A bit of a twist this weekend, our Man About Town, Andrew Frame takes some shots at the recent Art Deco celebrations. But firing back is Robert McGregor of the Art Deco Trust.

You be the judge.

Sooo Last Century
By Andrew Frame

Art Deco Weekend rolled around once again a couple of weeks ago. One of the last big digs of summer for the Hawke’s Bay tourism industry. It’s a weekend when tourists flood into Napier and a large portion of the locals decide it would be a good time to stay at home, do the gardening, play cricket or see if Palmerston North is still worth visiting.

Beloved has wanted to take part in this faux fur fest for some years. I have told her the only way I would take part would be if she went as Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) and I went dressed as King Kong. A large portion of bananas would also be required to seal the deal.

This year I decided to dress up just a little. I even made my own costume. You may remember in my “Dear Santa” post, I wished for some printing gear to make my own T-shirt line? Well, I designed some tops that read “Art Deco is SO Last Century,” had a small run made and sold them.

Wearing mine up town over the weekend I got a dirty look from Bertie, and the photographer from Hawke’s Bay Today refused to take a photo of me, a life-long Napier resident, getting “dressed up.” He also made one of the people I sold a shirt to move so you could only read the “Art Deco” part of their shirt when photographing their shop’s window display. Hardly unexpected in either case, especially for the paper when you see how they’ve rallied behind the Mayor’s planned substantial signage surcharge. Trying to turn the city into some sort of living museum stuck eighty five years in the past at up to $500 per year, per shop.

Mostly I got funny looks and laughs (a number from people in period costume!) and a lot of positive comments. I even took a couple more orders. Not too bad at all, considering I was expecting to receive a fur stole or vintage cane upside the head before the weekend was out from some disgusted Deco-ite.

I like the buildings, love the cars and especially adore the Harvards in the air show. It’s just some of the people I can’t stand. Like the person who said: “On Art Deco Weekend Napier’s CDB looks like a vintage movie set except half of the crowd forgot their costumes.” I’m still not sure if that’s a compliment or not. Dressing up as they do, some people’s personalities change. “Pip-pips” and “Tally ho’s!” ring through the streets. The already overused “Sweetie, sweetie, darling, darling” gauge goes off the scale.

I find a lot of the events a bit of a double standard or pretentious. Towards the end of its original run, Art Deco fell out of favor for being too “gaudy and presenting a false image of luxury” (a lovely quote I borrowed from Wikipedia). Kind of like New Zealand in the eighties before the stock market went “Splat!”

Despite its depression and prohibition-era setting, there is very little to be depressed about other than a number of the events charging well over $50 per person, putting them out of the reach of many. If you do get a little “ho-hum” (damn, now I’m doing it) there are few “dry” events too. Many events on the programme featured something between a tipple and a torrent of liquor to wash your worries away. What would Elliot Ness think?

Beloved and I spent most of our time, as many do on Saturday night and Sunday, simply strolling through the streets, picnic, car and air shows, listening to the bands and watching all the dressed-up people watching the bands.

After watching “An Officer and a Gentleman” Beloved has a strange affinity for the Navy band which I find hard to understand. Their uniform is hardly flattering for the female figure. Speaking of which, the flapper style of dress which are everywhere over the weekend were designed to make the ‘bright young things’ (18 to 30 year old women) of the 1930’s look even brighter and younger (and ‘thingier’?). On the current women of that age, the recreations can look fantastic. On those who were 18 to 30 the first time around, not so much.

People will always say, “Art Deco Weekend is good for the city.” But how? Certainly hospitality and accommodation businesses rack it in, but while the visitors look at the buildings, cars and each other there isn’t that much spent in the city. I have even spoken to people in the Art Deco Trust who agree. Many retailers have their poorest days of the year this weekend. There must be some way to change this. It’s been the same for as long as I can remember and I worked in town for a number of Art Deco Weekends almost a decade ago.

Perhaps a counter-culture is called for. Maybe next year I could do a bigger run of T-shirts and a throng of people could wear them and celebrate “Non-Deco Weekend” No parades, no picnics; instead have a weekend long shopping spree!

Responds Robert McGregor, Heritage Officer, Art Deco Trust …

So Last Century?!

At last it’s becoming fashionable to take the mickey out of Art Deco. It‘s been a long wait, but we’re glad the time has come, for the true mark of success is when it becomes fashionable to deride what others see as A Good Thing. Oops – I should have said “for a few to deride”.

When he was googling Art Deco to see what Wikipedia had to say about it, Man About Town may have noticed that Napier is mentioned there in the section on ‘Surviving Examples’, with a photo of the Soundshell among the 5 that appear. And the second item that comes up in that search is “Art Deco Trust – Complete Information about the Architecture and Styles of Napier. NZ.” The third item is “Art Deco Weekend – Art Deco Trust”.

Not bad for a small Kiwi city. Still thinking of a weekend in Palmy, MAT? And it’s all free – promotion that Napier couldn’t afford to pay for, along with the scores and scores of articles in magazines and newspapers and the tv programmes that have been seen worldwide.

But Man About Town is not the first to jump on the put-down bandwagon. There have been a few texts from Weekend Whingers to the editor of HB Today in the last fortnight – and relatively literate ones too, for a change. [It appears from tonight’s paper that HB Today is now translating them from Tekspeak into English.]

One complains that there is no liquor ban on the Marine Parade over the Weekend while there is one on New Year’s Eve. Not fair. Another, on the same subject, claims that Napier citizens get the shaft, unable to booze in the streets except on Art Deco Weekend. You’d think they’d be grateful for that. Asks another – “was there a special license issued for these people”? Well yes, there was. Possibly because nobody acts irresponsibly over Art Deco Weekend – it’s just too uncool for the hoons to be seen there. Fortunately.

