Discovering Deco

Art Deco Festival is the highlight of my year. For a week I live in an idealised version of the 1920s/30s where every day is sunny, every night is filled with music and dancing, the drinks flow, and a small NZ city is completely transformed. The streets fill with vintage cars, vintage planes perform over head, jazz bands set up on street corners and to dress in modern fashion puts you in a minority.

The festival celebrates a city known as the Art Deco Capital of the World. The original city of Napier was destroyed by an earthquake in 1931 and rebuilt entirely in the Art Deco style. This festival is a way of commemorating the lives lost in the earthquake and celebrating the unique city that grew from the rubble. It draws Deco aficionados from the world over and almost doubles the population for the weekend.

While I organise photos of 2016, here’s a summary of my humble first Deco outfits through to my more elaborate creations of the past few years!

2013 – Discovering Deco

2013 was the first year I ever attended. I think it was three days before the event I was offered a ride down and accommodation, I had recently returned from the UK, had no job, no car and more importantly no 1920s or 1930s outfits!

I did some hasty op shopping which turned up a perfect 1920s style chiffon dress (originally from Valley Girl), plus rediscovered in my wardrobe a dress with a vaguely forties feel. At that time I was not so well set up for sewing, and not very familiar with styles of the time. But I did still whip up a little capelet, and make a sequinned top into a dress with the addition of a silk chiffon handkerchief skirt. In all I only had three outfits and everything fitted into one small duffel bag. But of course I didn’t realise just how under-prepared I really was!

deco 2013 beach
Art Deco Weekend Napier 2013: Op shop dress originally Valley girl, made of polyester chiffon, worn with silk burnout velvet capelet, long hair pinned in faux bob. Proving it is possible to assemble outfits on a shoestring budget in record time! Photo credit: James Wen

I hadn’t been to Napier since I was a kid, the beauty of that place is striking to fresh eyes. With the white and pastel colour scheme, long sweeping beach, turquoise surf and palm trees, Napier is unlike any other town in NZ.

deco 2013
Photo Credit: Emma Smales

My first Deco weekend was a whirlwind of new people and new experiences. I met swing dancers from all over the country, and learnt a great deal from everyone I danced with (bearing in mind I had only been to a handful of classes). The Navy band played, I rode around on the cross bar of Bruce’s bike, danced in bare feet, danced in the waves and got lost in a Deco wonderland where the sun always shines.

In a dress handed down from mum – a good example of ’80s does ’40s. Photo Credit: Emma Smales

It was all over far too fast and I knew after this first experience that the next year was going to be better planned and better prepared for.

2014 – Return of a Bright Young Thing

This time around I was ready! Hair bobbed, new wardrobe sewn, swing dancing practised.

My favourite dress of 2014 was this silk number:

warwick Mather
Designed after poring over many original 1920s fashion plates, this dress is still one of my favourites. It is delightfully comfortable, great for dancing and eye-catchingly simple. Photo Credit: Warwick Mather

I entered this outfit in the costumes and coiffure competition, I was not expecting to win, I just wanted the thrill of appearing on stage! So you can imagine my excitement when my name was called and I won the dubiously titled section of best ‘Ladies Reproduction’.

The winning dress in the costumes and coiffure competition in the strangely named section titled ‘Ladies Reproduction’. Photo Credit: Inger Sheil

This was also the year for the first incarnation of the 1925 dress which I recently reworked.

The ubiquitous beach photo

To read about this dress click here.

2015 – The year of crazy beading and beach pyjamas!

I had first found out about beach pyjamas reading this post from the Dreamstress’ blog. She had featured the photo below, and the lady in rust and yellow caught my eye.

Beach pyjamas on the Cote D’Azure, colourized postcard, 1930s

I had been playing with trouser patterns for a while at this point, so it was fast work to alter the pattern to a wide legged version with side button closure.

For the top I took a pattern off a modern dress, but it was really just a starting point and was quickly altered beyond recognition. I joined the front and back (removing side seams), slashed the pattern to create the contrast border panels (removing the darts in the process) and changed the grain-lines on the main panel to the bias. It was all thrown together (if I remember rightly) during a Harry Potter movie marathon – multitasking!

The finished beach Pyjamas were photographed by my lovely friend Jacinda who joined me for Deco that year, and she is such an amazing photographer – this is still my all time favourite photo.

beach PJs
Beach Pyjamas. Photo Credit: Jacinda
pj back
Back view 1930s Peach Beach Pyjamas I designed and made 2015. Photographed By the beautiful Jacinda
pj front
Front view 1930s Peach Beach Pyjamas I designed and made 2015. Photographed By the beautiful Jacinda

The Beach PJs are an unexpected delight, I wear them regularly as daywear in my ‘normal’ life. They are comfortable and elegant and were remarkably easy to sew.

Not so easy to sew was this dress:

Photo Credit: Jacinda

With its beaded skirt:

Photo Credit: Jacinda

The skirt is hand beaded.

That was one of my craziest moments.

I didn’t try to keep track of how many hours it took, I don’t think I can count that high!

I had visited a jewellery store that was closing down and noticed a discounted necklace which consisted of a chain with many strands of beads cascading off. Guessing that these could be used to great effect on a 1920s evening dress I bought eight necklaces. Initially I planned only to secure the necklaces at the top – allowing the strands of beads to hang loose like fringing. But it didn’t look quite right… so they all needed to be sewn in position.

Handsewing the strands in position – I was still sewing down in Napier.

It took a little longer than expected (understatement). I was still handsewing down in Napier up until two hours before the first event I planned to wear the dress to.

Would I attempt this sort of detail again? At the time I swore I never would. But in all honesty I’m sure I will; the result is beautiful, I just need to allow myself more time. A word of advice: do not begin fully beading a skirt a week before you plan on wearing it.

This dress was entered in the costumes and coiffure competition as well. It placed runner up – but more excitingly it made it into the local paper!!

The Hawkes Bay Today, February 22nd 2015

Well there we are, that’s the outfits of my first three Summer Art Deco Weekends in a nutshell!

Coming soon will be this years.

Until next time x

3 thoughts on “Discovering Deco

  1. Wow, your outfits are stunning and the Art Deco Festival sounds right up my street. If only there was something like this near me. I particularly love the beach pyjamas and that beaded dress, oh my word!! I’m not sure I’d attempt such a thing but never say never!


  2. I just stumbled across your blog. Wow – you are very talented! These outfits are amazing…have you ever thought of pattern making? I would love your beach pajama pattern.


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