The Leeds West Indian Carnival, Europe’s longest running authentic Caribbean carnival, was the first to combine the three integral elements: costumes, music and a masquerade procession. The costumes are one of the most anticipated aspects of the carnival. So, where did these breath-taking, unique costumes derive from?

The designs visibly echo the beautiful nature which makes its home in the West Indies. The designs often incorporate feathers, reflecting the tropical birds that live there. The bright colours represent the vibrant and colourful history of the West Indian people.

A carnival acts as a statement of culture, allowing people of West Indian heritage to celebrate their identity and those who aren’t to celebrate diversity. The costumes are an artistic interpretation that visually conveys this message.

However, at the heart of the Carnival is a sense of fun and happiness. This shows in the costumes and the floats, which are always stunning and original.

Preparations for the costumes begin months in advance. With the upcoming Carnival being the 50th anniversary of the celebration, the pressure will be on. Traditionally, the king and queen of the carnival wear the most elaborate costumes.

Often, the people you see taking part in the precession in their spectacular outfits will not have created them. Carnival catwalks, like the one held on June 23, allow a preview of the costumes and a chance to sign up to wear them on the big day.

The carnival offers partakers and onlookers a chance to escape the humdrum of ordinary life and a doorway to a more interesting few days. The costumes offer an insight into West Indian heritage in stark contrast to what people usually see.

(Words: Luke Atkins, Martha Sennitt / Photos: Matt Gerlach / Editing: Eli Smith)