Break out the fur coats, sequins, and red lipstick – Napier’s Art Deco Festival is back, and so is the opportunity to slip into glamorous costume for an entire weekend, writes Frances Cook.
You don’t get many opportunities to play dress up as an adult in New Zealand. Costume parties can be solved with a onesie from The Warehouse, fancy dinners out will still let you in while wearing jeans.
But the Art Deco Festival? An entire city is ready to play pretend with you, and have a great time doing so.
The biting wind during the winter version was almost welcome, as an opportunity to wrap the (faux) fur coat a bit closer, and slip into a silent movie at The Little Theatre, complete with popcorn and a glass of wine.
Two classic black and white Charlie Chaplin films were lined up for that night, A Dog’s Life, and The Kid.
It was soon clear why they were classics, with a lack of sound not stopping the movies from creating an emotional punch.
That might be because “silent movie” was something of a misnomer, as live music from musicians David Selfe and Jeremy Fitzsimons created sound effects and surprisingly vivid emotion.
The two musicians whipped through different instruments, barely pausing for breath, as they carried out carefully timed and choreographed music that took the movies to the next level. From an unexpected “bong” as Chaplin tricked a cop into walking into a fence, to haunting piano as a mother grieved for her lost child, they had the audience enraptured.
These live elements prove the key to the entire festival. From parades, to speakeasy bars, to street performances, it’s beguiling to have an entire town suspend reality and time travel to the 1930s together.
Grab a bite and take a walk along the coastline, as the sounds of jazz follow you for miles.
As you walk, take a moment to admire the classic cars now lining the streets, in glossy states of pristine repair, thanks to their proud owners.
You might have to sharpen your elbows if you want a photo with one, as so does everyone else. But when else will you have the chance to get a photo of yourself in full flapper mode, alongside a gleaming classic car?
A soap box derby marks one of the most popular events on the calendar. Technically, it sees kids and parents join forces, to race home-made carts in front of a cheering crowd.
In reality? It seems many of the dads are deeply committed to the win, with many a 40-year-old putting on a burst of speed to launch their kids at a rate of knots down the street.
Hold on for dear life, kiddos.
Once the youngsters are in bed, you can step up the cosplay to take part in events such as a hidden speakeasy.
Sure you’ve bought tickets, but you won’t be told where you’re going, even at the last minute. Instead, you get a location to meet at, bundled into a bus, and then transported to a hidden location with illicit cocktails, food, dancers and singers.
Don’t tell the fuzz.
Want to do it all again?
The summer festival will take place from February 15-18. Key events include:
Friday night with the stars, Friday 16, 7-11pm.
It’s a feast of New Zealand’s best entertainers, but the centrepiece is the Hawke’s Bay Jazz Club Big Band, creating a special night at the Napier Soundshell to set the mood for the weekend.
Art Deco fashion on the foreshore competition, Saturday 17, 2-3.30pm
One of the hotly contested and most popular events on the schedule, Art Deco fans pull out all the stops to impress the judges with their outfits. Want to take to the catwalk yourself? It’s free entry, and you can find the categories at artdecofestival.co.nz.
Deco Decadence grand ball, Saturday 17, 7-11pm
This one requires your fanciest, most formal Art Deco frocks. A band will be playing the hits of the 1920s and 1930s, perfect for you to demonstrate your best foxtrot or quickstep. Nervous to get out on the dancefloor? They have Art Deco gin cocktails, or a glass of bubbles, to soothe you.
Soap box derby, Sunday 18, 10-12.30pm
Parents and kids team up to race homemade carts against other families. Want to take part? Find the rules and cart specifications at artdecofestival.co.nz, and get ready to put your family pride on the line. Okay, there are traditional prizes too, but everyone knows the bragging rights are the best part.
For more information and to see the full 2024 programme, visit artdecofestival.co.nz