Anthony Colombo has spent the past four decades bending wire for a living, creating the costumes you see on Carnival’s biggest krewes.
His costumes, all made by hand and designed by his daughter, Susie Barocco, take most of the year to create.
“Mardi Gras is a job where it takes as many hours as you can put in per day to make this stuff, and I'm the only one that bends the wire for the pieces and that's where it takes a lot of time,” Colombo said.
Colombo makes thousands of tiny hooks, then solders them onto larger wire frames to hold plumes, fabric, sequins and jewels.
“This doesn't take too long. It's those big Caesar pieces that take the longest. It takes me about a week, and I don't put eight hour days, now - we start in the morning around 9 to 9:30 and work sometimes until 2 o'clock the next morning, seven days a week! You got to get it done,” Colombo said.
Colombo and his family typically spend about 11 months out of the year making the costumes, so when it comes to Carnival time, he’ll skip the parades.
“I don't even go to the extravaganza anymore. I get them on the float, once we get them on the float, I head on home watch it on TV,” Colombo said.
It’s his signature designs and quality work that catches the eye of the big krewes. Starting in 1968 in St. Bernard, he quickly became one of the most sought-after costume designers, eventually joining Caesar, Endymion and Zulu to design their royal garb.
“The people, they tell me, 'I can tell your work when I see it on the floor,' and that makes me feel good, feel like I'm doing my job,” Colombo said.
The price to make the pieces rises each year, but Colombo tries to keep the cost down because he knows how much riders pay to be a part of the parade. It’s something he’s wrestled with ever since he divulged the price to a Hollywood designer.
“[I told him] it's in the neighborhood of about $5,000, and he says, ‘too cheap too cheap,’ and I wanted to explain how much money it costs them with their throws and their party. Turns out, he designed Spiderman's costume for the movie and won an Academy award for it. I didn't know at the time, but the next day I found out he got $1,000,009! No wonder we’re too cheap!” Colombo exclaimed.
His daughter, who’s by his side most of the year, began helping out years ago, and with her children joining the team to create costumes, it’s a life she loves.
“I was born into it, so to me, it's no big deal, it's just what we do as a family. That's what we do, and it keeps us all close because we're all stuck in the same room, but it's just a way of life,” Barocco said.
At 80 years old, Colombo thinks the wire bending keeps him young, and he isn’t planning on letting go of his work anytime soon.
“I'm 80 years old. I just turned 80 on the 24th of July, and I've got friends of mine the same age that want to sit and watch TV. No, no, I can't do that. I got to keep busy,” Colombo said. “When I give up, the man above is going to tell me. That's the way I feel about it. I'll keep doing it as long as I can.”
Colombo’s children and grandchildren are already helping with the business, something he knows will ensure his family will always be a part of what makes the good times roll.
Copyright 2016 WVUE. All rights reserved.