I make a fine Daisy; sequin dress, feather hairband, bouncy bob haircut. My Gatsby is wearing a splendid white suit and Leonardo Di Caprio’s face; or at least this is how it looks in my head. This season’s catwalks are littered with flapper fashion, fans of the book are eagerly awaiting the release of the Great Gatsby movie remake and on Ocean Drive last weekend the glamour of the twenties and thirties was alive and alluring – in my head and in front of my eyes.
The Art Deco District of Miami Beach may not contain the most attractive examples of Art Deco architecture, announces our guide, but it is the largest concentrated area of it still standing today. For that we can thank the fearless Barbara Capitman who fought to preserve the area which had become rusty and decrepit by the 70’s. Now protected by the Miami Design Preservation League she created, the Art Deco district is celebrated every year with its only special event, last week’s was the 35th annual Art Deco Weekend. The weekend’s programme includes lectures, fashion shows, movies and parades, all engineered to highlight the importance and honour the beauty of the Art Deco Historic District.
Ocean Drive, usually a passageway filled with cars bumper-to-bumper, blaring music, posing drivers, has been closed off for the parade. Stalls line the street, selling vintage posters and pop art along with the usual tourist trinkets.
“Vintage underwear?” questions a Scottish male member of our group, “by that do they mean the second hand knickers of someone who is now dead?” he deadpans.
“Yes,” I explain, “and very expensive they are too.”
There is a sizable crowd at a stall which appears to be selling little scraps of fabric. On closer inspection it transpires they are doggie outfits; colourful harnesses with matching hats and skirts. As if we hadn’t guessed? For pampered pooches are a big part of Art Deco Weekend. The star of the show is South Beach Gus. He strolls down the street in a Leather Harley Davidson jacket and studded collar, checking out the ladies from behind his dark shades. The ladies are just as cool; bows in hair, being carted around in fleecy baskets or wheeled in prams and trolleys. They all play a charming part in the Art Deco Weekend Parade.
Dotting the road and offsetting the pastel coloured buildings are the ice cream coloured vintage cars. Cadillacs, Buicks,old police cars and even a Delorean with the license plate McFly5 are on display; doors open and welcoming for crowds to explore. This is when I enter my daydream and get transported to another era, several of them in fact. The sun glints off the duck egg blue of a classic bonnet, the top down to reveal the cream leather as fine as the day it was made. It sits outide The Tides, once upon a time Marilyn Monroe’s choice of hotel on this stretch. My ears prick up at the mention of a Hollywood idol. I probe the guide for more celeb anecdotes and there is a wealth of them for her to choose from.
South Beach is home to the Marlin hotel which hosts the South Beach Studios. Their client list is a who’s who of rock and roll royalty, acts varying from Aerosmith to Kanye West, Mariah Carey and Coldplay have all recorded here. A tragic celeb anecdote is shared outside the Versace villa, the former home of the fashion legend who was murdered on the steps of this Ocean Drive property. The house is now an exclusive hotel by Barton G and Versace’s old room can be yours for a sum somewhere between 5 to 11 THOUSAND dollars per night. On the more comic side our guide shares the story of the relaunch of the Victor Hotel. This being Miami the star guest of the night was P Diddy – and 7 circus penguins! The story goes that a black stretch limousine pulled up outside the hotel, out stepped Diddy followed closely by the penguins (I wonder if they rehearsed this?!). They all parade to the pool where 7 mock ice cubes are floating on the water. The penguins step on to them and proceed to float around the pool in their positions for the rest of the evening. O to have been a guest at that party!
We finish the tour and commandeer a curb-side table at the Ocean Drive 24 hour institution – News Cafe. A cafe with an accompanying shop (where they sell the international publications that gave the place its name), the real draw here is the desserts. The menu begins with the sweet treats and I insist you end your meal with one. Carrot cake, Chocolate fudge, Apple Crumb or even nachos with ice cream – they are guaranteed to be delicious and HUGE! As I eat my pudding the street entertainers work the crowd. Their costumes of retro bathing suits and ladies in feather hats take me back to the reverie I begun the tour in, where I am Daisy and Leonardo di Caprio is Gatsby and we’re strolling down Ocean Drive together.
I visited the Art Deco Weekend in partnership with KLM and the Miami Tourist Board.
KLM operates four weekly flights from London Heathrow to Miami via Amsterdam Airport Schiphol with lead in fares from £448 return including all taxes. For information on attractions and things to do in Miami, log on to www.miamiandbeaches.com or call Greater Miami CVB on 020 7978 5233 for a FREE information pack.