For many, the words wearable art have unfortunate connotations, smacking of models in body paint, posing self-consciously at pretentious art-gallery happenings and product launches. But that feeble sort of wearable art has nothing to do with the Montana World of WearableArt, which goes by the entirely apt acronym WOW. Its award show, held annually over several days in Wellington, New Zealand, is a fabulous event that's equal parts couture, choreography and craziness.
WOW: an off-the-wall art extravaganza
World of WearableArt, Wellington
24 September - 4 October 2009
New Zealand's World of WearableArt (WOW) is a unique Kiwi event - billed as 'Mardi Gras meets haute couture' - where art and fashion collude in a spectacular stage show.
From a little country art gallery promotion 21 years ago, the Montana World of WearableArt has grown into New Zealand's largest and most dynamic art event, and a global art phenomenon.
This dazzling show now lists on the international cultural calendar, attracting entries and an audience from all over the world.
Each year WOW brings together more than 300 designers, and 400-plus cast and crew for a week of sell-out shows in New Zealand's 'creative capital', Wellington.
The 2008 event attracted entries from the UK, USA, Australia, India, Japan, Thailand, Germany, The Netherlands, Israel, Fiji, Canada and New Zealand, and an audience of 35,000 people.
WOW guest judge, BBC correspondent Michael Peschardt, described the 2008 event as "colourful, spectacular, artistic, funny, and almost impossible to judge. I’ve seen major cultural and fashion shows around the world and this is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before."
The glittering capital city event is a long way from the show's humble beginnings in the small South Island city of Nelson.
Back in 1988, while trying to find ways to promote a local art gallery, Nelson sculptor Suzie Moncrieff came up with a ground-breaking concept.
Moncrieff's inspired solution was literally off-the-wall, taking art from the gallery wall to adorn the human form. Her vision saw artists and designers creating wearable art, then exhibiting those interpretations on stage in a spectacular dramatic setting.
The result was more than a promotion, it was a mesmerising, unforgettable performance that has grown progressively.
WOW moved to Wellington from Nelson in 2003 having outgrown its original home.
In 2009, WOW is scheduled for a record 10 performances from 24 September to 4 October. Prize winners will be announced on 25 September.
From the original 300 entires, a total of 35 finalists will be selected.
Artists will compete in seven sections for a total of NZ$100,000 in prize money. The Supreme Award winner will receive NZ$10,000, plus American Express international travel valued at NZ$10,000, and the winners trophy.
The show features theatrical rather than traditional catwalk fashion. Dancers and models in wildly imaginative garments, made from unusual materials, lose their human selves in a graceful freestyle performance set to a pulsing music and light show.
WOW designers are challenged to create something that has impact on a large stage and can withstand detailed scrutiny, but there are no rules about following traditional handcraft or sewing techniques.
Participating artists represent the worlds of film, fashion, photography, craft, design, sculpting, drama and art. Some entrants are professional artists but the contest also attracts entries from many new young designers.
In the past the show has also travelled to Asia, the Middle East, Japan and Australia.
World of WearableArt Museum, Nelson
The World of WearableArt & Classic Cars Museum in Nelson houses creations from finalists and winners for the past 20 years.
The collection offers visitors a chance to view garments up close, including examples made of ballet shoes, metal coils, tiny pairs of jeans, paper clips, tyres and feathers, human hair, coral, tree bark and pages from a book.