Everything that goes into the carnival costumes you'll see at Notting Hill

It’s nearly time for Carnival, which means people across Notting Hill and the surrounding areas are either boarding up their windows or stocking up on rum.

Each year on the August Bank Holiday, around a million people descend upon North West London to listen to the sweet sounds of Soca and Calypso and eat roti and jerk chicken.

Decorating the route are hordes of people jumping up with sequinned costumes and plenty of feathers like a body halo. When you think of carnival, you think of these revellers.

But, have you ever thought about everything that goes into their outfits? It’s a whole lot more work than simply turning up on the day to whine and wuk up.

Kelly Rajpaulsingh is the brains behind the Bacchanalia Mas Band of Notting Hill Carnival, and has been making costumes and organising jumps for years.

‘I was born in Trinidad but moved to the UK in the mid-nineties, and carnival has always been a part of my life,’ Kelly tells Metro.co.uk.

In Trinidad, she says, ‘you are taught about the meaning behind it at schools, how to make simple costumes etc and of course each year Trinidad hosts one of the greatest shows on earth itself with its carnival.’


When she came to England to study, Kelly decided to stay, and despite working in finance full time, began getting involved in carnival 14 years ago.

Kelly initially started off on one of the sound systems before moving on to make costumes, and Bacchanalia has now become one of the most well-known bands in the UK.

‘Our style is unique and we try to offer something new each year – a featherless piece, fabric we created, trims we made, etc,’ says Kelly.

‘Our presentations carry a heavy female bias as we are keen to use the opportunity to profile the strength and character traits of women. Of course men are part of it – a very healthy part – but this platform offers a great opportunity to showcase women in their absolute glory.’

To make that glory, the time frame is anything from on hour to weeks. Kelly says, ‘It depends on the complexity and the idea that you are trying to conceptualise and execute.’


Some of the tasks involved before you even begin sewing include ‘building a mood board, researching a theme, collecting fabrics and trim samples and working out what approach you are going to employ to tell the story.’

This is the longest part of the process but, according to Kelly, ‘once you have everything in place it can move forward pretty quickly.

‘Once the prototype is made, then you can go straight into production – and that takes the bulk of time in getting the hundreds of costumes with so many components ready.’

These components are comprised of bodywear, arm and leg accessories, headpieces, collars, and wings amongst other things.


Bacchanalia sell their costumes as part of a package, so while the average cost of a backline costume can be from to £25 to £60 depending on materials, people pay for a an all-inclusive package along with the clothing.

That means you can dance along with trucks, sounds systems, security, food, drinks, and everything that goes along with that. This year, packages with Bacchanalia are from £225 for men and from £275 for women.

You can add on extras to your standard costume, with headpieces from £75, and feather backpacks from £175.

Kelly has had her costumes worn by models and actors (although she remains tight-lipped about who), but says ‘it’s great to also see someone like Rihanna helping to profile our culture when she attends the carnival in her hometown of Barbados each year and wears a costume.’

For the designer, though, carnival means many things depending on how you approach it: ‘If you asked most people involved in it, they will most likely say it is an expression of freedom – that day where they can extract themselves from everyday life and just have the best time without worry or care.

‘It is quite liberating and wonderful to be able to experience this level of euphoria as there is nothing else quite like it – being with your friends, dancing in the streets to what we call happy music, revelling and being part of a community that welcomes everyone.’

In terms of tips, Kelly advises people to ‘Participate! Don’t just spectate!’

‘We are in one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world that is so cosmopolitan and this amazing event is happening right here on our doorsteps – join it!’

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