Editorial: Those hats don't look so silly now

By Doug Laing

A quick glance up the shopping precinct of Napier on any day this week reveals a lot of people are wearing silly hats. Not to mention funny clothes.

Not so silly, and not so funny. Actually, it's brilliant.

That's this bizarre and amazing profile that has arisen around the Art Deco heritage of Napier, a whole generation of it now since the days when those who first happened on the idea as a commemoration of architectural heritage in the 1980s, endured, whether they were aware of it or not, some mirth, scorn and even ridicule over the enthusiasm they imbued.

Whether they ever thought Art Deco would have the promotional benefits and successes that it brought to Hawke's Bay, and Napier in particular, or that there would ever be an Art Deco weekend drawing thousands of people for a few days of 1930s replay, is doubtful.

So successful, though, that the foundation of the culture may be immersed at times in the wave of cloche hats and gloves, beaded gowns, boaters, panama hats and bow ties, along with some pretty cruisey Studebakers and other automobiles which roll into town every now and then to toast an era now not far from going out of living memory.

To some younger people now taking to the idea - after all, what teenager wouldn't want to go to a good street party? - it may come as some surprise to learn that it's all based around architecture, albeit architecture influenced by the attitudes and changes of societies working through the highs of the post-World War I 1920s, and the financial hard times of the 1930s Great Depression.

The short story was in the late 1960s, at a global level, people began to acknowledge what had happened in that era - a bit like the way younger people have embraced Anzac Day and its origins over recent years.

The Art Deco style first appeared in Europe in the early 20th Century, its name coming from the Exposition des Arts Modernes Decoratifs et Industriels in Paris in 1925.

Once Napier began to recognise what it had, the ideas started to spread like the fires that destroyed the buildings which Art Deco structures replaced following the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquakes.

The outcomes have been quite phenomenal, as will be seen over the next few days as the Bay welcomes its Art Deco fans yet again. Someone deserves a knighthood.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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