Thursday, July 7, 2022
By Katherine Jolliff Dunn, curatorial cataloger

Fashion has played a role in the design of Carnival costumes since the early years of Mardi Gras. Costumers take inspiration from around the world, from history, from society, and from nature to create one-of-a-kind designs that honor the season’s spirit of extravagance and role-play. Although there are many designers whose careers were prominent in the creation of Carnival costumes, there are two whose work in the mid-20th century stood out among their peers.

Larry Youngblood, a New Orleans native born in 1928, began designing in 1946 while still in high school and went on to study at the John McCrady Art School, also in New Orleans. Several Carnival krewes saw his talent and hired him to create costumes for their balls and parades. Though he designed for the Krewes of Iris, Elenians, Carrollton, Zeus, and Virgilians, Youngblood is most known for his work with the Krewe of Bacchus, of which he was a charter member. He retired in 1998 following a stroke, ending a 50-year career, and passed away in 2007.

Carroll Pio Burtanog, known mononymously as Carroll, was a Filipino-American costume and fashion designer born in 1937. In the 1950s he briefly worked in New York for a fashion house but soon returned home to New Orleans, where he designed for various Carnival krewes. Carroll was most active in the 1970s and early 1980s. He was a member of several gay krewes, including the Mystic Krewe of Apollo, and in the last decade of his life he designed costumes for the Filipino-American Goodwill Society of America, of which he was a member. In 1983, following an aggressive cancer diagnosis, Carroll died at the age of 46.

Costumes from History

Both Youngblood and Carroll found inspiration in history, mythology, and literature. The details in these designs reflect the great amount of time they spent researching everything from ancient architecture to the fashion of 17th-century Spain.

  1. “Trojan Horse,” by Youngblood

    THNOC, gift of Elizabeth Y. Canik, 2017.0436.82–.84 

    Youngblood designed these costumes for a maid and duke in the court of the Krewe of Carrollton, whose 1970 Carnival theme was “Tales from History and Legend.” The full skirt of the maid’s gown features a depiction of the Trojan horse, and her bodice is decorated with clouds, with one shoulder cuff made to resemble a cloud wrapping around her arm. A matching blue-and-pink plumed headdress tops off the ensemble. The duke’s tunic and cape imitate the maid’s gown, showcasing Greek columns. 
  2. “Maid: Lady in Waiting to Maria Theresa, Spain,” by Youngblood

    THNOC, gift of Elizabeth Y. Canik, 2017.0436.68

    In this undated maid’s costume design, a fitted lacey gown is worn over a white-and-yellow bodice and skirt. The structured gown is shaped to the waist and worn over wide panniers, or side hoops, to create a broad skirt that sits flat at the front and back. The décolletage is low and sweeping, with frills and trimmings matching the three-quarter length sleeves and lace cuffs, known as engageantes. A yellow plume sits on her tightly curled hair. 

Costumes from Contemporary Life

Contemporary life and pop culture also inspired Carroll’s and Youngblood’s designs. Both artists incorporated aspects of popular movies, music, and landmarks in their work.

  1. “Stormy Weather,” by Carroll

    THNOC, 2020.0110.2.17.2

    Glam rock made its way into many Carnival themes and designs in the 1970s, as evidenced in Carroll’s 1979 “Stormy Weather” design. This costume recalls a dark storm with rain, ominous clouds, and lightning; the sleeves of the slinky black gown drip with jewels while a large Ziggy Stardust–style lightning bolt stretches across the body. The phenomenon of sexual liberation embodied in David Bowie’s 1970s stage persona would have been a likely source of inspiration for Carroll, who was a member of the LGBTQ community. The gown, as well as many of Carroll’s other designs, also gives a nod to pop superstar Cher, whose Bob Mackie–designed fashions helped define ’70s glamour. 
  2. “Solid Gold,” by Carroll

    THNOC, 2020.0110.2.17.3

    In this 1982 design, Carroll may be nodding to the 1980s TV show “Solid Gold” with this its use of music iconography, notes, and records. Most noticeable is Carroll’s addition of a corset reminiscent of Madonna’s iconic conical bra, which was designed by Jean Paul Gaultier and debuted in 1987. Although Carroll’s design was created a few years before Gaultier’s bustier, it appears that they were both influenced by the “bullet bra” of the 1940s and ’50s. In Carroll’s version he uses records, rather than cones, to emphasize the theme. 
  3. “Empire State,” by Carroll

    THNOC, 2020.0110.2.17.4

    From tiers and tucks to pleats and panniers, architectural influences often find their way into fashion design, but in this 1982 costume design, Carroll took it to a new level. He not only includes a likeness of the Empire State Building in his gown, but he also uses the shape of the building to create the dramatic shoulders of the collar and add height to the headdress. 
  4. “Jezebel,” by Carroll

    THNOC, 2020.0110.2.17.5

    In her portrayal of the titular character in the 1953 film Sins of Jezebel, Paulette Goddard was billed as ravishing, seductive, and shameless. It’s unknown if Carroll was inspired by this iteration of the biblical character, but his 1982 costume captures all three of those qualities. Carroll uses lace leggings, heels, and large tassels to highlight the character’s seductiveness. He adds drama with the enormous, detached puffed sleeves and over-the-top headdress. 

Costumes for Queens

Queens’ gowns are among the most well-known Carnival garments. Carroll and Youngblood applied their unique styles to these gowns, putting their own twists on the traditional collar, mantel, crown, jewelry, and scepter.

  1. Unnamed queen, by Carroll

    THNOC, 2020.0110.2.17.1

    In this 1979 design for an unknown krewe, Carroll incorporates many of the traditional elements of a queen’s gown but makes it distinctive by adding incredible detail to each individual component of the dress. The patterns in the bodice, skirt, and train appear to all be separate, but with a closer look one finds them all tied together in the mantel. The fabrication of the dress itself would also have made this queen stand out: the gown’s slim fit and its separate train, attached at the waist, were atypical of gowns at the time. 
  2. “Queen of Aurora (1954),” by Youngblood

    THNOC, gift of Elizabeth Y. Canik, 2017.0436.98

    Youngblood’s 1954 design for the Queen of Aurora is anything but basic. The feathers, which Youngblood specifies as “white plumes by the yard,” are the centerpiece of this extravagant, eye-catching design. French brocade and rhinestones adorn nearly every component of the costume.