World of WearableArt
Taking art off the wall and onto the moving bodyTM in rural Nelson in 1987 led to the establishment of one of New Zealand's premier cultural extravaganzas that continues to "audiences."
The WOW® Factor
When Nelson painter and sculptor Suzie Moncrieff wanted to promote the tiny art gallery she ran as a co-operative with friends, she came up with an idea that evolved into one of New Zealand’s leading cultural extravaganzas, The World of WearableArt Awards, known as WOW®.
Click image to enlarge.
Armed with $1000 prize money given to her by local arts patron and café owner, Eelco Boswijk,1 Suzie called for designers to take art off the wall and place it on the human form.2 The first wearable art awards at the William Higgins Gallery in Spring Grove in 1987 were a huge success.
Despite Suzie’s concern that many of the entrants had not really fully understood her art on the body concept, some entering colourful knitwear instead, she felt there was enough interest and support to take her dream a major step further.
The next year she and her sister, Heather Palmer, staged a much larger version of the show at Nelson’s largest venue, the Trafalgar Centre.3 Throwing fashion out the door and transforming a catwalk show into a fully theatrical extravaganza was part and parcel of the move to the Trafalgar Centre and Nelsonians responded in droves.
The show grew bigger each year, with designers from throughout New Zealand, and then the world, working tirelessly on their personal interpretations of the award categories to produce a winning garment. With categories as diverse as South Pacific, children’s, illumination illusion, man unleashed, avant-garde, and the perennial favourite, Bizarre Bra, there is something to satisfy the most active design imagination.
Staging, lighting, costuming, dancers, musicians and performers support the choreographed entry garments and the show has attracted the support of the likes of the New Zealand Royal Ballet, contemporary dance group Black Grace, opera singer Jack Bourke and Maori singer/songwriter Hinewehi Mohi. WOW® has been described as “Mardi Gras meets Haute Couture”.4
Click image to enlarge
Each year, thousands of visitors flocked to Nelson in late September to see the show, which eventually spilled across two weekends. In 1999 WOW® won the Supreme New Zealand Tourism Award.
The World of WearableArt and Classic Cars Museum opened at Annesbrook in 2001. This allowed people to see some of the garments up close, while still experiencing some of the theatricality of WOW® alongside an extensive collection of classic cars in the gallery next door.5
To the widespread dismay of Nelsonians,6 it was announced in 2004 that WOW® had reached its creative and commercial limits in Nelson and would move to Wellington in 2005. Access to a bigger and better equipped venue, a larger population and more corporate sponsors would allow the show to further develop.7
The Museum is now a Classic Car Museum only.
Audiences increased by 50 percent the first year in Wellington and now more than 35,000 people see the show each year.8 The 20th anniversary show was staged in 2008.
While the show has moved to Wellington, the birthplace of WOW® remains firmly in Nelson, where a large team plans, choreographs, scripts, directs and produces the show for months before it moves to Wellington just weeks before opening.9
Read another version of this story by Sarah Butterworth, Nayland College, 2010 [PDF] : The World of WearableArts
Updated December 2020
Sources used in this story
Taylor, Jacqui (2008, May/June) Off the wall. Woman Today, p. 5.
World of WearableArt website: http://www.worldofwearableart.com/
World of WearableArt website and World of WearableArt and Classic Cars Museum ibid.
Moriarty, Angela (2004, 24 July), Weathering the Storm. Nelson Mail, p.17.
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Further sources - World of WearableArt
- Chitham, K., Kolokesa Uafā Māhina-Tuai; Skinner, D., Sorzano, R (2019) Crafting Aotearoa : a cultural history of making in New Zealand and the wider Moana Oceania. Wellington, New Zealand : Te Papa Press, pp. 322-3
- Arnold, Naomi.(2015). World of WearableArt: 30 designers tell their stories. [Wellington] :Potton & Burton.
- De Ruyter, Martin. (2011). Off the wall: the world of Wearable art. Nelson, New Zealand: Craig Potton Publishing.
- O’Connor, Naomi. (1996). Wearable art design for the body. Nelson, New Zealand: Craig Potton Publishing.
- Potton. C. (1993). Angels and bacon: Wearable art: A selection from the 1993 Fifeshire FM93 Wearable Art Awards. Nelson, New Zealand: Craig Potton Publishing. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/45566508
- Potton, C. (2006). The World of WearableArt. Nelson, New Zealand: Craig Potton Publishing. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/166312212
- Potton, C. (2009). The World of WearableArt. Nelson, New Zealand: Craig Potton Publishing.
- World of WearableArt Limited. (2013). WearableArt. Nelson, N.Z.: Craig Potton Pub. and the World of Wearable Art http://www.worldcat.org/title/wearableart/oclc/858579366
- World of WearableArt Ltd (2013) Bizarre bras: World of Wearable Art. Nelson, New Zealand : Craig Potton Publishing.
(ask at your local library about full-text online access to newspaper articles, 1997-)
- A city divided. (ed.2, 2004, July 24). Nelson Mail, p.16.
- Cropp, Amanda (2002, Sept). What to wear. North & South, pp.70-77.
- El Orfi, M. (2000, June 10) Milan beckons wearable art. Nelson Mail, p. 1
- Mayor hits back over WOW. (ed.2, 2004, July 10). Nelson Mail, p.12.
- No more WOW factor. (2005, Sept. 17). Press, p.D3.
- Taylor, Jacqui (2008, May/June). Off the wall. Woman Today, pp.4-5.
- TDC turns down WOW application for funding. (ed.2, 2003, March 14). Nelson Mail, p.3.
- Wearable World. (2005, January). New Zealand Quilter, 50, p.28-30.
- WOW and the woe. (ed 2, 2004, July 24). Nelson Mail, p.17.
- WOW rakes in $6.5m. (ed.2, 2003, Dec. 13). The Press, p.18.
- WOW refused to open books. (ed.2, 2002, November 28). Nelson Mail, p.1.
- WOW, what a show. (2002, Oct 3). The Press, p.D3.
- WOW: World of WearableArt Awards show. (2007, November). Her Magazine, 85, p.110-115.
- McGrath, M., Stewart, J & Reid, C. (Producers). (2002, August 11). Six months to Mars. Afternoons with Jim Mora [Radio Broadcast]. Wellington: Radio New Zealand National.
- WOW : World of WearableArts Awards Show. [Video]. (2002). Nelson, New Zealand: Tui Vision
- WOW: World of WearableArts Awards Show. [DVD]. (2007). Nelson, New Zealand: Tui Vision. Available in the Nelson Public Library Research collection.
- WOW: World of Wearableart https://www.worldofwearableart.com/about/
- 1998 Montana New Zealand Wearable Art Awards.https://www.nzonscreen.com/title/2007-wow-2007. Livingstone Productions. TV3
- 2007 Montana World of Wearable Art Awards. https://www.nzonscreen.com/title/2007-wow-2007 TVNZ. Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision - TVNZ Collection.