“We need more quirky and colorful things in life.”
– Suzie Moncrieff, WOW founder
In 1987, Suzie Moncrieff, a sculptor in Nelson, New Zealand, needed a novel way to promote a new art gallery.
She decided to have a show where instead of the artwork being hung on the wall or propped on the floor staring back at you, you had to . . . wear it. That’s right, make any type of artwork you want including painting, sculpture, textiles, crafts and even engineering and electronics. Make it as bizarre, beautiful or crazy as you like. No need for the wearable items to be practical or comfortable like traditional clothing. The only rule was that they must be worn.
Combined with this, instead of just presenting the wearable art as in a traditional fashion show with the designs being paraded down a catwalk, she came up with the idea of creating a show combining dance, theater, lights and music to showcase the creations in an adventurous, emotional journey. She encouraged local people to participate and 200 people came to a community hall to watch the initial event. And thus, the World of WearableArt (WOW) was born.
From these humble beginnings, the idea grew in popularity becoming a yearly event in Nelson, and then as its recognition increased and corporate sponsorship grew, moving to Wellington in 2005. Today it is an international competition and art show attracting entries from around the world. Based on the original idea, the event is highlighted by an extravagant choreographed show presented for 12 days in Wellington combining elaborate staging, lighting, dancing, music and performances to showcase the entries. The performances attract close to 50,000 people.
Over the years, WOW has helped launch the careers of many famous designers.
The competition for awards and the show itself is divided into a number of categories. The Children’s section focuses on designs worn by children. Avant Garde is perhaps the most revolutionary and extravagant category. Competitors in the South Pacific category draw their inspiration from the Maori culture and cultures of the South Pacific. The Open section has no boundaries on themes. Creative Excellence has a theme that changes each year. And finally, two other categories, Man Unleashed and the perennial favorite, Bizarre Bra, alternate each year.
Looking at the pictures, you begin to understand just how captivating, bizarre, beautiful, disturbing and fun some of the creations are.
So after finding out about WOW several years ago, and moving here we decided we must go.
“We can’t travel half way around the world and not go to the show,” Rebecca said one day.
And so we travelled to Wellington and finally found ourselves one night at the huge TSB Bank Arena on the waterfront in downtown Wellington waiting for the show to begin.
What was it like?
Half of dozen travelers, men and women, carrying suitcases are lowered down from above onto a darkened, mist-covered stage. They look around for a moment and then set their suitcases down flush with the stage. When they open their suitcases, a different-colored light glows from inside each one. Then, one by one, they climb into their suitcases and disappear. The stage is quiet except for the music and empty except for the still-glowing suitcases. Then strange nymph-like brightly colored creatures begin to emerge from the suitcases. And thus the World of WearableArt show begins.
The show is divided into five segments each one highlighting one of the categories. During each segment a separate themed performance is presented center-stage while the WearableArt entries are shown on three revolving stages on the sides and to the front.
Each unique outfit is masterfully presented and modeled in a manner appropriate for its design. For example, a woman in a warrior design will assume an intimidating pose while glaring at the audience before preforming a series of warrior-like moves. More whimsical entries will be presented in a light and airy manner.
A fashion show on drugs. Everything is so outrageous and un-earthly. It is as if one has been transported to another dimension or some far-away world in the galaxy. There is no talking or narration during the show which lasts two hours without an intermission. The show and the creations speak for themselves.
Underlying the novelty of the creaations is the work that goes into them. A number of them were on display in the lobby and at the Te Papa museum in Wellington. What’s hard to appreciate from the images is just how intricate and painstakingly the designs are constructed with meticulous attention to detail. The materials from which they are made are often unique and sometimes an item is made entirely of recycled products.
The two hours went by in a flash. The show was as professionally done as anything one might see in New York or Paris. It was truly a highlight seeing the show.
There is also the World of WearableArt Museum in Nelson where this all began which showcases many of the garments in its gallery, and a traveling exhibition, Off the Wall, which brings many of the creations to museums.
Here is a video promoting the World of WearableArt: