New Orleans has long been the Mardi Gras Capital of the World, but countless people across Louisiana work behind the scenes to make sure the laissez les bon temps rouler in the Crescent City and beyond! A few of those people call Zachary home, so we met with them to learn more about what happens behind the scenes of the bon temps, often months before Mardi Gras is on many people’s minds.
The local Krewe of Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler is now in its 37th year of celebrating Mardi Gras, with members from across the Capital Region. On Saturday, Feb. 12, the krewe will gather at the Mariott in Downtown Baton Rouge for their annual ball, complete with an elegant tableau fitting the “Game of Crowns” theme this year to celebrate their King, Queen and Ball Captain.
For more than two decades, Sheila Dunigan worked behind the scenes with Pam O’Neil and the Execution of Costumes Committee to create more than a dozen costumes. Sheila started sewing as a child and always made her costumes for the Krewe of Mystery, a children’s krewe in Baker. As a young adult, she continued making costumes for the Krewe of Mystery Ball each year. Then, her long-time friend Pam O’Neil introduced her to the Krewe of Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler.
“Sheila and I have worked very closely for many, many years,” said Pam. The two worked flawlessly together, with Pam providing the creative direction for each costume through sketches and Sheila bringing them to life through sewing and gluing. Each year, the pair worked together to assemble more than a dozen costumes, from drawings to the wirework required for the large backpieces to meticulously selecting the jewels, feathers, and fabric.
Sheila and Pam were named the Ball Captains for the 2000 Mardi Gras season, and despite Sheila’s fear of birds, chose the theme “Exotic Birds.” Sheila donned an exquisite peacock costume, and Pam took her swan costume to the next level, constructing a rolling costume that gave the illusion of her floating across the floor, just like a swan on the water.
The two have also worked together on the children’s krewe and debutante ball at Southern University. “Making costumes goes back a long way for us,” Pam said. “We’ve worked together for a long time.”
The duo worked on the same wavelength, as a yin and yang. “Some designers draw costumes that float — well guess what, they don’t float!” said Sheila. It has to have structure to work, and Pam knows that. Anything and everything we’ve ever discussed, she’s drawn it exactly how we envisioned it.”
The costumes require countless hours of work each year, and Sheila recently took a step back from the Mardi Gras madness, but the Krewe of Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler rolls on. This year the costumes were designed and created by the Execution of Costumes Committee comprised of nine people, including Pam O’Neil and Peggy Hebert. The 2022 Krewe of Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler Ball has not been held at press time.
The board of directors of the Mardi Gras Krewe Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler will host the annual celebration ball on Saturday, February 12, 2022. The theme of the tableau will be “Game of Crowns” a Medieval Fantasy Drama.
Grit & Glitter
Kristy Gilpin has been involved in New Orleans Mardi Gras for approximately “a million years.” When a friend introduced her to the Krewe of Muses, the first all-female Mardi Gras krewe to parade at night in uptown New Orleans, she fell in love with the craft of their signature throw.
Zulu has their coconuts. Isis has their sunglasses. The Krewe of Carrollton has their shrimping boots. And the Krewe of Muses has their pumps covered in glitter. When a spot opened up on the float in 2018, Kristy decided to ride and got to work on her throws, as many hand-painted, glittered and wholly decked out heels as she could make.
“It’s a fun symbol of Muses,” she said. In Greek mythology, the Muses are the nine daughters of Zeus. No festivity in Olympus was considered complete without their joy-inspiring presence.
Before the parade, Kristy hosted a shoe decorating party with friends. We glittered in my living room,” she said. “It was so much fun.” Though she is not a member of the Krewe of Muses, her involvement that year sparked an idea. She enlisted her friend and fellow Rollins Place Elementary School administrator, Brittany Arceneaux, and the two have been glittering ever since.
“I realized that there were a lot of women who wanted to be able to do shoes because it’s such a classic part of Muses but also don’t want to live in glitter,” said Kristy. “Or they’re busy with work and kids and life,” added Brittany.
The pair started with 40 or 50 shoes. “It just grew and grew and grew, and we sold about 200 shoes that year.” This year, with the traditional New Orleans Mardi Gras making a comeback after a hiatus in 2021 due to COVID-19, the two are back to gluing and glittering in their living rooms. The process is a family affair — their kids help decorate, and their husbands are trained to hunt for the perfect shoes at local thrift stores, often leaving with dozens of pairs and a few questioning glances.
“It’s fun for us, and it’s a good service for other people who don’t necessarily want to do this or have the time – or who spread their glitter a little too thin,” Kristy said with a laugh. The pair agree that the annual shoe hunt is one of the most fun aspects, especially when their husbands FaceTime them to ask their opinion on a pair of heels.
“We like to find the tallest possible stiletto that there is. We want the weird ones, the tallest ones — we want the ones that have a story behind them,” Brittany said.
The shoe decorating process starts with a coat of black spray paint to start with a blank canvas. Then, the shoes begin their rotation in a continuous assembly line — glue, glitter, more glitter, the words and year are painted on, topped with a coat of sealer, feathers are added and finally, the finished works of art are bagged and delivered.
“It’s a whole system,” Kristy said. “And glitter contamination is something we take very seriously,” the pair said in unison. “If we use a purple box, we can’t put another color into it until it’s vacuumed out because you don’t want your gold glitter mixing with your purple glitter,” Kristy explained. “Glitter contamination is real,” added Brittany.
They get most of their supplies from Glitter Culture, a boutique craft store in New Orleans that caters to glitter and craft lovers like Brittany and Kristy.
“There’s thick glitter, fine glitter and mixes of glitter. It’s a whole thing,” said Kristy. The pair keep their designs simple, with classic Mardi Gras colors, feathers and writing. Shoes created for and by members of the Krewe of Muses each year range from simple to ornate works of art. “They’re beautiful works of art,” Kristy said.