So now that most of my media appearances were out of the way, it was time to focus on one of the most important aspects of my position (besides my daily training regime) – my costume!

The first time I was a Muse, I wasn’t able to choose my own costume design nor my ‘atelier’, as the Samba school had its own in-house designer and I was designated to the opening float, which was representing the theme of death. I was the “Devil of the Asphalt” – not exactly what I had in mind for my debut on the avenue!

“Devil of the Asphalt” for Estacio de Sa

But this time, I ensured that when I negotiated my contract with Imperio, it would include me having the freedom to choose who I wanted to dress me and at least give me a choice of the designs.

As each Muse performs in front of an ‘ala’ (aisle) or ‘carro alegorico’ (float) and represents a certain part of the ‘enredo’ (theme song), we are restricted to what we can wear as our costumes must reflect the vision of the ‘carnavalesco’ (the creator of the entire parade’s theme including float and costume designs).

Moreover, often the artist’s impression (design) that we receive from the samba school for our costumes can be really tricky for an atelier to bring to life.

This year I was given 3 choices and because of my personality, I naturally decided on the most colourful and vibrant design. The bonus was that I would be representing a much more positive theme than the previous time I was Muse. “Nao ter a vergonha de ser feliz” (“Don’t be ashamed to be happy”) was the tag line of a very famous Brazilian song which had been chosen as our enredo for Carnival, and was the theme of my costume.

The artist’s design of my costume

Often when people ask me about being a Muse and discover that I had to pay for the position, they are shocked at the price. But what surprises them even more is that the cost of the costume is not included in the price of the position. And depending on who you use to make your costume and what materials you choose (i.e. real crystals versus plastic ones), your costume could end up costing you more than the (extremely high) cost of the position itself.

The key is to have a budget and fiercely stick to it, otherwise you will be charmed into spending your life’s savings for one night of glamour!

When asking Muses from other schools in the top division for their tips on costumes, the advice they gave me was endless:

Oh you MUST use Swaroski crystals darling! They shine so much more on the avenue and will make you stand out like a superstar!

You should ONLY have your heels made by this particular shoemaker in Rio as she makes ALL the heels for the most famous Queens!

Don’t even think about doing your own make up! It simply MUST be done by a professional, otherwise you will go unnoticed by the TV crews and audience!

Don’t forget to ONLY use real feathers as fake ones don’t move anywhere near as much and you’ll have to dance even harder to be noticed!

But when I asked them, “So who pays for YOUR costume?”, they of course all went quiet.

Hmmmm. I guess that means I’ll be going for the plastic crystals and synthetic feathers then?

I didn’t want my costume to look any less grandiose than others on the avenue, but I certainly wasn’t about to get picky with crystals and feathers just because they were ‘real’ versus ‘fake’, and especially since I was the one paying for my own costume.

Luckily, my lovely friend and fellow Musa Denise from Melbourne had a trusted feather supplier from China, and each year for Carnival she would bring her own feathers with her and pass them on to her atelier to keep costs down. The funny thing is that Rio Carnival designers all use feathers imported from China, but they charge you twice as much as you would pay buying them directly and having them sent to Australia.

It took quite a few weeks of back and forth messaging (and some great translating skills and inside ‘feather’ knowledge on Denise’s part) to finally decide on the right ones that wouldn’t destroy my savings, would still move beautifully on the avenue and fit into the carnavalesco’s vision.

Gorgeous Aussie Musa Denise with her feathers

Now it was time for me to find the perfect atelier.

I had had some challenging experiences with Rio ateliers in the past. Most had charged me through the roof for a costume just because I was a gringa. At the time I was aware of this, but if it ensured that I actually got my costume in time, and wasn’t left stranded on the sidelines of the avenue, waiting in heart-breaking desperation for my costume to be dropped off (like some poor Muses experience each year), and the possibility of it actually not arriving in time (or worse still, not even being made but my money still taken), then I was prepared to pay twice as much.

This time however, I was determined not to be ripped off, but again happy to pay more should the designer be easy to work with, listen to my requests, be available for me to personally go to them to try it on, and if need be, alter it swiftly and without complaint, then deliver it to me a week in advance so that I could practice in it. Was I expecting a miracle?

Thank goodness that miracles do exist, and Ari Mesquita is truly one in human form.

I’d done my research and everyone had said that because Ari had spent many years in Paris running an atelier, and now worked regularly with overseas clients whilst being based back in Rio, he understood what gringas needed and only took in a certain number of clients each Carnival to ensure his team could provide the best customer service and quality costumes in due time.

