I’ve been a bit haphazard about blogging the Art Deco Napier weekend since I moved to WordPress (well, let’s be honest…I’ve been a bit haphazard about blogging in general!). But as people I wasn’t aware followed it have been asking why I don’t do the write-ups anymore, I’ve decided to sort myself out and write up my thoughts while they’re still fresh. The final impetus came from a young vintage enthusiast who came up to introduce himself to me on Friday night – he knew me through the blog, and wanted to talk about vintage fashion and textiles (and Hamish, if you’re reading this, hallo!). I realised that even as vaguely disorganised as I am about writing up new finds and adventures in vintage, it is a way to share my passion for the subject and to meet those with a similar interest.
One Napier weekend varies from another and each has a distinct flavour, and out of these nicknames have arisen (just don’t ask about Bizarro Deco!). This year, the name that spontaneously arose was “Charming Deco”, because that’s what it was. In spite of the fact that it was bigger than ever, I was giving a talk and helping out with the Saturday costumes and coiffure judging, and we had an even wider circle of friends and acquaintances than ever before, the events just seemed to flow naturally into each other. Other than the odd flurry of haste to get dressed in time to meet others, nothing felt stressed or strange – it was all good times with good friends in superlative surrounds.
Sadly, Sandra decided to sit this Deco out as she had a bad health scare back in October (but is looking forward to next year already). We had our UK friend Iain staying with us a couple of nights beforehand – Iain has been to Napier quite a few times, but this was his second Deco. The “charmed” element began to come into play on our travel over – it seemed as if we sailed with the wind at our backs, just missing every queue (and sometimes looking back to see them lining up after we’d passed through customs etc). On the final Auckland to Napier leg, the Flying to Deco competition Air NZ was running was announced. The three of us sat up the back row, 17, rather like excited schoolchildren, chattering away to the air attendants who were also excited about the weekend (and rather astonished to find this was our 8th time crossing the Ditch to attend) and admiring the Napier Deco themed disposable coffee cups. Our surprise when the competition winners were announced – the three of us – was vast. I quickly threw on a panné velvet cape I had in my carry on and some red lipstick, and Iain donned an Art Deco t-shirt for the photo. We agreed Iain needed the replica Air NZ bag that came as part of the prize.
We arrived Tuesday night so Wednesday could be relaxed. Wednesday can be rushed (last year we missed a connection and arrived with barely an hour to change for our party), so this year it was a luxury to have lunch with our Napier friends and those who came from further afield – some as far as California. I’ve known Sara for years online, and there has long been a sort of wistful exchange in which she expressed a desire to visit Napier and I’ve hankered after the California events like the Queen Mary weekend. When her presence on the program for 2015 was announced I couldn’t have been more delighted – Sara is one of the style icons of Deco circles, and exceptionally knowledgeable about not only fashion, but also the music, architecture, graphic design and other elements of the period. I couldn’t wait for her be introduced to Napier, and to see her experience the warm embrace that locals extend to their visitors – the same warmth that is important element in why we keep coming back. Around the table were so many dear friends – some locals like Nick, who organised the lunch and some like Susie having come from overseas. I was happy to see each and everyone one of them, and we slipped into easy conversation as if we’d never been away – conversation with a thrumming vibe of excitement about the weekend to come, which we’d been planning for all year.
After that it was back to move into the County Hotel. I’d been racing work deadlines before flying out and had been late in sending the County an email regarding the set up and arrangements for our Wednesday night lounging party, and they hadn’t had time to send a confirmation email back. This turned out to be no problem at all – Fiona and the County had everything arranged. We arrived in our rooms to find it was all just-so – glasses and ice buckets set up, platters to be delivered when the guests arrived. But the best part of checking into the rooms was finding our beloved Leigh and Martin ensconced – after not having seen them in person for a year, it was a very happy reunion. This couple is part of our NZ family.
They had already set up the huge portable clothes rack, so we were able to start assembling pieces to let creases either fall out or be ready for steaming. We took a spare case this year which turned out to be a worthwhile choice – all the shoes we wanted, enough hats to satisfy our heart’s desire and some of the bulkier coats and capes. Which still have to be carefully selected – I made the mistake once of taking a heavy velvet lined lamé coat…never again! Fortunately I have some lighter velvet and lamé combinations, and as the weather predicted some cooler nights, I decided to pack them.
