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Jill Worrall: Art deco Napier

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Age is no barrier to dressing up at Napier's Art Deco Festival. Photo / Jill Worrall
Age is no barrier to dressing up at Napier's Art Deco Festival. Photo / Jill Worrall

There's a rather bizarre side-effect of Napier's hugely popular Art Deco Festival, which took place over the weekend of February 15-17.

Multi-coloured feathers, escapees from hundreds of feather boas were everywhere. They drifted down Marine Parade beside a turquoise Pacific Ocean, wafted around the motel stairwell and dropped in such profusion in our room it looked like I'd been massacring exotic bird species.

Admittedly my boa had already served a long life as a prop from my town's drama league costume-hire business, but even the newest of purchases from enterprising Napier shops seem to shed surplus feathers.

Going "art deco" becomes something of a compulsion during the Festival. This was my first year there and I know now that next year I'm going to have to up my game - a very high proportion of the thousands who now attend this annual event take the dressing-up a la 1930s very seriously.

On a cloudless Hawke's Bay morning I ventured along Marine Parade in a drop-waist dress, strappy shoes, a hat and long strings of beads.

I was in the company of several gentlemen in cravats, striped blazers and boaters.

I've never been enthusiastic about dressing up but what makes the difference at Napier over the festival weekend is that those who don't go in costume are very much in the minority. During Art Deco weekend you will never walk alone in your fascinator.

The crowds around Marine Parade and Napier's main pedestrian thoroughfare swelled into to the tens of thousands as midday on Saturday approached and the start of one of the Festival highlights - the parade.

Pipe bands book-ended this procession which took over an hour to pass by. It began with a march-past of New Zealand Navy and Army personnel, and members of the local police force. Then came the cars, about 200 vintage cars including this year, about 20 British Bentleys that had been shipped over especially for the occasion (presumably if you can afford a vintage Bentley, the fact that the festival is halfway around the world is no deterrent).

The cars were things of gleaming beauty. I fell in lust with most of them, but most of all with a 1938 red Packard, although there were a number of Plymouths that also could have enticed me aboard with only the briefest of headlight flashes.

That evening the town was full of flappers, feathers and fringes (note for next year - a few of the dresses illustrated that if you overdo the fringes the affect is more standard lampshade than 30s elegance). What impressed me was that all ages had taken to the dressing up - the dress style of the era seems to suit everyone from youngsters to seniors. Teenage girls pouted effortlessly and fashionably in bright red lipstick while adorned with beaded caps and sparkly dresses. There were even a few families perambulating their babies about in wicker prams.

There were a few historical anomalies among the crowds - the odd Victorian chimney sweep, a few 40s GIs, but overall the affect was like a brief stepping back to the 30s. There was music courtesy of barbershop quartets, sweet adelines, the New Zealand Navy Band, ukulele ensembles and even wind-up gramophones.

Everyone was back out in costume on Sunday morning for the Great Gatsby picnic. In the gardens along Marine Parade people had set up perfect picnic period pieces complete with silver cake stands, wicker baskets, candelabra then ensconced themselves in chairs among their finery to quaff champagne, tea in china cups and nibble cucumber sandwiches and cream sponges.

The gleaming vintages cars were in on the act too and every now and then a biplane buzzed overhead. People cycled past on old-fashioned bicycles, kids tootled around in pedal cars and just a few of the passengers from a cruise ship in port look vaguely confused by it all.

I could imagine a few conversations back in America's heartland: "They said New Zealand was in a bit of a time warp but, honey, you have no idea."

We've booked already to go back next year. But I'm going to need more dresses and definitely a collection of boas that can handle the pace.

- nzherald.co.nz

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