The memories go way back, ask anyone born and raised in New Orleans. Mardi Gras is ingrained in our core. We start thinking about next year’s costumes right after the last slice of king cake and our beads are stored in the attic.
Starting back in second grade my family rode on decorated trucks behind the Rex Parade with a full year of PAK (Parents and Kids) meetings to name and later build our float, and design and fit costumes for members of the 16 families that rode together for years. Endless fittings, buying throws, making the float and finally, MARDI GRAS day, always a treat (if the weather cooperated). Susan Brill Hershfield and I made shoebox floats with our dolls in costumes at school that year and later joined the French Quarter Madams, a group of 120 women (with their Gentlemen Callers) who march in outrageous costumes the Friday before Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday).
I asked dear friends Vivian Cahn and Susan Hess, who costume in three different marching Krewes (a private group that stages Mardi Gras activities) each year to explain the Mardi Gras mentality. How does they come up with a theme and costumes? Vivian says, “New Orleanians have a costume room in their house full of the prerequisite glitter and glue guns, beads and feathers, and storage for costumes. You’ll note the truly committed by a glue gun blister on their hand.” And how do they find the inspiration each year to make her costumes for Krewe de Vue, FQ Madames and Mardi Gras Day’s Krewe of St. Anne, which started over fifty years ago with a few marchers and now includes almost a thousand? “I start dreaming and planning months in advance. I love color, pour a drink and glue away, smiling as I create,” Vivian says.
Vivian’s Madame Butterfly costume is almost finished, her runway is Chartres Street and Napoleon House—where we party, parade, and party some more. Napoleon House, once the anticipated refuge for Napoleon Bonaparte, is still alive and well as a favorite restaurant and watering hole. Muffulettas and Pimm’s Cup, always de rigueur!
Enjoy costume photos from (and of) Susan Hess, Vivian Cahn, Louise Glickman, Susan Brill Rosenthal and more.