by Kara Hugglestone
Does today’s hectic, modern world make you long for a simpler, more genteel time? If so, lucky for us, once a year here in the Bay Area there is a day that exemplifies just that. It’s called the Gatsby Summer Afternoon and it’s fabulous.
For the past 29 years on the second Sunday of September the Art Deco Society of California brings the book and movie we all loved to life.
It’s a unique opportunity to channel your inner Zelda; period attitude, attire, picnic are a must. The ADSC offers a very helpful How to Gatsby Workbook with pointers on clothes, shoes, hats, hair and makeup to assist getting into character and preplanning.
Like most good things, you get out of it exactly what you put into it. It’s impressive how creative some people get with their dress and picnic. While some people wear authentic vintage attire, others have things specially made from classic patterns or accessorize modern dress with a period vibe so it looks the part. It doesn’t so much matter how the costume is achieved as long as it works, and the society makes it a bit easier by expanding the acceptable dress period, the 1920s through the 1940s.
Loving the Gatsby era as much as I do, I was thrilled to attend. Joining hundreds of other revelers entering the majestic Dunsmuir Hellman Estate in Oakland, I began to feel the specialness of the occasion. Dunsmuir is a perfect backdrop for Gatsby Afternoon. The combination of elegant architecture, beautiful vintage fashion and warm day was intoxicating. It was like stepping back in time…
We found a shady spot and set about setting up our picnic. The ADSC provides some suggested menu plans and since it was our fist effort we decided to keep it simple. We opted for the simple yet elegant “’Scarlet O’Hara’ – eat an enormous lunch before Gatsby and bring a basket with cake, chocolate covered strawberries and champagne.”
We toasted the start with a glass of Taittinger in period stem ware atop an antique Irish linen tablecloth. It was magic; the Taittinger’s lovely fresh green apple and lemon notes a perfect foil for the particularly sultry September day. Delicate almond undertones made for a complex experience. We enjoyed our champagne and strawberries as we surveyed the other picnic vignettes. Soon it was time to stroll the grounds to see what others had done.
Parasols in hand, we set out. The organizers had suggested parasols and I’m glad we had heeded their advice. The sun was quite strong and it had reached 100 degrees, by far the warmest day I’d experienced since moving to the West Coast.
The beauty, style and creativity of their dress and picnics truly inspired. It was a hat wonderland, heaven for a hat lover like me. I loved seeing the gentleman in their straw boaters and ladies in elegant cloches. Watching the various groups of people in their elegant vintage attire, at times it felt a bit like a Renoir painting.
Creativity abounded. Some people incorporated their antique automobiles into their characters, or dressed in a uniform of the time.
Finished touring the grounds, we returned for more champagne, this time Ruinart Brut Rose. The bold berry and spice notes mixing with rose petals and bit of orange zest to create a wonderful blend of richness. It had a refinement befitting the occasion.
We realized it was almost time for festivities to begin and headed to the stage to see the Decobelles perform, are a group of dancers and models bringing the 1920s, 30s and 40s to life with Busby Berkley-style of dance. Watching this talented troupe perform I had the feeling of being in our own classic movie.
Then it was time for us to take to the floor. Dancers showed off their Charleston and Fox Trot moves to the Don Neely Royal Society Jazz Orchestra’s authentic jazz. I loved seeing the variety of couples on the dance floor, young and old, everyone having such a wonderful time.
Returning back to the picnic area it was time to savor a little St. Germain. I was so glad we’d brought it as the elderflower liqueur was lovely – delicate, bright and fragrant – and a perfect match for the afternoon. Even if it weren’t so delicious it would be difficult not to be charmed by St. Germain. How can you not love a company that gathers it’s elderflowers from the hills of the Alps and then transfers them to their production facility via bicycle? I’m simply in love with the exquisite bottle too. Perhaps we’ll make St. Germain cocktails next year. We had a final sip and then started to pack up.
Gatsby Summer Afternoon is very much like Le Diner in that if you do it right you need to transport a variety of items to and fro. I was ever so glad I brought my handy grocery cart. It, along with some other not-very-period items, had been hidden under a period-type throw next to our picnic.
As we walked back, passing the ever elegant Dunsmuir house the conversation turned to plans for next year, for it’s now a must do.
There is something special about Gatsby Summer Afternoon… I was amazed how many regulars I chatted with, five years, seven years, fifteen years – and I’m sure quite a few more than that.
We’re six months out for the 2014 afternoon, so now is the time to mark your calendar for the second Sunday of September!