Wow! It’s the World of WearableArt™!

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American Dream. Designed by Sarah Thomas of Timaru, NZ. Winner 2009 American Express Open Section. Winner 2009 Weta Award. Photo credit: World of WearableArt™ Ltd

If I’m honest, I was very surprised. I had always thought of Nelson, New Zealand as a pleasant, agricultural town boasting also a port, a nice beach and a bit of a boutique feel. For most tourists visiting the South Island, it serves as a gateway to the spectacular wilds of the Nelson Lakes, Abel Tasman and Kahurangi National Parks. I did not expect Nelson to be the home of one of the more astonishing testaments to the human impulse to create beautiful stuff.

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Firebird. Designed by Susan Holmes, Auckland. 2009 Winner Untouched World WOW Factor Award. Photo credit: World of WearableArt™ Ltd

The World of WearableArt™ – or WOW – began as the brainchild of Suzie Moncrieff who, in 1987, organised an event to promote a rural art gallery in Nelson. Her unique idea has grown into a major annual show held in Wellington. It draws entries from all over the globe. The garments entered for the shows are stunning in their design and manufacture; their exhibition is carefully choreographed. The Nelson-based and permanent manifestation of these shows is the tastefully designed World of WearableArt™ and Classic Cars Museum.

WOW Museum

To glimpse the World of WearableArt™ is to be seduced into a world of heart-stopping beauty and mind-numbing creativity. It is more than fashion. It is more than costume. It is more than theatre. It is at once thrilling and inspiring.

Good advice would be to make New Zealand your destination and take in the World of WearableArt™. Better advice would be to make the World of WearableArt™ your destination and take in New Zealand. So why all the hype? Here are some of the winners. Just enjoy!

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Conversations with Guggenheim. Designed by Rodney Leong of Auckland, NZ. Winner 2008 Centre Port Wellington Inspired by Architecture Section.

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Dragon Fish. Designed by Susan Holmes of Auckland, NZ. Winner of the 1996 Silk Section. Winner of the 1996 Chez Eelco Supreme WearableArt™ Award.

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The Beehive Bra. Designed by Narresh Kukreja & Shivan Bhatia, India. Commended 2006 Scenic Circle Hotels Bizarre Bra Section. Photo credit: World of WearableArt™ Ltd

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Reflection. Designed by Erna & Karl Van der Wat of Auckland, NZ. Winner 2011 WOW® Factor Award. Winner 2011 Dominion Post People’s Choice Award. Photo credit: World of WearableArt™ Ltd

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Hylonome. Designed by Mary Wing To of United Kingdom. Winner 2011 Brancott Estate Supreme WOW® Award. Winner 2011 Tourism New Zealand Avant Garde. Photo credit: World of WearableArt™ Ltd

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Superminx. Designed by Simon Hames of Wellington, NZ. Winner 1999 Montana Supreme WearableArt Award. Winner 1999 Smythes Solicitors Dynasties and Empires Section. Photo credit: World of WearableArt™ Ltd

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Lady of the Wood. Designed by David Walker, United States. Winner 2009 Montana Supreme WOW® Award. Winner 200 Tourism New Zealand Avant Garde Section. Photo credit: World of WearableArt™ Ltd

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Hermacea. Designed by Jan Kerr, Paraparumu, NZ. Winner 2011 WETA Award
Winner 2011 American Express Open Section. Photo credit: World of WearableArt™ Ltd

World of WearableArt™ is an original concept created by Suzie Moncrieff in 1987 and owned by World of WearableArt™ Limited. Images reproduced here by kind permission of World of WearableArt™ and Classic Cars Museum; Nelson, New Zealand.

Alison Hale’s horses

Alison Hale grew up and still lives on the rugged west coast of New Zealand’s South Island. She has painted every facet of country life there and has won high acclaim for doing so. New Zealanders collect her work avidly seeking a glimpse of a bygone era.

Alison Hale 1

Dark of the Night: 70cm x 50cm oil on canvas.

Alison’s formative years were spent riding, rounding up, caring for and dreaming about working horses; no surprise then that horses feature prominently in her painting.

Alison Hale 2

Unfinished Business: 122cm x150cm oil on canvas.

Her horses live. They are anatomically and ergonomically correct. Her oil is liberally thinned and in places runs down the canvas reminding the viewer of the never-ending west coast rain.

Alison Hale 3

Out of the Blue: 93cm x 21cm oil on canvas.

Alison is based in the unlikely mining town of Reefton. Since I met her there in 2006 working in her studio, her theme has moved steadily away from a wet and gritty country reality towards the equine dream-world of her younger days. Now, elegant fantasy horses in fantasy settings step forward onto her canvases. These are beautiful, technically accomplished and captivating paintings. They too will be eagerly collected by her compatriots.

Bruce Bay cairns, New Zealand

In Maori mythology, southern right whales (tohorara) have god-like status. Hoping to glimpse these increasingly rare beasts, tourists driving the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island stop at Bruce Bay. Weather permitting, people from every continent get out of their rented vehicles and stare out to sea. They have time on their hands. There is no café; only the road, the ocean and the rocks in between.

Bruce Bay 1

Something in this wild, beautiful place impels the visitors to leave hundreds of carefully balanced cairns. Some are simple; some show ingenious engineering skills; some are beautiful. All have a primitive appeal. Are they just marks of passing for the next tourist or is there at play some great whale-spirit?

Bruce Bay 2

Bruce Bay 3

Bruce Bay 4

Bruce Bay 5

I left my own cairn at Bruce Bay but I felt like an intruder. Reassuringly, it will have been washed away, like the others, in one of the great storms that lash this rugged coastline.

There is a Maori cemetery at the end of the beach.

Anna King’s Tui brooch

The cover of a New Zealand hunting manual published in the 1990s has a photo of an adolescent Anna King. With rifle in hand and flaming red hair she poses near her trophy beast. A decade on, she meets her unshaven prince-in-camouflage. She embarks on jewellery-making wanting to combine ornament with a fervent love of things natural. Her self-designed silver brooch is the only output before family life takes over. It is a work suffused with love.

Anna King's Tui Brooch

The Tui is New Zealand’s second iconic bird. Its plumage is metallic blue-green. Its white feathery throat bobs characteristically as it chimes and cackles. The circular Tui triad of Anna’s brooch is completely balanced. It speaks to nature’s great cycle and whispers celtic silver. (A link to the red hair?) This is beauty.

When I first meet her, she is wearing the brooch at her throat. Surprised by my magpie-like interest in things beautiful, she tells me of its provenance. I ask what else she has made. “Nothing really” she replies. Her young son watches her prepare for the next hunt. “Got to feed the family” she says.