World of Wearable Art: From debris to oh so dandy

By Ann Newberry

Expect a plethora of international flavour at this year's wearable art show, writes Ann Newbery.

Trichromatic Hula Sistars Revue, by Tarja Pabbruwe and Petro van Zijl, 4th Avant Garde. Photo / World of Wearable Art
Trichromatic Hula Sistars Revue, by Tarja Pabbruwe and Petro van Zijl, 4th Avant Garde. Photo / World of Wearable Art

When it comes to fashion-forward clothes, there's no place like the Brancott Estate World of Wearable Art Awards Show, New Zealand's world-famous annual wearable arts event. For more than two decades it has bent traditional perceptions of art and fashion, showcasing spectacular works of art on the human form.

Attracting interest from all over the globe, WOW is being held in Wellington's TSB Arena, with the season running from August 25 to September 10.

The two-hour extravaganza - expected to attract 50,000 people - is a far cry from its humble origins. Back in 1987, the inaugural WOW show was held in the garden of a co-opt gallery in Nelson in a torrential rainstorm, with a borrowed stereo for music and a bathtub full of iced refreshments for those who had paid for a $10 ticket.

What's new?

For the first time in Wellington, the designs will be brought to life in a choreographed performance featuring the full company of the Royal New Zealand Ballet. (The last time the RNZB performed with WOW was in 2003 in Nelson.)

How many garments?

There'll be 160 on show. Proving its international popularity is the presence of 55 international garments selected as finalists.

This includes seven from China, 12 from India, one from Italy, one from Canada, two from the Netherlands, five from the UK, nine from Australia, 17 from the US and, for the first time, a garment from the Philippines.

Kiwi icons

There are seven main categories, including the new Air New Zealand Kiwi Icons section, featuring a strong local feel and flavour in the garments' inspirations, materials or techniques. This category - which includes entries such as a sea glass pohutukawa, a dress constructed with footballs, and aluminium road signs marking out favourite Kiwi destinations - has impressed the judges. "Looking at the garments in the Kiwi Icons section, you can especially feel the sense of pride that designers have for New Zealand," says competition director Heather Palmer. "Kiwis are really proud of their country, and it is great that Brancott Estate WOW can provide a way for designers to cleverly and artistically show how they feel.

"Within all categories there are also wonderful stories of those who found both solace and inspiration while making their garment this year," says Palmer. "There have been many heart-warming stories of perseverance, innovation and humour when times have perhaps not been that easy - be it finishing a piece while dealing with no water or electricity in their Christchurch home, finding inspiration from the passion of a cobbler working on the streets in India, or getting stuck in their garment when trying it on to check the fit."

Children's section

The topic this year is "Food" and what is good for us and what is not. The challenge, though, was for the young entrants not to use perishable materials. Their resulting creations range from fairy bread, to pretzels, to healthy food on the run, to children's tea parties.

Here comes the groom

The challenge in the Man Unleashed section was to "reinvent or redress the groom". Not the easiest of tasks - except for the fertile minds of entrants which will result in ticket-holders seeing one groom sporting sculptured soy milk container armour, and another being carried by his bride as a puppet - a mere accessory.

Need to know

The Brancott Estate World of WearableArt Awards Show is being held at the TSB Arena, Wellington, from August 25 to September 10.

Tickets can be purchased online. Standard seat $95; premium seat $125; restricted view front row $65; restricted view $50.

- Herald on Sunday

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