The Wednesday night party in our suite is a fun, relaxed event – our chance to catch up with friends before the hurly-burly of the weekend, in which we find we often don’t get the chance to spend as much time with everyone as we’d like. A few years ago we missed Leisurely Lounging on Thursday to catch Forget-Me-Nots unmissable performance, so we decided to have a lounging of our own on Wednesday. The lounging pyjamas (or teddies, or robes, or nighties, or whatever takes your fancy) turned out to be such a good idea, so relaxed and cool rather than doing evening dress, it has stuck. Out came the boudoir caps and bandeaux, and the boudoir dolls and teddy bears, and the sparkling wine was cracked.
Notable events included Leigh and I dancing the Charleston when it came on. “Put a bit of kick in it, girls!” Jeanette (who actually has dance training and knows what she’s talking about) cried out from her observational perch. Whatever could she mean, we wondered? We were doing a zingy little version! Review of video footage the next day, taken surreptitiously by Iain, revealed we actually looked like a pair of rather frocked up giant sloths swaying our way through the strains of “Charleston! Charleston! Made in Carolina!” Or perhaps slow loris, as was also suggested.
And our bees knees….well, that should never be spoken of again.
There was also a very high kicking chorus line (or whatever that was!) and a few impromptu singalongs to some 1920s-30s classics. The last guests didn’t depart until long after midnight.
Thursday we didn’t do our usual rush to dress and go down to breakfast, and didn’t really emerge until it was time to go to lunch. The weather (which long rain forecasts had predicted to be rain, rain and rain) turned out to be perfect, and I was glad of all the breezy chiffons and light cotton voile and organza we packed for day wear. We assembled downstairs for lunch – Leigh had performed her usual magic and managed to coordinate overseas visitors with those luncheoners with vintage cars kind enough to offer a ride out to Puketapu, so Martin drove Sara, Jill and myself out in Holly the 1932 Austin 7. Ahead of us Iain and some of the girls were enjoying an open top ride in “Ebbe” the Model A Ford down Deco lined streets.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the Deco whirl that it’s possible for we overseas visitors to never get out of town, so it was a pleasure to be driving up in the hills with Martin’s commentary on the scenery. Lunch itself was very pleasant (and very long, even though some of the party had to depart early to catch the steam train ride for the day). Then back to the Antiques Fair and fossicking for potential buys. I was heartbroken by a vibrant 1920s purple dress in a deep shade that rarely survives without significant damage, particularly under the arms. This example was in excellent condition, no underarm fading, just a couple of rosettes missing from the back. It came from the stall Maria from Nelson runs – which always has good stock – and was just too narrow in the hips for me. Fortunately it would find a good home before the end of the weekend (if I can’t have a dress I adore, I do love seeing it go to a good home!). I had some good luck in the Antique Centre, though – marcel wave clips for a song, a lovely faux-jewelled 20s-30s collar (which would make a gorgeous bandeau) and, best of all, a 1920s celluloid dance purse in a design I’m not familiar with. Good conditions, still has its powder puff, missing only the tassel which is easily replaced.
Evening dress for Thursday is fairly easy – Leisurely Lounging at the Club! I had a three piece 1920s silk pyjama set that I divided with Jill – I wore the camisole and lounging pants with a lamé coat, and Jill wore the coat that went with it. As always, it was a mix of originals, vintage (both 1920s-30s and later) and some excellent reproductions. I’d agreed online in a Napier group to sell a ticket to a very friendly person called Tonya, and she arrived at the County just beforehand with Su to pick it up. It turned out they’d met Leigh and Martin and Winter Deco. Every year we seem to meet new, fabulous people and our circle of friends expands outwards – this year those people included Tonya and Su, who fit in as if we’d always known them. Beautifully attired, but even more importantly, possessing a sense of fun. It reminded me that sometimes I have tunnel vision in Napier and spend so much time with the friends I only get a chance to see at Deco that I can miss branching out of my close circle and talking to other people, unless they approach me first. I’m always up for a chat, but it shouldn’t always be up to others to approach – I need to work on my insular character, as I so enjoy meeting new people with an enthusiasm for the period.
Thursday night had some moments of almost surreal hilarity – like Iain explaining to Leigh P (our male Leigh) Arcane Boudoir Doll Initiation Rituals. These observations were born of the pair of them looking up to see women lined up with champagne flutes, solemnly pouring the contents of their glasses over a doll held horizontally like an offering. As it turned out, it was simply red wine spilled in a 1980s repro doll and the cry going up that the red must be washed out with white (preferably with bubbles), but from a slight distance it had a very sombre, ritualistic appearance!
Another advantage to the County – you could not be more central! At the end of the evening it was a hop across the road, a debrief in the lounge room of the suite, and a quick plan for Friday. Then sinking down into the County’s very welcoming beds.