History repeats

By Julie Jacobson

A new passion for vintage has been bubbling away for a while now, and with it a fresh era of feminine fashion, old parlour games and knitting. Julie Jacobson delves into the return of retro.

Retro, vintage, nana. Whatever you call the latest lifestyle trend, there's no denying the way we dress, socialise and furnish our homes has taken a massive U-turn.
We're no longer blowing our budgets on weekends out clubbing or the latest designer decor. Clothing is second, possibly third-hand, and that hair-of-the-dog Saturday brunch has more than likely been replaced by a genteel high tea. Chickens are appearing in suburban backyards, flatters are growing vegetables, and Aunt Daisy's recipes are doing the rounds at the office.
Ironically, it wasn't too long ago that only the very poor or very rich did hand-me-downs. Making do was something our grandparents or great-grandparents did. They knitted, they crocheted, they wore aprons. Now it seems the world is once again going mad for mid-century making-do.
In Britain, where retro-socialising is the new party, dressing up is part and parcel of the trend - Fairisle sweaters and pencil-thin moustaches for the blokes, petticoats and 20s jewellery or 50s cinched waists for the gals. Gamers don't sit behind a console, but dress in militaria and role-play like it's 1944. Kate Moss has gone vintage with her engagement ring, Kirsten Dunst dropped by January's Chanel Couture show in a belted and pleated shirtdress.
Kiwis are embracing the zeitgeist as well. Poetry and board game evenings, "house concerts", bowling clubs and 30s burlesque/cabaret acts are pulling a new breed of punters. Steampunk - an amalgam of Victorian aesthetics and modern technology - has grown mainstream wings, with young and old scouring op shops for lace, Doc Martens and tweed.

Roller derby, which had its origins in 1930s America, is one of the fastest-growing sports in the country.
Old-school mechanised watches are back.
In Tauranga the recent Frocks on Bikes event - held to promote "stylish" riding - epitomised the new cool. While most participants were female, men have embraced the movement in other parts of the country, with plus-fours and bike clips a not-uncommon sight in cities where the trend has taken off. And forget about 21-speeds, this lot are quite happy to trundle along in just one gear.
Ukuleles are also undergoing something of a renaissance, with the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain performing to sold-out venues around the country and a group of Katikati enthusiasts planning the region's first uke festival in April. Next month the local branch of Alzheimer's NZ is holding a Hats, High Heels and High Tea fundraiser at Mills Reef, with floral frocks and Earl Grey in tiny cups likely to be the order of the day.
Salon evenings - featuring a live performance in an intimate setting (generally someone's lounge) - are the vogue among folk of a certain age.
Musician Graham Clark, lead guitarist and vocalist with local group Brilleaux, said the band had played at private homes, and were expecting to perform at a party last weekend: "I've got a close circle of friends who are musicians. We tend not to go to the pub at weekends, but quite often we'll end up at someone's house playing."
Cambridge's Gregor Morandini held a house concert for 50 paying guests the Friday before Valentine's Day - the third in as many months. A previous concert, part-organised by Tauranga cellist Lorraine Semple, featured two of the world's most promising young players.
Morandini, who supplies wine and food for attendees, says the concerts are used in Europe as a springboard for semi-professional musicians.
Media consultant Simon Burt held two salon evenings in his Wairarapa home last year. About 40 friends and friends-of-friends paid $15 each to hear acoustic musicians Jess Chambers and Mel Parsons perform. Guests took wine, Burt supplied nibbles.
"I grew up in a musical environment," he says. "Dad was a guitar teacher and there were always visiting Spanish or Italian musicians sleeping on the lounge floor and recitals at our friends' houses.
"I remember when I was a kid sitting on the floor listening [to them], with the adults drinking Beaujolais and eating exotic cheeses. I guess my concerts are a bit of a throwback to that idea."
Nostalgia was also behind Holly Hill's decision to set up a local branch of Frocks on Bikes, an international movement dedicated to stylish and sustainable cycling.
"I think a lot of people yearn for that quality of a simpler time - the handmade goods, the home-baked goods, not feeling you have to cram so much into a day," Hill says. "We're fascinated by things that are of another time and era because it's our history and the stories are the stories from our mothers' and grandmothers' generations, people that might not be around any more."
And whereas some commentators argue the new femininity brought about by this "retro-vision" has more to do with pop culture - namely TV's Mad Men - than with a desire to honour history, Hill disagrees.
"When I reached my 40s I looked back at [at my life] and I looked at the future and thought about all the things I hadn't made time for. One was being more of a girl ... wearing pretty things, brighter colours, not being so practical all the time."
She points out that while Frocks on Bikes appeals to a broad age group - "there's women in their late teens and early 20s, young professionals, mums" - there's also a number of new retirees.
"They delight in it. A woman riding a bike in a dress reminds them of when they were in their 20s. And this might sound weird, but you feel sexy ... I don't feel sexy when I'm in my Lycra."
Step into Tania Greenwood's boutique on First Avenue and you're immediately transported back to a more elegant time. Greenwood is the embodiment of the 2011 50s woman. She pours tea from a pot, uses - much to her son's horror - tablecloths, and is more than happy to stop in on a Saturday night to knit and have a natter with her mates.
Her store, La De Da, recently launched its own label, Molly May, to cater for the growing demand for retro gear. Designed by local Jules Bly, the range features dresses styled along the same lines as those her grandmother probably wore.
"For a lot of us, the 50s and 60s were something we were trying to get away from," Greenwood says. "It was our grandparents' generation. We were on the forefront of the technology boom, so we left that era behind to embrace this 'other'.
"Women of my generation [she's 40] were so busy trying to prove we could do everything ... Now we've realised that actually it is okay to sit at home and have a cup of tea and chat and bring out the nice china."
She remembers asking for a knitting bag for her 13th birthday, and being teased about it by her friends. These days she sees teens just a bit older crafting and baking, and not being ashamed of it.
"That younger generation didn't see their grandparents doing that, so they're embracing it - the cupcakes, the vintage clothes. People in their 40s are trying to re-find or rekindle those times, the ones in their 20s want to discover it."
And the next nana trend? Hula hoops, apparently. As grandma would have said, Lord love a duck.
Passion for vintage
Kate Moss' engagement ring, given to her by musician Jamie Hince earlier this month, is a vintage replica of one worn by Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of early 20th-century novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Katherine Heigl has taken to wearing her hair in a wavy updo, reminiscent of 50s glamour girls, during red-carpet appearances.
The Aunty Daisy Baking Book, a collection of heritage recipes from the 1930s to the 1960s, is due for release in April (Hodder Moa, RRP $36.99).
Some top Kiwi musicians, including Wayne Mason, Rob Winch and Good Morning's Sarah Bradley, perform house concerts.
Local retro clothing stockists include www.ladeda.co.nz; www.newbohemian.co.nz; www.idiomboutique.co.nz; and Bettie Monroe clothing (50s and 60s-inspired designer fashion), 102 Maunganui Rd, Mount Maunganui.
For retro furniture and homeware, try www.planetretro.co.nz; www.flybynight.co.nz; www.mrsjones.co.nz and www.homage.co.nz
Gregor Morandini's next house concert is on April 15. See www.morandini.co.nz
Cafes in Wellington and Auckland are serving customers filter- and siphon-fed coffee alongside espresso.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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