Masman Leo Lakhan wins big in 2024

Dana Rampersad displays ́The Phantom Queeń, during the Queens segment of the Kings & Queens of Carnival, QPS, Port of Spain in 2022 - Angelo Marcelle
Dana Rampersad displays ́The Phantom Queeń, during the Queens segment of the Kings & Queens of Carnival, QPS, Port of Spain in 2022 - Angelo Marcelle

Antourage Productions bandleader Varma Leo Lakhan said his inspiration for his prize-winning costumes comes from giving natural elements dramatic and macabre representations. This ethos has led to his winning and placing in several kings and queens competitions over the eight years the band has been in existence.

In 2024, six of his costumes were entered in the Carnival kings and queens competitions, with all but one placing in the first three spots of each competition. This was the first time he had six costumes in the competition, as he was also asked by officials of Carnival band Ombre Mas to design their king and queen costumes.

In the kings competition, his designs Xhirkomak – Lord of The Underworld and Guardian of the Mystical Realm, played by Joseph Lewis and Arif Grantum respectively, placed first and third. His king costume Zeus – King of the Gods, blew over in the strong winds on semi-final night.

In the queens competition, his designs Queen Tarantula, Flight of the Monarch Butterfly, and Azalea the Serpent Sorceress played by Roxanne Omalo, Dana Ramepersad and Savitri Holassie respectively, came first, second, and third.

Lakhan said his inspiration comes from dramatising elements of nature.

Antourage Productions bandleader Leo Lakhan - 

“I will look at anything, for example a butterfly, and yes it has four wings, but I will transform it into something with 15-30 wings. I try to jump out of the box and recreate it to my vision, and I think this catches the judges’ attention, because I don’t give you what it’s supposed to be, but my imagination of it on a different level.

“I find the more macabre designs get attention, a lot of them are macabre or of the underworld, they have a dramatic sense of aura and creates an element of what it’s supposed to be when crossing the stage.”

The 37-year-old also gets inspiration from movies, resulting in costumes like 2024’s Zeus – King of the Gods and others like Medusa – The Last Gaze.

“The costume for Roxanne is Arachne. Everyone knows what a spider is but I transformed it into a half woman, half spider. Joseph’s costume was like the keeper of souls and time when death comes, and has an hourglass in their hands.

“I also create an elaborate storyline for them. Sometimes I add things like pyrotechnics, especially on finals night, which adds to the costume and brings it to life. I don’t think I would change much about what I do because if something works for me, I would continue along that pathway.”

Lakhan’s costumes are known for being large, and he said he cannot design a small costume, even when he tries.

“I set my sights on building a 15-20 foot costume and then when I mount it, it crosses 25 feet.”

He said designing the costumes is challenging, especially when working on several costumes, as he does not draw them.

“I cannot draw to save my life. I build them off the top of my head, I will have a part in mind, and I’ll work with my team and explain to them how it’s going to look. They may not understand but they will follow the instructions, and when it’s mounted, they’ll say oh now I understand why you built it like that.

Dana Rampersad portrays Flight of the Monarch Butterfly at the NCC Queen of Carnival, Queen's Park Savannah, Port of Spain on February 7, 2024 - Andrea De Silva

“Sometimes I mix them up, especially considering the number of pieces these costumes have. When we end up pulling the costumes together and the airbrush artists get to work, they have the same colours, so it’s challenging on that level. So I try to write the components down so I don’t forget. It’s very hands-on.”

He said he has a small team of ten-15 people, which isn’t a lot to build six costumes, and he’s always short of manpower.

“Not everyone can do the work with you. As much as there are people who are willing, sometimes you have to be behind them to see if they’re making this correctly or if they’re making a mess with the glue. People will be like yeah I can stick this or stick that, but at the end of the day, neatness is what counts as well, and it’s how you do it. That’s why I’m very particular about who works with me.”

Lakhan said the king and queen performers play an integral part in building their costumes.

“The same people have been my masqueraders: Savitri Holassie, Roxanne Omalo, Ravi Lakhan and Joseph Lewis. Dana Rampersad would have joined the team three years ago, and Arif Grantum joined this year. Some of them may not have time but they try to put in the time especially when it comes closer to competition day.”

Lakhan grew up in the Carnival industry, having been involved with his uncle Robert Lakhan’s band Good Hope Associates. He began designing costumes for the band in 2012 before starting Antourage in 2016. His workshop is based in Sangre Grande, where he was born and raised.

“My life is based on my community in Sangre Grande. I’m a physical fitness instructor and I work at Life Fitness Club in O’Meara. So my fitness life is based on teaching aerobics and the gym.”

Lakhan was appointed as a board member of the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival Bands Association (TTCBA) in late 2023. He said he was initially skeptical about the appointment as he knew people would think it would give him an advantage in the competition.

“At the end of the day, before I even dreamt of getting on the board, I had earned about six titles, so being on the TTCBA board was not a reason for me to win the king and queen title again. Those who have been in the Carnival mas industry for a period of time wouldn’t question it because they would know the level of competition I go out there with, but the newer people would say maybe I got it because I was on the board, not knowing I was already in the top three.”

He said his 2024 costumes consistently placed in the top three from preliminaries to semi-finals.

Leo Lakhan works on a portion of Azalea The Serpent Sorceress, one of his 2024 queen costumes - Photo courtesy Leo Beharry

“I wasn’t surprised, because the competition this year wasn’t as challenging as before, judging from the design. There are different judges on different nights, and the costumes managed to maintain top positions for the entire season.

“What I was surprised about was when the costume that turned over in the semi-finals placed 17th after coming first in the preliminaries. I wouldn’t want to go against my board, although that was a questionable decision, considering they said he was not penalised in any way because of the wind. There was an appeal process, and we have the documents from them, saying he was not penalised. But as I represent the board I wouldn’t want to go against them, so I accepted the judges’ decision and accepted my grievance, knowing I had five other competitors in the competition.”

Lakhan said he would be making adjustments to the frames of his costumes next year to make them better able to withstand the wind.

“Even the smaller costumes had a problem with the wind on semi-final night. I wouldn’t change the size but I make heavier frames to mount the costumes on, so that even if the wind takes the sails or wings, it wouldn’t lift the frame. It must be grounded, and I will take that into consideration because we can’t predict how strong the wind will be on any particular day.”

Savitri Holassie portrays Masquerade-The Hidden Beauty at the Senior Queen of Carnival semi-finals at Queen's Park Savannah, February 15, 2023. EFE/Andrea De Silva - Andrea De Silva

Lakhan said his costumes are built out of flexible materials like fibreglass, aluminum, fabrics, sequins and braids, and the rest is airbrushing.

“These give you movement without weight. I build it as light as possible so when the masquerader moves the frame, the costume shakes. I try not to use anything that traps the wind, because once you do that, you can’t escape it and the costume becomes a huge kite, and there’s no place for the wind to pass, so the costume could turn over.”

Lakhan said he has already designed his presentation for Carnival 2025 and possibly 2026. He said building would begin in March and continue into March 2025. He said he will be taking his 2024 presentation to Tobago Carnival.


"Masman Leo Lakhan wins big in 2024"

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