Beauty meets Burlesque for Xaymaca Designer Rebecca Mahfood
“When I first designed for Xaymaca, I was in my final year of high school, balancing schoolwork, SATs, college applications and, of course, CAPE exams.” A young Rebecca Mahfood embarked on a challenge to design a costume in 2017. From last year’s Orphic to this year’s Burlesque, Mahfood has charged on to the ‘chippin’ and wukin’ scene, winning in sultry soca style. Today, Flair presents an up close and personal look at her artistic journey to Xaymaca.
“I’ve always been artistic, but my passion has manifested in different ways over time,” she shared in a recent interview. Participating in summer art camps from the age of eight nurtured her unique talent. Having seen her interest at first hand, her parents fostered her first love by encouraging her to pursue the arts. This made it possible for her to subsequently explore different artistic mediums such as designing, make-up artistry, performing arts, and so much more.
Without realising it, she was well on her way to greatness, doing clothing design, interior design, and everything in-between since she was able to hold a pencil. “I remember getting into trouble often with my teachers at school for drawing in my notebooks, instead of paying attention,” she confessed with a laugh. Aside from classroom sketches, Mahfood made her creative pursuits official in 2017, designing her first carnival costume for one of her CSEC Student-Based Assessment projects. By the following year in her CAPE exam, she took a pragmatic approach, executing the costume she designed for CSEC, embellished with feathers. The challenging experience proved to be rewarding. All her hard work paid off when she placed fifth in the island for CAPE Art.
Although she was a fan of carnival, but growing up in a Christian household, her parents were against the event, so Mahfood wasn’t able to actually attend a carnival until 2017. “I absolutely loved it: seeing all the amazing designs, colours and featherwork on all the costumes. Everything about it completely enthralled me.”
Designing for Xaymaca
So, when she was presented with the opportunity to design for Xaymaca, she was ecstatic, admitting that nerves played into the mix as well. She wasn’t sure how receptive fêters would be to what she brought to the table, but the Xaymaca team calmed all of her fears, executing her design to parade perfection. Orphic was a huge success on the road.
This year, she took a shot at creating even sexier carnival couture with Burlesque. Inspired by Xaymaca Carnival 2019’s theme, Iconic, she thought about iconic eras or time periods in history, and her desire to do something really sexy and over the top came to the forefront of her mind: Cher, burlesque and showgirls, similar to the pin-up showgirl look.
Mahfood returned once more to work with Xaymaca for one reason only: to share in the amazing experience. Feeling like part of a carnival family, she is grateful to be able to work with a band that focuses on giving an exceptional quality experience to their masqueraders. “I’ve had really great, positive feedback from people. Family, friends, acquaintances, and even complete strangers have been overwhelmingly supportive. Everyone has a distinct style and different things that they like, so I’m grateful that people like my designs. Even if persons say it’s not something they’d personally wear, they admire the artistry of the design,” she said.
While she enjoys the vibrance and liveliness of soca music, it hasn’t made a direct impact on her designs. She takes her influence from a pragmatic standpoint: the way in which masqueraders dance and move in response to soca music. “I wanted to make sure people would be able to dance and enjoy themselves on the road while still looking sexy!”
Apart from time management, having to juggle both the dream and education at the tertiary level, she views inexperience as her major obstacle. Sketching was a breeze, but the storm came in seaming it all together. She found it difficult to take her designs from imagination to reality, but that gave her the opportunity to grow more than she thought possible. Thankfully, too, she enlisted the assistance and advice of other designers who were all too happy to help. “I’m really happy to be a part of an industry where women support other women.”
When she’s not fashioning the fête, she is exploring interior design and clothing design, specifically swimwear. And outside of designing, Mahfood is a full-time college student, freelance multimedia make-up artist, commercial and fashion model, an actress and soon-to-be lash technician. With hopes of expansion in the carnival-design arena, her advice to aspiring designers is to just start. “Sketch everything you think of. Any idea you have, put it on paper. Even if it’s not a complete design and it seems completely impractical, sketch it down. Once you start putting your ideas on to paper, they’ll just keep on flowing out. Over time, they’ll get better and better and you’ll be able to find your unique style.”
She continued: “In such a saturated industry, it’s easy to fall into the cycle of comparing your designs to others. Draw inspiration from others, ask for advice, keep sketching, and you’ll keep getting better with time. There are so many designers I look up to that completely inspire me. I’m nowhere near the level I want to be, but I know that with patience and practice, I’ll get there!”