“WOW is a place where reality is suspended and imagination gives wings to dreamers”.

This description is certainly apt with WOW rightly considered the world’s leading wearable art competition. On display at the WOW: Up Close exhibition, are 35 award-winning, breath-taking and fantastical garments created by designers from New Zealand and around the world who have pushed the boundaries of creativity. The awards have been running in New Zealand for the past 30 years, with each year seeing increasingly creative and astounding entries which are a veritable feast for the eyes and soul.

Guided by enthusiastic Te Papa hosts, various groups of Friends were able to immerse ourselves in this extraordinary exhibition for a couple of hours which was an enthralling experience. Hearing the back-stories to each garment provided a glimpse into the minds and vision of their creators. This was equally as fascinating as the garments themselves. Some creations were years in the making, with one garment taking eight years to complete.

Winning WOW has provided opportunities for leading designers working at the cutting edge of design and costume and allowed young designers, students and even first-time entrants to win not only coveted internships at Weta Workshop and Cirque de Soleil, but also an opportunity to launch or change their careers.

I was impressed by the use of recycled and sustainable materials. Along with traditional materials such as fabric, paint, paper, wood, cane, wool and felt, innovative high-tech 3D printed plastics, wood, fiberglass, latex, wooden and metal panels and even recycled bicycle tubes have been used. The only limit is the imagination!

I particularly enjoyed seeing a garment which had me spellbound at the WOW Awards in 2009. ‘Lady of the Wood’, resembling a 17th century ballgown, is a breath-taking, sculptural dress created with veneer panels of mahogany, lacewood, maple and cedar by a first-time entrant David Walker, an American carpenter. His entry won both the Open Section the Supreme Award and displays his craftsmanship superbly.

The skill, talent, innovation and imagination of the creators is remarkable. Friends were overheard multiple times to say ‘wow’ in response to the exhibition and were delighted to view the exquisite detail up close. See it to believe it.

Susanne Lang

Credit: Friends group on a guided tour of the WOW: Up Close exhibition. Images taken and reproduced courtesy of S.Lang