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One costume creator on the magic of Notting Hill Carnival

ALL THAT GLITTERS: Cee Bolakee’s designs focus on confidence (Image:

LAST YEAR we covered Vibrance, a new London band at Notting Hill Carnival which has since been growing fast in popularity. As carnival Monday closes in, Life & Style caught up with band designer Cee Bolakee about the band’s third year on the road.

Life & Style: How did you become a designer for Notting Hill Carnival?
Cee Bolakee: I have been playing mas in Trinidad for many years from the early band Poison to more recent bands like Yuma and Fantasy. I always went with a costume I liked, even if it meant being in a different band from my friends. I would accessorise and add my own touch to costumes. Then, two years ago, Cocoyea London’s Dexter Khan found me.

Initially I came on board as a guest designer, but after seeing my work, Dexter quickly helped me to become a collaborator, which means I’m officially a registered band now.

L&S: What’s been happening since we last spoke?
CB: Lots! It’s been such an amazing journey. We launched this year’s costumes at the Candy Mas’s event where the Trinidadian Soca artist Turner performed.

It was such an accomplishment because Vibrance really gained a lot of interest, so I’m really grateful to Cocoyea and Candy Mas for the opportunity. I have also been studying traditional wire bending with Carl and Lynn Gabriel. So this year’s main costume looks quite different.

L&S: Different in what way? Can you tell us about this year’s costumes?
CB: Well, I have two sections – one is The Elements and one is Aksarnerk. I studied environmental studies so I’m passionate about nature and upholding native cultural identities regardless where people are from.

MAGICAL: Bolakee says she aims to create designs that make band members feel confident and majestic

‘Aksarnerk’ is the Inuit word for the northern lights. I used their cross stitching and their feathering technique.

This costume is my favourite and has a small amount of feathers on the structure then it bursts into a full plume of electric blue and fuchsia feathers.

I heavily encrusted it with gems because I really wanted to highlight the structure. I’ve always made all my backpacks, but doing these wings individually has taken a lot of time.

L&S: So what makes your band stand out?
CB: I aim to design to make that band member feel confident and majestic when he or she steps out on the road.

I always tailor costumes to the individual needs. We also have a T-shirt band. I love that people join on their own and feel like they have known the people in the band for years.

Carnival is magical in that way – it’s happy and friendly. Once you are with us on the road you are family.

People can contact us on Instagram (@carnivalvibrance) for more details.

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