Wearable art rebels against the mundane

World of Wearable Art
World of Wearable Art
Wood You Wear it by Ross Hardie, NZ

Enter another world where the human body becomes a canvas. New Zealand’s World of Wearable Art Awards bends traditional perceptions of art, technology and fashion. It choreographs garments made of all sorts of unorthodox materials into a visceral performance that dazzles the senses.

Tinker by Jeff Thomson, NZ
Pleiades by Maria Tsoponaki and Dimitri Mavinis, UK

For me this is the greatest show on earth. Each year the awards content is even more visually arresting than the year before. The extravaganza appeals to my love of a medium which challenges what we know about art and performance. It makes you think. It’s also cheeky and irreverent while making powerful statements about the state of the world. And always highly theatrical and provocative. There are echoes of the uber famous Cirque de Soleil, who have latterly become involved in the shows. Dance and Cirque’s acrobatics are now part of the spectacle.

Traditional and non-traditional materials are used on the garments. Recycling has always been a focus. One year I remember a dress made entirely of drinking straws.

Unsurprising that the awards – commonly known by their acronym WOW®  – are described as a “rebellion against the mundane”. They really are what-the-hell WOW.

Wearable Art Awards

On_Reflection_Philippa_Stichbury_Australia copy
On Reflection by Philippa Stichbury of Australia

There were 107 entries by 123 designers (some, who worked in pairs on one entry) chosen to appear in this year’s show to compete for a prize pool of 40 awards with a combined value of $NZ165,000. This year the WOW season is September 25-October 11. More than 50,000 people will queue up to see it. WOW is becoming a major drawcard for international visitors.

Kaleidoscope by Tess Tavener Hanks of Australia

The shows are held in the capital city of Wellington. My former home, the harbour city is a rugged mix of steep geography and powerful ocean, a tempestuous climate and more bars per capita than New York. Wellington has a fiercely competitive coffee and food culture. It’s also where multi-Oscar winning movie director Peter Jackson’s empire resides. Jackson’s 2005 movie King Kong, mostly set in New York, was filmed entirely in the harbour city region. A fact which vastly amused the director. His Weta Workshop special effects magician Richard Taylor (also an Oscar winner) sponsors one of the WOW awards.

Wellington 1

Oriental Bay, Wellington Harbour
Wellington Harbour, on a surprisingly calm day

Where the World of 
Wearable Art began

Wearable art as performance was created 27 years ago in the picturesque seaside town of Nelson in the South Island. Nelson sculptor Suzie Moncrieff had an idea to promote a rural art gallery and created a new genre. A modest audience of 200 came to a community hall to watch a show that took art off the wall and on to the stage. Nelson has long been a magnet for artists, sculptors, potters and people seeking alternative lifestyles.

When WOW got too big for Nelson (population approx. 46,000), the show shifted north to Wellington. By then the world’s artists and designers were discovering it.

World of Wearable Art

World of Wearable Art

World of Wearable Art

World of Wearable Art

Kiwi designer
nabs top prize

In 2015 there were 107 entries by 123 designers (some, who worked in pairs on one entry) chosen to appear to compete for a prize pool of 40 awards with a combined value of $NZ165,000. 13 New Zealand-designed garments won 15 awards and 24 awards were won by 18 international designs. Whimsical entries seem to be big this year.

World of Wearable Art
Outrageous by Nicki van Asch, NZ

For the third year in a row a homegrown designer has taken out the top prize. Nelson-based designer Peter Wakeman walked away with the 2015 Brancott Estate Supreme WOW® Award, taking home $NZ30,000 in prizes.

World of Wearable Art
Supreme Award Winner – Diva’s Dreamscape by Peter Wakeman, NZ

The stunning entry “Diva’s Dreamscape” was entered in the Creative Excellence Section: Architecture and is a clever interpretation of the Art Deco era of design. Made of stainless steel, wood and Peter’s trademark fibreglass, the garment impressed the judges with its exquisite workmanship.

Dame Suzie noted that this year’s Supreme WOW® Award Winner has a clear artistic integrity and responded perfectly to the brief for the Creative Excellence Section.

“Diva’s Dreamscape” really is a stunning piece of art, it has a strong simplicity that works perfectly from every angle. The use of such hard materials to create a sophisticated garment demonstrates great skill and creative ability.”

This is the third time that Peter has entered WOW and the second time he has won a prize. He was named Runner Up to the Supreme Award Winner in 2013 for his pink fibre glass creation “Chica under Glass”.

Runner Up 2015 –  Deadly Beauty by Xi Zhang from Shanghai, China

The Runner Up to the Brancott Estate Supreme Award hails from Shanghai in China. Xi Zhang a student from Donghua University won with her striking garment “Deadly Beauty”. Entered in the Wellington Airport Avant Garde Section this garment is made from feathers, beads and mesh cloth. It has a strong sculptural shape that impressed the judges with its intense colour palette and powerful stage presence.

Guest judges, sculptor Greer Twiss and fashion designer, Denise L’Estrange Corbet, joined Dame Suzie on the panel.

Wearable world of art awards nz
Poly Nation by Kate Mackenzie, NZ
Flow of Creation by Kirsten Fletcher, UK


I’m proud to be a Kiwi, even though I no longer live there. It’s the little South Pacific nation (population 4.5 million) with a disproportionate number of high achievers. New Zealand is known for its pioneering spirit and innovative indigenous culture.

  • First country in the world to give women the vote in 1893  
  • First use of fingerprints in 1920 to solve a crime
  • First to scale Mount Everest in 1953
  • Female prime minister by 1997 (Australia is still waiting…)
  • A haul of Academy Awards – 16 if you include Russell Crowe, born in NZ and stolen by Australia
  • Really long list of sports achievements, like forever
  • Invented bungee jumping
  • Home to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit
  • And the home of WOW!

3 thoughts on “Wearable art rebels against the mundane

    1. Hi Linda, I’m so pleased you’re keen to go. Wellington itself goes WOW for the show season, with lots of street performances and other attractions for visitors. It really is a festive time.


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