The Great Gatsby Today

Great Gatsby by Terry Check  IMG_3026The Great Gatsby is more than just a story. It is a lifestyle in Napier, New Zealand. In 1931, the small town of 17,000 people was devastated by a massive earthquake and its ensuing fires that killed more than 200 people and leveling most of the town. The ocean-side community was totally rebuilt in Art Deco style and is preserved today as a National Heritage Site. Commonplace throughout the town are authentic buildings, vintage cars, fashion designs, and music of the 1930’s.  Living in Napier today is like stepping back in time to a wonderful place resembling the fictional town of West Egg on Long Island in the summer of 1922.
As we disembarked the passenger ship, a 1932 four-door Packard approached, and the driver called our names while motioning us to come. Such a welcome was totally unexpected. The chauffeur, Tony, dressed in period clothes as though he was attending a wedding, took our baggage, and opened the back doors.  After formal greetings, Tony, setting aside his fedora, narrated the story of Napier from the time of the earthquake to the Great Gatsby lifestyle of today. Passing through town en route to the Art Deco Trust building, everything seemed surreal: with Miami Beach-style architecture, jazz musicians playing in the park bandstand, and many 1930’s automobiles looking more like a museum than Main Street. Well-dressed gentlemen sported suits, many with a vest, dress shirt, tie, and some with a hat. Mirroring the celebrity trends of Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, and Marlene Dietrich, the sophisticated ladies were styled in long, sometimes pleated dresses with shoulder pads and brimmed hats, always with their gloves. When evening arrived, the ladies were empowered with fitted gowns, flapper dresses, hairpieces, and tapered cigarettes in hand.  Revelry filled the air with music, pubs were dispensing libations, and locals were dancing the Swing and outlandish Charleston. It was such a magical time.
Great Gatsby by Terry Check  IMG_3187This time of year, the town’s people are bustling with preparations for the annual Art Deco Weekend, including The Great Gatsby performance by the Napier Repertory players. Taking a break from rehearsal, a few actors joined me for a fashion photo shoot reliving the past, or maybe it’s living today, in Napier. Without hesitation, Tony pulled the green Packard around and we all headed to our first stop, the National Tobacco Company, a true hallmark of Art Deco architecture inside and out. As the crew set up the lighting and reflectors, and actors adjusted their makeup and hair, scores of tourists watched as the production began.
“Lights, camera, action,” I sounded, and the glitzy glamour of The Great Gatsby unfolded, continuing to several other locations throughout the day.  Come late afternoon, I announced, “It’s a wrap and let’s celebrate at the corner pub,” before we head to the passenger ship for a 6:00 PM departure. Some people leave their hearts in San Francisco, but for the crew, we all left our hearts in Napier.
With the help of Ms. Sally Jackson, General Manager of the Art Deco Trust, I photographed a few residents of Napier in the spirit of The Great Gatsby. Please meet our creative team: Kim Davey with brown eyes and hair; Lauren Marshall with blonde hair and blue eyes; Craig McKinnon, young gentlemen; Tony Mairs, chauffeur extraordinaire, and Vania Bailey, an amazing hair and makeup stylist. The period fashions were created by such designers as Coco Chanel, Madame Gres, and Elsa Schiaparelli.

The Great Gatsby Today was originally published in Cliché Magazine’s April/May 2014 issue

About Author

Terry Check, former contributor to Cliché Magazine, is a passionate but not too serious lover of art and fashion who travels the world to art openings and fashion shows always looking for a good story and a little fun. Multi-facetted as an artist/writer/photographer, his work is widely exhibited in the USA, represented by the Fay Gold Gallery and Chic – Evolution in Art, and is published in Mode Lifestyle, Fashion Xchange, and Le Style.