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Lauren: the Zulu warrior princess

NATANGA SMITH, [email protected]

Lauren: the Zulu warrior princess

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WHAT LAUREN AUSTIN IS UP TO NEXT is a surprise and no amount of prodding or cajoling can get her to reveal it. The designer sure can keep a secret. Maybe that is why she was entrusted by Barbadian superstar Rihanna to design her 2013 and 2015 costumes for Crop Over.

It has always been a best kept secret of which band will Rihanna jump in when she comes home for the festival. You get the big reveal on Kadooment Day when you see her in the most beautiful costume on the road.

But how did Lauren manage to pull off that coup twice?

lauren-austin-092715“The link was made through my manager Matthew [Fewwture] from D.R.E.A.M (Dream Real) agency who also manages (DJ) Puffy and media personality Alex Jordan. They teamed up with Rorrey Fenty (Rihanna’s brother) and made it all happen. Plus she fell in love with the designs at first sight,” said Lauren.

EASY caught up with the talented mother of son Jaden, and wife of cricketer Ryan Austin, at her Christ Church home.

Crop Over 2015 has been over for almost two months now, but Lauren is still busy. The backstory on Lauren in a nutshell is she is make-up artist, learning the tricks of the trade in her native Trinidad. She also dabbles in nail waxing and making jewellery.

She moved to Barbados to be with her husband who is a member of the University of the West Indies and Combined Campuses cricket team.

She has made a name for herself in the entertainment circles, working with quite a few people in Barbados and beyond (Beenie Man, Shazelle, US singer/actress Mya, Kevin Lyttle, Sarah Mark and Deeanna Mussington) doing make-up and styling.

“I also fly home regularly to work on video and photo shoots. I also do a lot of work in Barbados and other Caribbean islands. My work is different and I enjoy doing it. Art/make-up is my passion.

“But for as long as I have known myself I’ve been into fashion. I love anything and everything that requires creativity. I’m generally great with my hands but I can’t pinpoint one particular moment when I decided I wanted to be a designer . . .  it kind of all happened on its own. I just started designing and customising pieces. It gives me a sense of happiness seeing people wearing something I created and that was a feeling I wanted.”

Trinidad is the carnival hotspot for the region and since it is Lauren’s homeland, we can all say soca is in her blood. In 2012 she tested the waters for Crop Over, and created a section called Zulu in the band Fantasy with one of the pieces landing on the cover of the annual Crop Over magazine produced by The Nation Publishing Company Ltd. In 2013 she decided to go her own way and Zulu International entered the mas’ market with the theme Spartacus, based on the popular TV series. The band was sold out within days and she got rave reviews. She again landed on the cover but this time with Rihanna wearing one of the designs made specifically for her called Legend.

“It was a costumised all white costume. I worked really hard on it as it was an individual piece.”

Rihanna didn’t participate in Crop Over 2014 but Zulu again made a splash with Once Upon A Time, with an increase in numbers of revellers eagerly buying pieces to such an extent that the band sold out in two days.

“I don’t get inspiration from one particular place or person. I spend most my nights looking at the most random objects and pulling ideas from anything that interests me or catches my attention, but I also like watching movies and getting inspiration from them because I like the idea of fantasy and recreating characters. Even when it comes to make-up and fashion I prefer the fantasy type.”

For Crop Over 2015 Lauren had her hands full. The band had increased in numbers again and she was designing and sketching and handmaking accessories.

“Choosing my theme is usually the hardest part because there are so many things to choose from and yet so little. As far as the designing, once the theme is finalised I then do research for each section’s names. Once I’m done with that it’s usually the fun part next – choosing material and start designing.”

This year the theme was The Hunger Games, another popular movie series.

Rihanna wore a dramatic black and green individual costume which was a bigger version to the Mocking Jay. I made the jewellery she wore and I covered and decorated her boots as well. She came and fitted and loved it.”

Rihanna landed the cover of the Crop Over magazine again in that piece.

Lauren is very hands-on with the creative process as “I source a lot of the materials myself. All the prototype pieces I created and designed. Sometimes Matthew comes over and we bounce over different ideas.

“But as for the mass production for the entire band it’s sent to a producer to recreate. A thousand costumes is a lot for just my small team in Barbados.” 

Lauren is an owl, as she is up very late hours in the night until morning, so working from home is a plus. She says the best part in being a designer is “Seeing the look on people’s faces when they see their pieces for the first time and instantly fall in love . . . . That look is priceless.”

She rattles off names of designers she loves, such as Judianna Makovsky (US), the late Alexander McQueen (Britain), Solange Govia and Ryan Chan (Trinidad) and local ladies Alexis Campbell and Carla Gittens.

“And most people might not know it yet but Star-xen Lawrence is also a very talented individual and I would love to see her step out.”

Lauren loves lycra and if it was up to her teal and black would be a staple in her pieces. “I love working with them. I always try to find a way to incorporate it into all my designs,” she said, laughing.

Lauren is passionate about being creative and just wants the respect she deserves.

“The most difficult aspect of being a designer is getting your name out there and being able to stand out among the rest. I have to fight to gain respect from people who don’t see it as a “job”, and trying to get people to understand that.”