Mardi Gras Day means a lot of different things to different people. For some, it’s getting up early to catch a coconut from the Krewe of Zulu. For others, it’s watching Rex Royalty at Gallier Hall. Others, still, hunt for the Secret Society of St. Anne or a Mardi Gras Indian. And then there are the Bourbon Street Awards.
The Bourbon Street Awards are an annual costume competition for gay Mardi Gras krewes. The costumes are breathtaking, wildly elaborate, and take all year to make. John Zeringe, of the Krewe of Amon Ra, says this year alone he designed 80 costumes and made 35 by hand. Many will be on display at the Bourbon Street Awards, but you can bet the crowds will gather. The gay krewes and their annual balls are a wonderful alternative to the bustle of the Bourbon Street Awards on Mardi Gras Day.
“I actually joined the gay krewes because it allowed me, as a gay man, to let my family and all come,” Zeringe says. “They love it, but they wouldn’t have come to Bourbon Street [on] Mardi Gras Day and fought that crowd. So it was a way for my family to actually see what I do.”
The costumes rely on handmade wirework as a base, followed by hand-applied decorations like stones and feathers, says fellow Amon Ra krewe member John Richerson.
“It’s really unique to Louisiana and New Orleans, and no one does it like we do it,” Richerson says. “They’ve tried,” he clarifies, but, “they don’t.”
Watch the video below to learn more about the fabulous costumes of gay Mardi Gras krewes.
Gay Mardi Gras Costumes Video Transcript
John Zeringe: “When I was a kid, I was just fascinated by the parades. You know, the artistic part of the floats … I’ve been really obsessed with Mardi Gras for a long time. During Mardi Gras, each of the gay krewes will throw a ball. Pretty costumes. Stones and feathers and stuff like that.”
David Richerson: “It was really a place for them to meet, mingle, and have a good night.”
JZ: “The gay krewes at one time were the only way guys could hang out and be themselves. I actually joined the gay krewes because it allowed me, as a gay man, to let my family and all come. They love it but they wouldn’t have come to Bourbon Street [on] Mardi Gras Day and fought that crowd. So it was a way for my family to actually see what I do.”
DR: “Carnival Season, really, we actually miss a lot of it because we are working on the costumes.”
JZ: “This was the first year I was captain. These are actually all old Amon-Ra designs … This year I designed 80. I actually made 35. It’s a year-round thing for me. It takes a lot of work.”
DR: “We take pride in the fact that we still do wirework.”
JZ: “I think there [are] maybe 7 or 8 people who still make wirework forms. It’s a dying art and craft because not so many people want to put that much labor into one piece.”
DR: “Once the costumes are sewn, then all of the feathers go on it hand by hand by hand … very tedious.”
JZ: “The purple one, the train is 12 feet by 8 feet, lined with satin. The costume portion is actually chain mail. It’s all metal. I was actually on a cruise doing chain mail by the pool to get it done in time. I like to be able to express myself creatively, so when a client lets me do everything from scratch — the design, the wirework, the whole 9 yards — is what I get really excited about.
DR: “It’s really unique to Louisiana and New Orleans, and no one does it like we do it. They’ve tried. They don’t.”
JZ: “To see it all finished and everything is really fantastic. It’s really nice for people to be able to see your work and have an appreciation for what it is that you do all year.”