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From chrysalis to carnival, we capture Barbados as it flutters back to life

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Dazed’s fashion editor Imruh Asha recalls shooting Rihanna’s actual neighbours, carnival couture, and all the pandemonium of post-pandemic partying

On their first day of shooting in Barbados, photographer Carlijn Jacobs and Dazed’s fashion editor Imruh Asha found themselves parked on the corner of Rihanna Drive, surrounded by a coral of children who had been playing in the late afternoon heat. “Rihanna’s childhood home was literally right there and these kids, I guess her neighbours, were just so full of energy,” Asha recalls, “they were the most special people.” So, Asha and Jacobs decided to bundle them into the back of a van – along with their parents, of course – and photograph them on a nearby beach, slipping them into looks ten times their size, their tiny frames swallowed by gargantuan Chanel skirts, beaded JW Anderson slips, and jaunty Louis Vuitton snow goggles. “It was kinda guerilla style, on the go and in the moment. And to be honest, that always makes the images.”

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The crew spent 12 days in Barbados in total, careening along its turquoise coast as they captured the pandemonium of carnival couture and island life. But it wasn’t always cinema, Schiaparelli, and vintage Galliano. “The island hadn’t received any tourists for the past two years so locals naturally felt tense when all these people suddenly arrived with a load of suitcases.” And although Asha hails from the Caribbean, he admits to having “no connections on the island apart from a couple of people we found on Instagram.” That all changed, however, when Junior Sealy, a Bim native and the creative director of Brooklyn Fashion Week, came on board. “He led us to the most beautiful locations, helped us street cast, and guided us across the entire island.” With a little help from locals like Sealy, Asha and Jacobs were able to document all the colour and chaos of Barbados’ collective reemergence post-pandemic, from chrysalis to carnival. 

Stilt walkers, marching bands, plumes of powdered paint, “it’s really about people enjoying life, celebrating, and having fun with each other,” Asha says, having been inspired by the spontaneous energy of candid festival photography. Yet, beyond all the clucking, marabou feather headdresses and cybernetic Jean Paul Gaultier bodysuits, there are moments of expansive stillness. Halfway through the editorial, a darkened silhouette, dressed in cobalt Molly Goddard, stands statuesque on a concrete jetty, splintering into sea. A little later, a dapper partygoer is shot leaning against a laurel of balloons tied lovingly between two palm trees, catching a breather. Then there’s Asha’s favourite image, which frames a port-holed, circular Issey Miyake gown, taken as the tide begins to froth and drag back in on itself. “It’s quite abstract and it’s a fresh take on afrocaribbean culture,” he says, “I just think we really captured the beauty of the Caribbean there. Obviously the weather and the beaches are amazing but there are so many beautiful souls, too.”

See more of our Island Life editorial from the autumn 2021 issue of Dazed in the gallery above.