Colgate Couture – Colgate Does Carnevale

Kate Zarella

A princess tiptoes through moonlit cobblestone streets while a butterfly hovers on an arched marble bridge. Colorful jesters jingle their bells and mysterious masked figures dance till dawn in a lively Piazza San Marco. Seemingly lifted from the pages of an old-fashioned fairytale, these unlikely characters could be seen in the quaint city of Venice just days ago. Of course, it’s not every day that Venetians and tourists dress in whimsical costumes and wild masks; only the celebration of Carnevale could bring about such reverie. Most associate this Venetian tradition with Mardi Gras of New Orleans, but in reality, the two have little in common. Nowhere in Venice will you see wasted girls-gone-wild pulling off their Forever-21 tank tops in hopes of catching cheap plastic beads. You will, however, find tipsy tourists, toasted Venetians and, yes, even the occasional blacked-out Colgate student. The difference is that these jovial Carnevalers are fantastically clad in full 17th century garb, mystical costumes and elaborate masks. The costumes and fashions of Carnevale are just as fanciful and electrifying as the festival they celebrate.

Carnevale occurs during the two weeks before Lent and is seen as the final opportunity to indulge in meat, pleasure and scandal; in short, it’s the Spring Party Weekend of Venice. The festival dates back to 1097, but the real partying didn’t start until the 18th century, when masked partygoers would share fabulous food, wine and even sexual favors. Today, tourists and Venetians alike pack into this city of canals but they are not interested in the designer boutiques that line Venice’s labyrinth of streets; rather, they pour into the exclusive costume and mask shops in search of velvet capes, tricorn hats and masks covered in jewels and feathers. Dressing in disguise has been paramount in this festival of decadence and debauchery throughout history because, what you do when you’re hidden behind a mask and cloaked in a full circle cape just doesn’t count.

The classic Venetian mask is made of papier m??ch?e, hand-painted and often covered in gold-leaf. Many traditional masks are made to accompany full costumes, such as El Medico della Peste (The Plague Doctor) and the Bauta. Originally created to disguise the identity of a physician who worked with contagious plague victims, the Plague Doctor costume is quite an unsettling sight. The cream-colored mask covers the entire face and has large circular holes cut out for the eyes, but the signature feature of this disguise is the long, pointy, curved beak that protrudes from the center of the mask. El Medico della Peste wears a long, black tunic and, of course, carries a staff, which was historically used to remove the clothes of dying plague victims.

Another popular and classic costume is that of the Bauta. The Bauta costume consists of a ghoulish white mask called the volto. The volto’s fierce eyes, structured cheeks and jutting chin cover three-fourths of the face. A black tricorn hat crowns this menacing face, and a voluminous black cloak completes the costume.

Not all the Carnevale costumes are quite as haunting. Colorful harlequins and jesters play in the piazzas. 17th century nobility waltz at the exclusive Dodge masquerade ball in lace gowns, long frock coats and mile-high powdered wigs. Sea nymphs and forest creatures glide alongside the Grande Canal and a myriad of characters from the Commedia del’Arte can be seen in the daily 4p.m. costume parade; however, the masks bring an eerie feel to even these light spirited costumes.

Many Carnevale goers choose to skip the expensive costumes, but no one slacks on masks. Women wear delicately painted masks, adorned with jewels, full feather headdresses and latticework metal while men wear masks with long, sculpted noses and sinister expressions. Then there are the difficult decisions of whether to buy a half or full mask, stick or no stick, smiling or solemn…the list goes on. Colgate mask buyers had their own set of criteria, as their biggest concern was finding masks that were conducive to drinking, smoking and making out concurrently. This quickly eliminated the stick and full-face options. Needless to say, everyone bought tie-on half masks.

The costumes of Carnevale represent liberation, mystery and indulgence; they are the spirit of the festival. With each expressive and bewitching disguise, Venice’s dark, damp alleys become vibrant and magical. The sight of these frivolous and fantastic fashions being paraded about the streets of Venice is far more exhilarating than any Milan fashion show and partaking in this living fantasy is, to say the least, an experience to be remembered.