WOW: an off-the-wall art extravaganza

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 25 years ago, the World of WearableArt Awards 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 World of WearableArt season brings together more than 300 designers - from the UK, Europe, North America, Asia - and 400-plus cast and crew. The two week season of sell-out shows in New Zealand's 'creative capital' - Wellington - performs before a combined audience of more than 35,000 people.

Humble beginnings

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..

Design challenge 

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 from the past 28 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.

Every year a small part of the collection goes on tour to selected destinations showing in museums and at events throughout New Zealand.