Fur stoles and cloche hats may not be standard wardrobe items for the average Kiwi woman – unless, perhaps, they live in Napier.
Napier is a city that takes pride in its appearance. The famous backdrop of Art Deco architecture sets the scene for a unique kind of town pride – a journey back to an era of glamour and style that captures the imagination of visitors and residents alike.
Anne Barrar, from Napier’s iconic Masonic Hotel explains: “When people first come to Napier for events like the Art Deco Festival, they’ll make a cautious attempt to get involved – maybe putting on a feather boa or a hat with their regular clothes. Then, we often see them at the next year’s festival and they’re in full Deco costume.
“People love to dress up. It’s an easy dress-up, but it’s quite glamorous. Just about everyone who lives in Napier has an Art Deco section of their wardrobe.”
But it’s more than just a penchant for old-fashioned clothes or a collection of beautiful heritage buildings that makes Napier special.
Douglas Lloyd Jenkins, Director of the Hawke’s Bay Museum and Art Gallery explains that while Art Deco has put Napier on the map, it is a place that is more self-aware than other comparable small cities.
“The Napier experience is a unique one. It doesn’t matter how you dress it up – Napier has a distinctive spirit; we’re not like Palmerston North, we’re not like New Plymouth. I think it’s the knowledge of who we are and where we belong in the world. Napier, as a city, is relatively confident because of that. Sometimes that can be interpreted as arrogance, but I don’t think that is the case.”
Napier’s distinctive spirit is synonymous with the ideals of freedom and modernisation from the Jazz Age – the period between the two World Wars, during which the city was reborn. It was an era that celebrated power, speed and an outward-looking vision, dressed with a hedonistic flair for style.
After the decimating 1931 earthquake, Napier was built in a three-year flurry of reconstruction, illustrating also the fortitude and proud resilience of the survivors and their descendants who were determined to keep the city as home.
Today, as Douglas Lloyd Jenkins explains, it is still a bustling miniature city. “Napier is an urban environment. The art gallery was founded back in 1859 when there were only 4,000 people living here, because they believed cities need to have galleries and theatres and museums, so Napier grew from that vision.
“Napier is different. It’s not a backwater. It sells its own story pretty well. Art Deco gives Napier an amazing consistency of appearance that other cities just don’t have, but all together it’s a very nice package of geography, aesthetics and attitude.”
Reported by Jo Percival for our AA Directions Autumn 2019 issue