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Mahogany Carnival design
Photograph: Collin Hills

The story behind the most extra costume ever to hit Notting Hill Carnival

It’s making a comeback for this year’s virtual celebration


It’s been 15 years since this spectacular blue number first hit the streets for Notting Hill Carnival. Its designer, Clary Salandy, remembers how it was made and tells us why she’s bringing it back for the virtual parade.

‘We haven’t got a team out making for Carnival this year. We have gone into the archives, we’re bringing things back. [Normally] we have to select a theme. In 2005, it was ‘a stretch of the imagination’. [The costume pictured above] is called Out of the Blue, which comes from that thing of ‘what is the imagination?’. Out of the blue, you get this spark.

‘Honeycomb was the inspirationIt was to do with cells. Your body cells have a format. They are not squares, they are not triangles, they are not circles. There is this interlocking of shapes that make life. The most difficult part of making it was to make the honeycomb in between the structure. You have to experiment, to find the right point at which the structure holds it where you need it to hold, so the fabric doesn’t sag. And that experiment took a long time.

‘[With this costume] we wanted to show that carnival is an exciting form to work in. 

‘We see our work as art. You don’t throw your art away; you put it in a museum. We treat our art with absolute respect and reverence.

‘In this particular year, where there is this spotlight on Blackness, it’s really important for us to show how wonderful the work we do is.

‘Carolyn [who is wearing Out of the Blue] has been the queen of Notting Hill Carnival for many years. That face: she lights up and breathes life into any costume that you put her in. She’s a brilliant dancer and an expert at manoeuvring and bringing to life these giant character costumes. You will never see her in a costume that isn’t lit-up and alive.

‘The history of Carnival really started exactly as we are right now, with the killing of Kelso Cochrane [in 1959], leading into Carnival. And here we’ve had George [Floyd]. Now [is the right time] for us to refocus on the reason for the season. I’m glad for the opportunity to present these things that show exactly how amazing Black people are. Just imagine if we were all given the opportunity to reach our brilliance.

‘Right now we need a hell of a lot of inspiration – out of the blue – to save this world.’ 

Clary Salandy is the founder of costume design company Mahogany Carnival. See her work on the Notting Hill Carnival Access All Areas 2020 online Parade Channel, Sun Aug 30-Mon Aug 31.

For more timings and schedule details on the online Notting Hill Carnival, check out our guide

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