It was also a lovely coincidence that I had already worn one of his costumes, but didn’t know it until we met.

“Oh darling you are stunning! But even more so when you wore the costume I made for Clara Paixao (Rio’s Queen of Carnival”)!

“OMG! You made that costume? It was the most extravagant costume I’ve ever worn and made me truly feel like a Rio Carnival Queen!”

“Well, it looks like we are going to create some more magic together then for this Carnival!”

Did I mention how much I LOVE gay men?!

The most extravagant Carnival costume I’ve ever worn by Ari Mesquita

I breathed a sigh of relief. Finally someone who potentially wasn’t going to rip me off (he works with a set fee with no extra ‘surprise’ costs), has a proven (and well-respected) track record making costumes for Muses and Queens that I personally knew, and overall didn’t appear like a diva or malandro (conman).

“So what is that you’ve got there?”

I had momentarily forgotten that I was holding on for dear life to a long, heavy cardboard parcel, which I hadn’t let go of since I’d left home that morning, caught the metro into Centro and then walked the 5 blocks to meet Ari in Rio’s SAARA market district, where they sell all sorts of weird and wonderful knick knacks, but more importantly, have an extensive selection of beads and jewels (imported from China of course!).

Inside the box were my most valuable possessions for Carnival … the AU$2500 worth of feathers that would make up my back piece. I had ever so carefully carried them in hand luggage all the way from Australia, and had even got into an argument with an air hostess in Chile who had tried to tell me I had to check them in to normal luggage.

“Are you serious? Have you never seen pheasant feathers before? Do you know how much they are worth? Do you know what will happen if they get damaged, or worse, lost? I will be a Muse with no plumage and my Carnival dream will be destroyed!”

My eyes filled with unexpected tears as my voice shrieked at her (in my defence I had been travelling for over 24 hours by then), and making a very smart decision on her behalf, she finally allowed me on board with my precious cargo.

Ari signalled for me to hand over the package, and I looked at him with stern eyes.

“Ari, I am trusting you with these. They have travelled over 40,000 kilometres to get here and have cost me a fortune, so please promise me you will guard them with your life!”

“Calma amor! Tudo vai dar certo!” (Relax my love, everything will be fine!)

Brazilians love to use this expression, but from all of my previous experiences with ateliers, everything had NOT all worked out, hence my hesitation and delay in handing them over. I felt like a mother handing her children over to the wolves.

My inner voice reassured me.

It’s ok Mishel. You can trust him. He has showed up, explained how he works, given you a detailed timeline of when to expect each part of the costume, and does this full-time for a living, so it’s in his best interest to take care of you (and your feathers!).

I took a deep breath, prayed to my Orixa to protect me from being taken advantage of again, and passed them over to him with shaky hands.

We then spent the afternoon at Rio’s famous Carnival store, Palacio dos Cristais (Crystal Palace) deciding on all of the different types of jewels and beads to use for my bodysuit, boots, headpiece and wings. Ari would do all of the sewing and bejewelling himself, but had to take my back and head pieces to a welder out of town for the metalwork.

I’d also need to travel with him to Niteroi (a city across the bay from Rio where you had to travel over the longest bridge in Brazil to get there) to have my bodysuit fitted, as the only lady who worked with professional gymnastic-grade lycra lived there, and finally to the north zone where his preferred shoe maker would measure my feet, ankles, calves and knees to ensure my boots fitted perfectly. This was my main concern as I had had issues with my last pair of Carnival boots, so was determined not to suffer again on the avenue with an ill-fitting pair of heels!

Now that my costume was underway, it was time to book a make up artist to create a ‘look’ to accompany it, as make up on the avenue needed to be much more dramatic in order to be seen all the way up into the grandstands.

Luckily I had previously worked with one of Rio Carnival’s most experienced artists, who also happened to be the official make up artist for Clara Paixao (Rio’s reigning Carnival Queen).

My stage make up the first time I was Muse

“Ola Fabi! I’m so excited to work with you again! And guess what? I’m not going to be a Devil again this yet, but a spectacular, colourful, ‘Don’t be ashamed to be happy’ Muse!”

“Aiiii que tudo! (Yay! How fabulous!) I cannot wait to see your costume! Come and meet me next week so we can design it together!”

COSTUME – TICK!

MAKE UP – TICK!

Now what’s next???