This year, ESSENCE.com joined the festivities of Trinidad’s Carnival with twins Karen and Kathy Norman, two young Trinidadian designers whose over-the-top costumes (made for their brand K2K Alliance & Partners) scorched the streets. In the gallery, check out masqueraders decked out in the ruffles and radiant hues of their costumes as they uphold the annual bacchanal leading up to the day of Lent. But first, a chat with these sisters about their new design endeavor.
ESSENCE.com: Coming from a finance background, what inspired you to start a costume line?
KAREN NORMAN: Kathy and I have been involved in the arts for quite a few years. We initially studied fine art in high school and at advance level in Trinidad. The decision to do a costume line was really driven by our love for the arts, our desire to create and bring a moving canvas to life, and our love for home and our culture in Trinidad. Every Carnival season we both get a “Carnival bug” and put pen to paper to create different concepts. In 2010 we designed the entire band “The Waters – Seas of Consciousness” and took the chance of bringing our story to life in 2012.
ESSENCE.com: Did you have any prior knowledge or experience in the industry?
KAREN NORMAN: Through studying fine art, I would like to think that we have an appreciation for the human form, and even more so an understanding of how cloth falls and flatters the human form.
KATHY NORMAN: Our dad is a textile importer, which we believe has allowed us to see and play with different fabrics as kids. Our mum, on the other hand, was a seamstress for years, so we have had the opportunity to learn some of the tricks of the trade. Having a love for fashion, a predilection for art, and growing up in a home that lends itself to designing and creativity made the development of our 2012 collection an exhilarating experience.
ESSENCE.com: How are K2K costumes different than the hundreds of others at Carnival?
KAREN NORMAN: K2K represents the fusion of fashion with mas [Carnival costuming]. This is a new platform that we are trying to develop. We are trying to move away from the “bikini, beads & feathers” and give our masqueraders an item that they can use after Carnival.
ESSENCE.com: Is there a more skilled level of craftsmanship to your design than other costumes?
KATHY NORMAN: Many of the bands on the island focus on sticking beads to a bikini. The intention of K2K is to pay more attention to detail. There is much more tailoring, seamstress work and hand bead work that goes into the designs.
ESSENCE.com: Where did you come up with the concept for your current collection?
KAREN NORMAN: The story talks about the psychological journey of man and represents some of the issues we face in our adulthood.
ESSENCE.com: What specifically inspired this theme?
KAREN NORMAN: The theme for 2012 really speaks about our experience in the USA for the last five years. In 2010 we started to think about what really makes us happy and what we could do to redefine and rediscover the true essence of life.
ESSENCE.com: Where did the names and color palettes originate?
KAREN NORMAN: The names of the sections in the band are derived from different waterways of the world, such as the red sea (red in color) yellow sea (yellow in color) dead sea (black in color).
ESSENCE.com: Which mainstream designers are you influenced by?
KATHY NORMAN: We would love to be the Alexander McQueen of mas!
ESSENCE.com: Are there any celebrities you would love to dress?
KAREN NORMAN: We would love to have the opportunity to costume our local celebs, from Machel Montano to Fayanne. On the international arena, we would love to have the opportunity to costume Lady Gaga, Janet Jackson, Madonna — if we could bring our designs to the big screen or even to Broadway, that would be a parameter that has never been ventured.
ESSENCE.com: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from your first venture into costume design?
KATHY NORMAN: One of the most important lessons learned is that life is a journey filled with highs and lows. But what makes the journey sweet is overcoming adversity and having family and friends share in our journey.
To see more of Karen and Kathy Norman’s costumes, visit K2K-Carnival.