Imagine this scene for a moment. You are in New Orleans, it’s nighttime and two groups of men approach singing and dancing. Leading each group are the Big Chiefs, , dressed in explosive costumes of feathers, sequins and exquisitely detailed beading.
The Big Chiefs dance, jump and strut in front of each other, shouting “I´m the prettiest big chief“. It seems like at any time, they are going to start punching each other or worse, but suddenly the stop, nose to nose, stare each other down and finally say “You are pretty“. The two groups of men continue on their way with their chants and their dances.
As hard as you try, you won’t find Native Americans among them. Not one of them is a real Indian. History tells us that these groups were formed by black men in New Orleans in recognition of the help that the real Indians had provided to slaves who had escaped from their owners. But as with almost all cases of oral history and handed-down tradition, the origin of the Mardi Gras Indians is not so clear.
What does all this have to do with design? Everything and nothing.
The people who are part of these tribes are the poorest of the poor. And believe me, in New Orleans, that means truly poor. They make the costumes themselves, choosing the feathers one by one, sewing, bead by tiny, colorful bead, the mosaics that make up their costumes.
They do all this tremendous amount of work in order to be able to show off their costumes for just one glorious day—Mardi Gras. For an entire year, they work with love, passion, and endless patience, to create something beautiful, something unique that they won’t ever wear again—the costumes have to be different every year. In each of these costumes there is love, tradition, shared history, pride. All this work, all this passion is transformed into an act of honesty and respect when they are in front of another Big Chief. “You are pretty“.
To me, that sentence represents the reason why I love design. Trying to create something beautiful is a process full of work. A lot of work. A ton of work. But moreover, design is a process in which, without honesty and without respect for others, you will never manage to create anything TRULY beautiful.
Seek beauty. It is the only thing that is worthwhile in this lousy world
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