Reilly says her dress wasn't nearly as heavy as you would expect. She is pictured here with Todd Graves during last year's ball. Photo by Joey Bordelon.

Back on her throne: Anna Reilly reminisces on her experience as queen of D.C. Mardi Gras

The spirit of Mardi Gras is undisputedly larger than life. It is a type of vigor that seeps through the confinement of Louisiana state lines, ferociously spreading its energy of good feeling. For more than 70 years, Louisiana’s culture, food and pageantry centered around Mardi Gras celebrations has traveled to our nation’s capital. The Mystick Krewe of Louisianians is credited for continuing this tradition and tasking themselves with a full 365 days worth of preparation for the long weekend of festivities. As the krewe’s website explains, what simply began as “a demonstration of the spirit of Mardi Gras” has transformed into a necessary celebration of “Louisiana, its politics and its people.”

Last year, the Louisiana 6th District Congressman Garret Graves served as chairman of Washington, D.C. Mardi Gras. As chairman, Graves inherited the the responsibility to select the royal court for 2018. Raising Cane’s founder Todd Graves and Anna Reilly, daughter of Sean and Jennifer Eplett Reilly, were chosen to represent the state for their entrepreneurial impact and pro-hometown attitudes.

Todd Graves (left) and Anna Reilly (center) with Garret Graves (right) at one of the ball’s many pre-parties. Photo by Joey Bordelon.

It was a treat to get an insider’s look back at this event from the Mardi Gras queen herself, Anna Reilly.

“Washington Mardi Gras is an incredibly unique event,” says Reilly. “A couple thousand individuals gather for a weekend each spring–king, queen, princesses, festival queens, court, key representatives and the attendees–to celebrate Louisiana and all that the state has to offer.”

Some of these individuals included her new friends from college on the East Coast that had never experienced a true Louisiana celebration. “My friends from New York and Los Angeles had definitely never seen anything like it,” recalls Reilly.

Reilly with her parents Sean and Jennifer Reilly at a tea they hosted to honor the 2018 festival queens and princesses of Louisiana, who would go on to represent the state at the larger three-day celebration in Washington, D.C. Photo by Eye Wander Photography.

We asked Anna about her opportunity to represent Louisiana side by side with Todd Graves. “I am a big fan of the Graves family,” she says. “They have graciously improved this community through their fun-loving and generous spirit. I cannot think of a better family to have experienced this event with.” She adds that her favorite memory as queen was “watching my friends and family support me throughout the process.”

Many forget that this is a year-long commitment. Accepting the title as queen involves attending many events prior to the D.C. festivities, as they take place throughout the year. Perhaps one of the most important parts of the role is the coordination of outfits for the various balls and parties. These outfits are more than just a few articles of clothing, however. They represent Louisiana’s history and culture, as some are more intricate than wedding gowns. “Surprisingly, it was a light dress and a light crown,” says Reilly of her main D.C. attire. “My costume artists were genius.” 

Reilly and Graves at one of the three-day party’s many get-togethers. Photo by Joey Bordelon.

Aside from the royal glitz and glam, Reilly says, “My most important takeaway from Washington Mardi Gras is that it is more than a party. It is a platform for strong, beautiful and, most importantly, intelligent women to witness all that their nation’s capital has to offer and how far they will be able to progress in their lives if they believe in themselves and in their state.”

A word of advice to future queens from Reilly: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

Reilly’s reaction to the presentation of Cane III has become iconic, as it was featured on billboards to announce the newest edition to the Raising Cane’s family. Photo by Joey Bordelon.

Learn more about last year’s Washington Mardi Gras celebration with this story from the inRegister archives. And get an inside look at the costume-making process with this story.