Another moans that the Council should forget about Art Deco and provide a decent Parents’ Room in the CBD. There are two, actually – one by the Soundshell and one in Memorial Square. Admittedly that’s a recent innovation compared with the one in Hastings, the first in New Zealand. Ours has only been there since 1925.

Another texter is sick of Art Deco and wants us to look to the future. Hmm. Not much of a market for 21st century heritage tourism so far. But in any case the Trust has always thought it was looking to the future: tourism = new money = jobs for your kids, grandkids and mine.

It’s puzzling that Man About Town thinks that Art Deco doesn’t benefit the city. Surely any man about town worthy of the name knows by now that tourism doesn’t just benefit the accommodation and hospitality sectors. The Art Deco Economic Impact Study has been trotted out ad nauseum, and if he hasn’t seen it by now then we’re not going to bore everyone with the details. But to briefly summarise, the total multiplier impact of Art Deco tourism year-round, four years ago, was $23 million, and the impact of the Art Deco Weekend alone, back in 2002, was $4.16 million.

To put it in a nutshell, a local hairdresser once said that “You don’t have to convince me about the benefits of tourism. I only have to compare my takings in the summer with those in the winter.”

“Not that much is spent in the city,” MAT says. All the income from those exorbitant $50 plus tickets is spent in the city. And if the Saturday of the Weekend is the poorest for retailers, then it can’t be our fault. We put thousands of people outside the shops, and if the retailers can’t get them inside, then it’s a bit tough to blame us. Perhaps we should move the car parade to Ahuriri or Taradale. No guesses as to how the retailers there would respond to that idea.

Man About Town is welcome to organise a non-Art Deco Weekend – but why bother? There are already 50 of them each year. Or doesn’t he get about town often enough to notice?

One would have thought that when he was getting about town over Art Deco Weekend, he would have noticed that he was surrounded by thousands of people who are Mad About this Town. Such a pity to spoil their fun!

No, MAT. You haven’t made a great case. But no matter – we don’t take you seriously, for we know that you only do it to tease.

Join the Conversation


  1. Well said Robbo. Mug About Town oops Man About Town is a real sour pus.

    I have a full time career getting drunk, acting the fool and upsetting the Art Deco Trust. Nevertheless the weekend is the premier event of the Provence loved by thousands and thousands of Hawke’s Bay residents.

    Wearing a T shirt like that may be very risky next year. People get very upset with sour pusses raining on their parade.

    As they said in Hill Street Blues “Be careful, it’s dangerous out there”.

    Take it from a dangerous old moustached guy with a walking stick

  2. I'm from the Bay but currently live in Auck. and i think what A.Frame is misunderstanding is the fact that Art Deco weekend is viewed as a professionally run opportunity for people from all over the world and within NZ to get together and experience a bit of well-run nostalgia…and what's wrong with that?

    They're mildly amusing and aren't frightening the horses so let them air kiss each other and blather on!

    To those sorts of people ( and i'm definitely not one of them ) the world has gone mad and events like Art Deco give them a slice of emotional relief and fun whilst giving the locals something to either throw metaphoric stones at or shock, horror… get involved.

    Hawkes Bay has always been chronically "event -starved" and this weekend is one of the few well organised antidotes to that situation.

    Retailers shouldn't moan either!

    You can advertise for them but if they're not up for it inside their shops then no amount of spin will drive people into a boring retail outlet.

    The moral in the story is for the Bay to get it's act together and start creating some more large scale events like Art Deco weekend and stop staring transfixed at local billboards and wine labels proclaiming " we are wine country" ( or is that " whine country " )

    Move forward from following the same annual rotate of The Mission concert, The Wine weekend, The Equestrian show ( did i miss one?) etc.zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!

    Talk about cargo-cult thinking….

    Create something new, the planes will come and then poor ole Art Deco Weekend and the slightly -demented who love and enjoy it will become less apparent and give A. Frame something fresh to whinge about ?!

    But then again maybe his adage is right… Art Deco IS soooo last century, isn't it?

    Thought that was the whole point of it…but then what would i know…..I live in Auckland…

  3. Well Said Andrew!!!

    Art Deco makes me almost ashamed to be in Napier… the fact that a HB Today photographer wouldn't take your photo certainly shows the (lacking) sense of humour that makes me feel this way.

    So much money spent on statues of skinny women with skinny dogs, Napier doesn't address the REAL issues the city has (that's not a lack of statues, by the way).

    The Youth here are terribly bored, hence the high rate of Chylymidia and teen pregnancy, did you know we only JUST got knocked off our perch as Chylmidia capital of the country? How about spending some of that statue allowance on ways to resolve this? I know the youth of Napier will only be too happy to help you out.

    Well written article Andrew, if only the rebuttal was as impressive…

  4. In a further twist to this story, “Art Deco is SO Last Century” has been chosen as one of the winning slogans in Air New Zealand Grabaseat’s “Love Your Town” competition.

    Billi Tees (www.billitees.co.nz) will be producing a range of tees with the winning ideas and designs and $5 from the sale of each shirt will go to a charity of the creator’s choice (mine is the Hawke’s Bay Cancer Society)

    All the winning entries are published on the competition’s http://www.grabaseatbillitees.co.nz site from Monday and shirts would be available to buy from Billi Tees (www.billitees.co.nz) from December 1st this year.


  5. I did! I’m not just a pretty font, you know.
    I’m constantly coming up with quirky little ideas and gimmicks and jotting them down. They seldom get further than that (I’ve never been head-hunted by any advertising agencies, either…) This one came to me late last year.

  6. Great slogan..now we're starting to get somewhere with a bit of lateral thinking,huh?

    Who actually came up with it?

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.