When I think of Art Deco, New Zealand is probably the last place I think of. But buried in the heart of Hawkes Bay, lies New Zealand's Art Deco Capital and what it claims to be the Art Deco Capital of the World, Napier. In February of 1931 Napier was rocked by a 7.8 Earthquake, which lead to subsequent fires that tragically killed 261 people. Rebuilding took place in the 1930s using the classic Art Deco style and themes of the era, and Napier came back better than ever.
Each year, Napier commemorates those impacted by the 1931 Earthquake and celebrates the resilience of the people and the city with their Annual Art Deco weekend. Coming from Louisiana, where we have Jazz Fest, the Wooden Boat Fest and Mardi Gras, among other random celebrations, I hate to say that I tend to be a bit of a festival snob. But the level of commitment shown by the people of Napier this weekend, was seriously impressive. It literally sent me back in time. On Friday evening, Joe and I figured we'd take a peek at what this Art Deco Weekend was all about, and I felt quite out of place in my modern day clothes. I didn't want to look like a party-pooper!
The streets were lined with hundreds of the most beautiful, shiny, jewel-toned cars of the 1920s and 30s. Roads were closed off, so only classic cars were driving around. Visitors were decked out from head to toe in 1930s attire. Families and groups of friends set up tables across the park gardens with table cloths, decadent spreads of hors d'ouevres, and champagne. Old men sat pridefully off the back of their classic cars enjoying sandwiches from picnic baskets in the trunk and sipping Pims. Live jazz and ragtime music floated from the main stage at the Sound Shell. World War I planes flew overhead in a mock attack. There was an energy of excitement and pleasant nostalgia in the air, and I just wanted to soak it all up.
On Saturday morning, I scrambled to put together my best 1930s outfit. With the 4 suitcases of clothing I brought with me to New Zealand, costumes just didn't make the cut. But I figured with a few accessories, I could transform one of my dresses into semi-1930s get-up and not look so out of place. So Joe and I headed to the nearest thrift store to see what we could find.
I was quite surprised to see how many accessories I'd actually get away with wearing today. It always amazes me how fashion repeats and reinvents itself over time. Especially since the release of The Great Gatsby movie, the 1920s and 30s look is making a come back! Here's a line up of some of the pieces I'd pick for next year's Art Deco weekend (when I'm more prepared for what to expect), and I'd gladly incorporate into my wardrobe today.
Around noon on Saturday, hundreds of classic cars paraded down the main promenade. We weaved our way through the hundreds of people, and joined the crowd to watch a troupe of dancers perform the jitterbug and other 1930s moves.
We stopped into the Emporium for a late lunch and drinks to experience the true excitement of the weekend. The Emporium is a world famous bar located in the old Masonic Hotel, which is at the heart of Napier and the weekend's events. Queen Elizabeth and Mark Twain have even stayed there!
I personally just love the atmosphere and design of the place. They've taken care of every little detail -- from the herringbone patterned carrara marble that lines the inside of the fireplace and the jade green tiles outlining the subway-tiled walls, to the silent films playing on the walls and masculine stag heads mounted above the bar. Even when it's not Art Deco weekend, it feels like traveling back in time when you step into that bar.
Joe and I sat by the window sipping pints and taking in the costumes and cars on the sunny street. Across from the hotel was a pop-up beer garden under the oak trees, so we made our way over to meet up with friends and enjoy another drink.
Afterwards, we joined the herds of children in line for gelato in an attempt to remedy the heat of the afternoon, and made our way to the Sound Shell to enjoy a little jazz music. It was such a magical day.
On Sunday, the Royal New Zealand Navy band marched through the streets to announce the commemoration ceremony. After a speech and prayer from the mayor of Napier, he rang the Veronica Bell as a tribute to the Veronica ship's officers and crew's rescue work in the aftermath of the 1931 earthquake. Then the band played a short concert, including "You Can Call Me Al" and "Putting on the Ritz". They were so talented, that it gave me goosebumps! It was the perfect end to the weekend.
By 7pm on Sunday when I made my weekly grocery run, the magic of the 1930s had come and gone, aside from the occasional classic car still parked on the side of the road. Everyone had packed up and Napier had gone back to normal. Still I felt glad to have experienced such a special weekend in such a special little jewel of a town.