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Screen + Sound + Stage
October 23, 2015

The Weirdly Wonderful World Of Wearable Art

Text by Simone Louis

The annual World of WearableArt show in Wellington, New Zealand, is a barking mad theatre of the weird and the wonderful. Here is a taste of the phenomenon taking the world by storm…

“Eat your heart out John Galliano, Hussein Chalayan, Thierry Mugler, Vivienne Westwood and John Paul Gaultier.”
– Gladys Perint Palmer, Executive Director of Fashion, Academy Of Art University, San Francisco

Do you ever find that the more something is hyped and raved about, the more skeptical you become? On my first trip to New Zealand, the highlight of my itinerary was to be the most eagerly-awaited event in the country – The World of WearableArt (fondly referred to as the WOW) awards night. ‘You really need to be there!’ It was the standard, fervently animated response I received whenever I asked someone to describe the show.

The culmination of an annual garment design competition, the award ceremony is preceded by a grand showing of hundreds of creations from all over the world. I, naturally, was expecting a fairly amusing fashion show. What I got, though, were goosebumps, drama, stupendous dancing, laughter and incredibly breathtaking moments, right from the moment I stepped into the TSB Bank Arena. The indoor venue had been transformed into a kind of wonderland – large, luminous clouds seemingly floated over every seat in the audience and over a massive stage dotted with gnarled trees and enveloped by a layer of white smoke.

Barely moments after I made myself comfortable, a man with large, elaborate wings literally flew in from the back of the arena, landed on the tallest tree and made friends with a dwarf. The two new allies then proceeded to reach into holes on stage and pull out smaller trees which turned out to be children…who began to gracefully move across the stage, kicking off the first part of the evening – the children’s category entries. From glittering bunnies and graceful mermaids to a somewhat sinister looking creature called Pablo, young performers modelled the outfits based on the theme ‘imaginary friends’. My favourite thing about the show was that each little creature had a motif choreography of their own, which truly epitomised their character.

This is something that continued on into the adults’ categories, with each performer (none of the models were just models) repeating their movements at various areas of the stage for the benefit of the large venue. Time and again, gasps would erupt from one side of the arena and would soon be heard at other corners, as the dancer wearing the masterwork moved from one spot to another, mesmerising the illustrious audience. Across categories like sustainability, Aotearoa (the aboriginal name for New Zealand), avant-garde and film costume design, I was quite impressed to see five Indian designers, all between the ages of 20 and 25, with some outstanding wearable art creations. My favourite category had to be the Creative Excellence Section, the theme of which was architecture, in honour of the iconic New Zealand architect (and long-time WOW supporter) Sir Ian Athfield. It was also the category that the overall winning creation was from. Titled Diva’s Dreamscape, the stainless-steel, wood and fibreglass tour de force was an interpretation of the Art Deco era of design. Other favourites were Kaleidoscope, fashioned out of coloured acrylic and mirrors, Tinker, which also won big at the awards, and pretty much everything in the Weta Workshop Costume and Film Section, which centred around the theme of ‘other worlds’. The winner of this section would earn a four-week internship at the celebrated Weta Workshop, headed by Sir Richard Taylor, five-time Academy Award winner for best costume design, make-up and visual effects. It wasn’t surprising, then, that this part of the show oozed passion, imagination and indescribable creativity.

“The creative and magical work of the artists involved in WOW has given all at Weta wonderful inspiration and supplied us with some of our most amazing technicians.”
– Sir Richard Taylor

Quite often, though, I had to remind myself to shift focus to the garments, since it was much too easy to get lost in the choreography and production. The show’s directors, Mike Mizrahi and Marie Adams, are no strangers to large-scale theatrical events and are the creative minds behind a number of prestigious international events like the Louis Vuitton’s 150th celebrations and the high-profile David Jones fashion shows staged annually in Sydney. Over and above the 33 adult and 19 child performers who modelled the outfits, the duo had 32 astoundingly good dancers and a few special guest performers who collectively took me on the most emotionally-charged rollercoaster of my life.

It astonishes me how much this concept has grown, from being a small promotion for a rural art gallery in 1987 in Nelson, New Zealand, based on a sculptor’s humble vision to take art off the wall and exhibit it as a live show. Today, it sees more than 50, 000 people over a fortnight of shows and injects over $22.6 million into the Wellington economy. Twenty-seven years later, Dame Suzie Moncrieff is still involved in every aspect of the production, and her vision is one that will never cease to amaze me. I could sit here and write about every unique interlude, every majestic set change, the Maori Haka warriors, daredevil aerial artistes and physics-defying wearable art creations, but none of it would really do justice to the bizarre, Alice In Wonderland-esque grandeur of WOW. You really need to be there.

“The high standard of entries this year is a testament to the outstanding talent of our designers. The innovation and creativity in each garment, the wide range of materials used and the workmanship are truly inspirational.”
– Dame Suzie Moncrieff, Founder of World of WearableArt

India At The WOW Awards 2015
1. Uttam Kumar and Kriti Dhiman – Creative Excellence Section: Architecture
2. Sukriti Mandal – Wellington Airport Avant Garde Section
3. Anushri Nath – Weta Workshop Costume & Film Section: Other Worlds
4. Prince Kunal Gaurav, Kriti Sharma and Vijendra Pandey – American Express Open Section
5. Bijoy Prasad Saha and Siddhartha Shanker Sammukh – Weta Workshop Costume & Film Section: Other Worlds

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