabrics, materials and silhouettes, however I couldn’t hide my carnival costume style within my coursework. I was always told that I had a very costume background and it always seemed as though that was the direction that I was destined to go in. Eventually I dropped out of university as I had the opportunity to design a band for the year and I took the opportunity and ran with it, I never did return to university but I kept on making costumes!
Are you only a carnival designer or you also are a fashion designer?
As far as I am concerned I’m just a designer! I don’t like to label or limit myself as I know that I have a very wide range of styles that I can commit to if I really want to. Although my interest has been picked by carnival I do know that I am competent at creating womenswear as well as menswear because of the education pathway that I took. I prefer to spend more time working on costumes because the detailing is something that I find so beautiful. I find that creating a simple piece and just adding the gem in the sequins on to bring it to life is one of the best things ever.
How long does it take to plan and make a carnival costume?
The average length of time to design a concept and then make the costume varies. It depends on a lot of things, mainly how much work I have set up for deadlines. If I’m working on custom pieces it can be very quick, I can have products made within 1 to 3 days depending on when I have the materials or if I’ve managed to sort everything quite quickly.
I have quite a quick turnaround time because I’ve managed to work out what ways work best for me in terms of designing and making I’m still very much working on honing my skills. Each time I come up with a new concept I try to really push myself to figure out a new way of doing things or an easier way of doing things to limit the time that I spend on each item it’s quite a fun interesting way of looking at things rather than looking at it as work that I Look at it as a challenge, And each time I work very hard and challenging myself to do the best job that I can!
How is the process of making a costume? it depends on the group? is there a theme depending on the year? Is it up to you?
The process of making a question can depend on whether it’s a custom item or if I’m designing for a band. If I’m designing for a band they would normally tell me the theme or what colour options are available and then it’s up to me to source my inspiration my gems my fabrics and confer with them on whether or not it will fit in to what they would like to portray. A lot of the time I am given creative freedom so it’s nice to know that I have trust from the band organisers to do my own thing and come up with something that everyone would appreciate however they are limits to how far you can go. It’s important to make sure that your ideas really fit in well with the theme.
Where does your inspiration come from?
My inspiration comes from a lot of different sources! Most of my inspirations tend to come from nature, I am looking at flowers and trees and buy them butterflies because carnival is quite fluid and you can actually pick any range of subjects to go forth with. I just find that nature is the most beautiful because you can always depict movement in whatever you pick from nature and I think that’s something really important to bring into carnival costumes because carnival is about dance and music and colouring, all of those things have a sense of movement to them!
Would you like to make costumes for other carnivals around the world?
It would actually be a dream to make costumes for carnivals all over the world! That is the goal! I took a little hiatus due to being in work full time and then falling pregnant with my son, but I’m planning on coming back bigger and better for 2020 and I’m hoping that the ideas that I have in mind will really put me on the map next year!
What are your aspirations as a designer?
My aspirations as a designer are to just become the best version of me, to really put my heart and soul into everything I make, and to make the people buying my product and buying into my ID happy. I really want people to get a sense of who I am, my design aesthetic and feel the love and the care that I put into everything! So I really just want to put my heart out there and have everyone else receive it with love and joy and excitement!
I try not to view the carnival as a competition as you can get easily side-tracked by viewing other designers as your competitors, it’s very hard not to get caught up in seeing what other people are doing and feeling intimidated by it. But as I see it I am my own competition and each time I just strive to do better than I did before!
What would be your advice for someone who goes to Notting Hill carnival for first time?
Some great advice for anyone who does Notting Hill carnival for the first time is drink water throughout the day as you can be at standstills for quite a while on the Monday! Definitely wear a pair of comfortable shoes because you’ll be dancing all day walking up and down and there aren’t very many places to sit down to rest as it gets very busy so footwear that is comfortable is a must!
My last piece of advice would be to just go into it with an open mind and good vibrations it’s such a beautiful mix of cultures that there is something for everyone at carnival and as long as you go with the intention to have a good time that’s what you’ll get!
What is the one thing you can’t miss during carnival
The one thing that you can’t miss when going to carnival and I found that this is pretty much almost everywhere is crossing the stage! If you’re a spectator it’s a good place to see all of the costumes from all of the different bands and as a masquerade it’s the time when you get to show off your costume and just really go all out with your energy and kill it after that you’re allowed to let loose and do whatever you want!
What is your favourite carnival song?
Right now my favourite song would have to be Kaya by Olatunji. It is the type of song that plays and I feel like I can imagine myself out on the road having a good time with the sun beaming down just singing along to the lyrics and really feeling them. I feel like it’s a good vibe song that kind of speaks of love and support and encouragement.
Have you been in another carnival?
The only other carnival that I’ve taken part in is Trinidad carnival, I’ve been to Trinidad three times now and on my second time going to Trinidad I actually met my partner so carnival really plays a big part in my life because if I hadn’t of made that trip I would’ve never met him lol!
What carnival would you like to visit? For fun and for work
Next on my bucket list I think I would really like to do grenade a carnival to experience true jab jab and for a different cultural experience I really think I would like to go to Brazil carnival and learn how to Samba properly and just have fun!
Any fashion or carnival projects in the future? tell us about it
My upcoming projects are kind of a secret! Haha! I am working on a few designs for 2020 which may be previewed within certain bands but everything is kind of in talks at the moment so I can’t reveal too much. But I am working on providing bespoke services and wire making I recently learnt the skill of spot-welding so I’m working on making my own metal frames bras and backpacks and selling them to people who haven’t necessarily got the skill or the time to make their own.
Is there any carnival designer you admire the most? or fashion designer?
I have a lot of respect for different kind of all designers. Solange Govia, Anya Young Chee Are the two female designers in Trinidad that I have always looked up to and love their work! Here in the UK we also have some very talented designers such as Paul From Ucom, Kelly from Bacchanalia, Vanisha from DBL , Sophia from Wassiville, Anna-Maria from Limitless Mas and Fredo from AE concepts! They’re all such great people with individual styles and ideas and their work speaks for its self.
How do you get the materials? or where do get the materials from?
Sourcing materials can be a daunting task if you don’t know where to look majority of the time, I buy gems and feathers from Paul who owns his own material stock within his mas camp and I do sometimes order online as well, so it could be anything from Ali express to eBay to Amazon to homeware stores it all depends on what I’m making and whether or not I can find the items I need to bring the concept to life!
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
In five years’ time I see myself as being very successful, working for myself and being my own boss. I see myself having a successful swimwear line but also being someone to watch within the carnival industry. I know that I have all the skill that it takes to make it it’s just about putting in the hard work and making my dreams a reality!
What is Notting hill Carnival about?
Notting Hill carnival is about love and unity, it’s about fun and togetherness and good vibes and good food and good music and good people. It’s the one time of the year when everyone from all walks of life come together and celebrate and just let loose and party together in the middle of the street. Most importantly I would say it really is about love! for the love of life, the love of music, the love of fun, the love of creating memories with other people strangers and friends!