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Art Deco Weekend, Napier on the Horizon


With my wonderfully stylish mother, Sandra

As February draws near, the thoughts of Antipodean Deco Dabblers and our friends around the world turn to Napier, New Zealand and the annual Tremain’s Art Deco Weekend.


Flappering it up in Napier

“Weekend” is a bit of a misnomer, as it is truly a festival that takes place over the better part of a week. It is scheduled on the third weekend of February to commemorate the Hawkes’ Bay Earthquake of February 3, 1931 that levelled the town and in which at least 256 people died – 161 in Napier, 93 in nearby Hastings, and two in Wairoa. Those tragic events are remembered over eighty years later amid the festivities, with earthquake survivors participating (and more than a few vintage cars that came through the event in the huge annual car parade), services at the local churches and Naval ceremonies to honour the role of HMS Veronica in relief operations. One survivor I knew – sadly since passed away – told me of his vivid memories of his parents bringing him down to the quayside after the quake to see the Veronica and thank her men.


With the wonderfully stylish Claire – 1920s meets 1930s (I’m cheating a bit here – that’s a c.1922 evening dress that I’ve dressed down as an afternoon dress).

We’ve been attending since 2007 – Sandra, Jill and myself – often bringing family and loved ones along, as virtually everyone in our circle hearing tales of Napier wants to give it a try. It’s not for the faint-hearted – it took my sister so long to recover from her encounter with the energetic partying that is Napier that she seriously considered the possibility she might have chronic fatigue syndrome.


At the Leisurely Lounging party – always a favourite!

Over that time, we’ve built up a group of friends in Napier, our bonds with whom extend far beyond a few days in February. Seeing them each year is one of the things we most look forward to doing, and to be able to do that in an atmosphere of parties and Art Deco makes the experience all the more treasured. Thanks to our internet connections and the odd visit, we’re in touch all year round, sharing our collecting triumphs, our ideas and our (for those who, unlike me, do sew) creations.

The wardrobe planning takes place over the course of the year, and we need all that time to pull it together as most of what we wear is original vintage with a few replica accessories. Some months out everything has to be inspected, and Sandra does her conservation and restoration work year around. We arrive and host our first party on Wednesday night in our hotel – the wonderful County (a rare pre-earthquake survivor), and from then the party goes on until Sunday evening. That’s five nights worth of evening wear and four days’ worth of day outfits, usually with more than one change a day.
With three of us – and sometimes more – we do often double up on hats and other accessories. Someone might wear a red cloche one day, or an evening bandeau, and then someone else might don it on another. Pooling our resources means we can take more variety in the accessories that really complete a look. And then there is the delight of chiffon! It is remarkable how many vintage chiffon day dresses one can pack…leaving more room for the heavily beaded evening extravaganzas!

Fortunately, Hawkesbay in February is usually very warm, so one can get away with shawls and some lighter capes and coats for evening (this is not the time to bring the magnificent velvet lined lamé coats with the huge fur collars…I know, I’ve tried).


French beaded dance dress on muslin base, c.1926

Although the earthquake took place in 1931, the dress is Deco themed, which means an emphasis on the 1920s and 30s (and with a rather theatrically inspired version of the 1920s at that – chook feather boas in the mid-morning are very popular!). I respect the latitude of interpretation because this is a fun event that doesn’t take itself too seriously – if someone has raided their wardrobe for the dropped waist eighties dress worn and wears it with a modern bucket hat as a cloche, my main concern is whether or not they’re enjoying themselves, not how authentic they are. I’ve given a few lectures at the weekends over the years regarding Art Deco dress, but I always stress that these are guidelines to be adapted and information to use as the listeners may or may not wish. While many of my friends do impeccable 1930s (and Jill has some lovely 30s day and evening wear she sometimes favours), my fondness is for earlier Deco fashion, from its roots in the teens through to the sharply geometric later 1920s…I’ve gone some Edwardian robes for the lounging parties (gorgeous cocoon coats), but most of what I wear is 1920s.

Over the next couple of weeks, as we prepare to head over there, I’ll try to put up a few posts detailing the wardrobe preparations. But for now, here’s a post with a few examples of past Napier Art Deco weekends.


One comment on “Art Deco Weekend, Napier on the Horizon

  1. You look amazing as does Sandra.

    Sent from my iPad


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