Friday, 2 March 2012

How To: Party Like Phryne Fisher

ABC screened the first episode of the adaption of the Phryne Fisher books - which they've retitled Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries - last Friday (you can watch it here on iview if you missed it).

Ever since reading my first Phryne Fisher book at age fourteen or so, I've wished I could be Phryne.

Of course she's rich and beautiful, which are excellent attributes for a lady detective, but I think what makes her stand out against other heroines is that she's so capable. She drives a Hispano-Suiza at high speed, pilots light aircraft, isn't afraid to shoot villains and does it all without relying on anyone to rescue her. You can't picture Sookie Stackhouse or Stephanie Plum holding their own in the same situations (much as I like them both and continue to read their adventures).

I also love the 1920s Melbourne setting. From a distance of eight or nine decades, everything about the 1920s seems magical. Which is precisely why it's a great theme for a party.

Costumes and characters:
It's very easy to throw together a 1920s costume. While velvet, fur and period lace are wonderful, if you're short on time or cash, all you really need is a plain dress that you can pair with a large headpiece featuring feathers and rhinestones. Jewelled headbands are everywhere at the moment! Seek out art deco jewellery like the earrings below and wear a fringed shawl. If you have a bob then you already have the perfect 1920s haircut. Bright red lipstick is essential.

Of course, if you're after authenticity, embodying a stereotypical character from the 1920s is even better than simply wearing a costume. Being a 'bright young thing' or jazz musician would work, but if you're feeling imaginative try being a communist, a Freudian or an Egyptomaniac. What about a silent movie star or a struggling artist obsessed with surrealism?

Jazz, jazz, and more jazz. Make a playlist of Gershwin soundtracks, Cole Porter, Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong.

It's not the 1920s without cocktails. Unusual Historicals and Phoenix Magazine both provide instructions on making 1920s cocktails.
My favourite mixed drink for a 1920s party is a simple gin, champagne and pineapple punch - yum!
1 cup gin (tanqueray or bombay sapphire if you have style)
2 cups pineapple juice
2 cups lemonade
2 cups ice cubes
Topped up with champagne in a large punch bowl.
I can't guarantee the authenticity of that mix, but it tastes great and it's not too 'out there' if you're not comfortable with strong cocktails.
I'd also like to try mixing a jug of Aviation or Southside cocktails.

Other entertainment / props:
Play silent films on your TV (with the sound down so that the dramatic score doesn't compete with your jazz soundtrack). I'd try Modern Times by Charlie Chaplin for a start, or any movie featuring Greta Garbo or Rudolph Valentino.
Buy a mah-jong set on ebay and encourage your guests to give it a go.
Display surrealist art works.
Dance the Charleston! I'm sure watching videos on youtube can't make you an expert, but after a few cocktails the enthusiasm increases and you stop feeling so self-conscious ;-)

Me? I'll be watching Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries tonight and wondering how hard it would be to get my pilot's license, and whether there's a shop somewhere that sells authentic 1920s outfits for lady pilots...

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