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New Zealand’s World of Wearable Art

Non-stop colour, excitement, loud music and dancing, extravagant theatricals and choreography, UV lights, coat hangers and a wild boar’s head. These are just part of one of the most uniquely entertaining events in New Zealand’s South Island, where the world of fashion extraordinaire makes Vivian Westwood look like Kmart.

Nelson may not be internationally renowned for it’s haute couture but the World of Wearable Art Show has once again stamped its stiletto-heeled mark on the world. What started as a promotion for a small rural gallery in 1987 has now gained an iconic status within New Zealand. Although practically unknown on the international tourist circuit, from 2005 WOW is to be staged in New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, at the venue of the sparkling Lord of the Rings premiere party. With word of mouth advertising and promotion through their new museum in Nelson, they anticipate the audience to grow to 20,000 people per night, turning it into a world-class event.

And they certainly know how to put on a show – over seven nights, when art is taken off the wall and worn on the moving body, a lavish array of more than 180 bizarre ‘garments’ sashay down the catwalk. Think Mardi Gras, crossed with the Rocky Horror Show and Milan Fashion Week. Entertainment abounds – the costumes, which range from the beautiful to the grotesque, are woven between extravagant theatrical displays, including a flame-eating magician, a gaggle of French nuns, drag queens, bar room brawls and live opera singers performing from sumptuous silver clouds high above the audience.

Personal favourites are the men who parade in glittering 60cm high platform shoes (eat your heart out, Naomi Campbell), and the women who strut their stuff whilst wearing the biggest, most extravagantly ridiculous bras ever seen. Anything goes – in awesome displays of creativity, designers visually assault you, using everything from gold wire, mirrors, clay, paper mache and silk organza, to pipe cleaners, ping-pong balls, feathers, seatbelts and live chickens in bird-cages. With the eight different thematic sections, designers have complete freedom in concept, construction and materials. Aimed more at the world of fashion design, the Avant Garde Section is a place where art and fashion collide head-on, with revolutionary and extrovert results. The South Pacific Section encourages inspiration from traditional cultures to create a contemporary work of art. And the outstanding Illumination Section is designed to challenge the audience’s perceptions through the illusions of UV light – you see glowing knee-high boots dancing by themselves and white dresses partying like they were in Disney’s Fantasia. But the most entertaining part of the show has to be the Bizarre Bra display, with models dodging an on-stage bar room brawl and dancing flappers, to the live accompaniment of ‘Hey Big Spender’. ‘Ego Deflator’, designed to repel unwanted attention, and ‘Booby Trap’, for the woman with PMT, practically bring the house down.

The show involves around 400 people, with about 250-300 unpaid participants such as ushers, amateur performers crew and dressers. Stephi, an Italian student helping with the costumes behind the scene, described the complexity of the choreography and stage management of such an intricately designed show as, “completely manic, with people everywhere – some of the outfits are really difficult to put on and you have to be so careful not to step on a costume or rip one. Luckily, we are all armed with glue guns just in case!” Professional to the last.

In amongst all the hype and excitement, there is also the more serious business of judging who was to win a share of the total $85,000 (NZ) price money but no-one really pays that much attention to it. It does mean however, is that you get to gawp at all the best costumes again. It lasts about two hours and quite frankly I could have been there all night. The flamboyance and lavishness of each costume, combined with intricate use of materials and attention to detail make for a fantastic sensory extravaganza. Quite simply, it is one of the most wonderfully strange spectacles that you will get to see. Awesome.

Information for Travellers:
There are six performances in the 2005 Show season:
· Friday 23rd, Saturday 24th & Sunday 25th of September 2005
· Friday 30th of September, Saturday 1st & Sunday 2nd of October 2005
(Friday 23rd is the Awards Night. All Shows start at 8:00 pm, except for the Sunday Night performances which start at 6:00 pm.)
The venue is the Events Centre in Wellington.

Preferential Ticket Sales open on their website on 01 February 2005.

General Ticket Sales open on their website on 15 March 2005.

Show ticketing enquiries: 0800 4 WOW SHOW or [email protected]

For those unable to attend the events, a visit into the unique galleries that showcase garments from previous shows is well worth a visit. Lighting, sound, movement and theatre combine to create a truly unique gallery experience at 95 Quarantine Road, Annesbrook, Nelson, New Zealand.

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