Marcus Ciko has used Mardi Gras beads as the raw materials for head-turning designs for more than 20 years. Finally, the world seems to be catching up.
Ciko, 40, looks like something out of Game of Thrones as he lumbers along in his 90-pound suit of armor made from 250,000 Mardi Gras beads. He said he wore his black and white beaded costume, which is based on Dragon Ball Z Saiyan Battle Armor, when he marched in the Joan of Arc Parade at the start of the 2019 Carnival season.
Beads have always been a part of Ciko’s life. As a kid growing up in Slidell, he said, he learned to twist strands into bead poodles. In his early 20s he taught himself to twist beads into complicated 3-D spirals, corkscrews and hexagons that look like Mardi Gras-style fractals.
When someone offered him $20 for one of his twisted necklace designs, he realized that his creations had commercial potential, so he patented 16 patterns. The pages of his patent book look like illustrations of atoms in a chemistry text.
Ciko, who has worked in the restaurant trade for most of his adult years, said he did not find commercial success with his twisted bead patterns, in part because of the disruption of Hurricane Katrina, but the skill has allowed him to create garments that look like glittering chain mail. In 2003 he produced his first bead costume which he called “3-D Bead Man” and in 2009 he created a Drew Brees jersey to celebrate the team’s triumphs.
For years, Ciko said, his fascination with Mardi Gras beads seemed to be a marginal enthusiasm. But these days, everyone appears to be interested in replacing, recycling and repurposing the drain-clogging, landfill-bound throws.
“I was upcycling beads 20 years ago,” he said, referring to the process of creating a desirable product from a waste product. “We didn’t even have the word upcycling back then.”
How can we make Mardi Gras greener and cleaner?
It was on the way back from a Bacchus parade almost 20 years ago that Ciko said he first asked himself, “Do the beads have to be made from plastic?” He envisioned a future in which Carnival lovers can have their cake and eat it to, in that they can catch beads as they always have, but contribute less plastic to the environment. In 2010 Ciko said he set himself on a quest for a plastic substitute that is also biodegradable and recyclable.
The first samples of the experimental, ecologically friendly beads he developed should arrive from a manufacturer in April, he said.
Doug MacCash has the best job in the world, covering art, music and culture in New Orleans. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at Doug MacCash and on Facebook at Douglas James MacCash. As always, please add your point of view to the comment stream.