Interview: Melissa Simon-Hartman
When it comes to Carnival Art, Melissa Simon-Hartman stands out.
Born in London with an Afro-Caribbean background (Trinidad and Ghana), her costumes break the barriers of the conventional, never fail to stupefy, and always, amaze.
How could we forget Basilisk, her 2016 designs for Bacchanalia, and an homage to Peter Minshall?
Whilst she started designing for Carnival as a teenager, she was forced to take a 14 year break before returning and design for Bacchanalia and Elimu.
This year she has launched Legion, her own carnival band.
Her art influences
I’m influenced by my own culture but also I tend to look at the costume of other cultures that you wouldn’t necessarily consider related to Carnival. It’s very much a case of not just costumes, but it could be objects, it could be architecture, that inspire my work.
I tend to be inspired by textures, for instance in Barcelona there’s some architectures that have so many textures, vibrant colours. I look at the gilded palaces in Russia, which have inspired me for particular costumes.
In 2015 my carnival costumes were inspired by Japanese culture and this year, I’ve looked at cosplay.
Her formative years
I got a diploma of General Art and design at Barnet College. After that I went to the London College of Fashion, (now know as the University of the Arts London).
I did a degree in theatrical costume. It was costume interpretation, specialising in the theatrical costume for stage and film.
On creating costumes
When I have a concept in mind, I first source the material.
The design and sketches might change as the work progresses with the specific materials. When I have all the material together, I create the final illustration. Working with the material first tends to work for me
She started designing for Carnival as a teenager
I got involved with Carnival band, Elimu from the age of seven.
I would follow the designer everywhere and mimic what she was doing!
The first year that I got involved with the band, I was allowed to decorate my own costume. I was always interested in art from a young age and my father was very artistic.
I started to formely design for Elimu when I was a teenager. I would do design my own section.
On taking a 14 year break from design
In 2001 I started experiencing a lot of pain in my hands, and I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
I had to stop designing.
I didn’t start designing again for Carnival until 2015, after I finally found the right treatment to keep my arthritis under control.
It’s not something I’ve talked about very much, but it’s what happened.
After I had my daughter in 2013, I delved back into design and decided that it was what I really wanted to do; I decided to devote my time to design, which is what I’ve been doing since 2015.
About Legion mas the band she has created
I decided that I wanted to do something a bit different. With cosplay, there is a culture of people who love costumes, they dedicate a lot of time to making their costumes for conventions. It’s very much a labour of love for them. The same dedication I apply in making my costumes.
I’ve been following the cosplay community for a while.
I thought it would be quite cool to fuse the two together. The carnival lovers, the cos players, they both love costumes, even though they about each other.
Following the launch at the excel, we got cosplay people who’ve taken an interest in Carnival and Carnival participants who’ve taken an interest in cosplay!
Legion Mas: Much Ado About Something
A theme inspired by William Shakespeare