Do you have the imagination to design for another world?

For Nelson artist Gillian Saunders, the answer to that question is a resounding "yes". Fourteen years after she first entered the World of WearableArt Awards - winning a number of category prizes along the way - Saunders has taken home the main prize.

She was last night named the Brancott Estate Supreme WOW Award winner from 163 designers who created 133 garments for the annual show. Her winning design, Supernova, was constructed from recycled leather, gems and marker pen ink and involved individually cutting, shading and hand sewing hundreds of scales onto the base garment as well as gluing on dozens of gems. It also won the David Jones Avant Garde section.

Saunders says Supernova represents a star exploding in a far off galaxy and was inspired by the texture and colours of French fashion designer Thierry Mugler's "chimera dress", characters from the movie Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters and NASA images of supernova and nebulae taken by the Hubble Telescope.

"Initially she [Supernova] was to be a guardian of a far off planet caught in the light of an exploding star, but then the design changed half way through the process and she became the actual supernova itself. The large gems represent new stars being born and the dark shadows represent deep space."


The Yorkshire-trained furnishing and textile designer, with a background in film, television and theatre, moved to Nelson 20 years ago and first entered WOW in 2002, winning the children's section. In 2007, Saunders was the avant-garde section winner with Equus: Behind Closed Doors, runner-up in the South Pacific section with her design Tikini in 2009 and, in 2013, took out the Weta Costume and Film section with Inkling.

Last night's other winners included US designer Julian Hartzog in the bizarre bras category; Maria Tsopanaki and Dimitri Mavinis', from the UK, won the Wellington Airport Aoteaora section; Natasha English and Tatyanna Meherry took home the Weta Workshop Costume and Film section; Chinese design team Yuru Ma and Siyu Fang's collected the American Express Open section award; Mai (I) won Pritam Singh and Vishnu Ramesh, from India, the Spyglass Creative Excellence section and the UK's Adam McAlavey was awarded the MIF Lighting Performance Art section.

Auckland designer Bernice Milliken used doilies, tea towels and beads to craft Grandeer, the sustainability award-winning garment which she embellished with New Zealand birds and plants. Milliken says while deer are majestic creatures, their numbers need to be controlled or they pose a serious threat to our flora and fauna.

"Materials used are from some memories of things that I actually disliked when I was a child, NZ tea towels and the doily (which I like now) and the image of a deer sand-blasted on the glass doors of my uncle's house (which I still hate, but makes me smile). I used the tea towels and doilies and the glass beads to represent the glass door in the design."

WOW, regarded as the most technically challenging show staged in New Zealand or Australia, runs until October 9 and is expected to attract an audience of nearly 60,000 national and international show-goers.

In addition to the show, WOW now has its first touring exhibition, showcasing 32 previous award-winning garments, on display at the EMP Museum in Seattle. It will move to Boston's Peabody Essex Museum next year and is expected to remain in the USA until 2019. To date, 450,000 people have seen it.