A Mardi Gras monarch is followed by more than just his or her attendants, knights, ladies and mystic members. They are often trailed by a dazzlingly ornate train— yards of shimmering fabric covered in glittering jewels, sumptuous fur and a regal monogram. These ceremonial robes arose in popularity with real royalty in the Middle Ages with young princess brides as a way to show the family’s wealth and prestige. The impractical wardrobe appendage shows that the wearer is certainly not doing any manual labor, and it leaves the bystander in awe as it swishes past in a flurry of sparkle. Mobile’s Mardi Gras tableaus leave attendees awestruck as well, as the debutantes, monarchs and leading ladies don trains that represent their favorite past times, family history and Mardi Gras lineage. But it wasn’t always so.
Surprisingly, the earliest carnival court members in Mobile did not wear trains. According to Mobile Carnival Museum curator Cart Blackwell, it wasn’t until the 1890s with the introduction of queens that trains became de rigueur. The fashion statement to end all fashion statements, trains have been an integral part of tableaus in the Port City and its surrounding towns ever since.
Trains often take a full year to construct, from brainstorming to sketching, initial construction to final fittings. Monarchs usually have the most elaborate and expensive trains, while many debutantes actually rent their trains from past ladies. There are several design houses in town who spend all yearlong toiling away with bugle beads, rhinestones and lace. MB tasked designer Julia Greer Fobes to imagine what the ultimate Mobile Bay train would look like and she set to work with her sketch pad.
“I imagine this train being worn by the King or Queen of a fictional organization that celebrates the historical and environmental elements of Mobile,” she explains. “I tried to choose a healthy balance of natural and man-made components that represent our unique city and community, but wanted it to be things that most people would recognize right away.”
There is no doubt a sparkling silver Battleship or a meandering Delta made of gemstones would illicit the same delighted gasp from modern Mardi Gras revelers as any train from royal courts of yesteryear. A curtsey is surely in order.
Julia Greer Fobes of Revelry Bloom on executing the train
Map it out
I have always loved the map of Mobile Bay and how the five rivers empty into the Bay and then into the Gulf of Mexico. I thought it would make a great overall shape for the train itself and would really show the viewer that everything else represented on the train happens here within our community.
The Mobile Mardi Gras flag and logo is also used to prove that Mobile’s Mardi Gras was the first in 1703.
Bounty of the Bay
Some other natural elements used are cattails, sea oats, azaleas, a heron, a pelican and even a jubilee complete with crabs, flounder and eels. I also used a shrimp boat, fishing nets and buoys and Middle Bay Light House.
The historic home shield and banner as well as the ironwork fence at the base of the train reference back to Mobile’s rich history along with the front gate of Barton Academy and the Bienville Square fountain.
Live Oak Canopy
One fascinating thing about our area is the unique natural environment that surrounds us. One big element that everyone will recognize is the huge oak trees with Spanish moss and resurrection fern that canopy over some of our most scenic roads, like Government Street.
As you come back inland, you see the USS Alabama Battleship, the Mobile skyline and the cranes along the Mobile River.