Graham Reid | | 3 min read
We see the footage or photos quite regularly: something from a catwalk in Paris or Milan where a sullen-looking model totters along wearing the most improbable outfit which is often laughably absurd.
It is called “fashion”.
These catwalk showcases are easy to parody, so Fellini did in Roma with his Vatican fashion show, David Byrne in True Stories and most memorably Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge who interviews a Vivienne Westwood parody whose male models are encumbered by surgical bandages and boots which make it barely possible to walk.
Fashion skewers itself.
The cleverness of the World of Wearable Art is that it doesn't pretend to be “fashion” although it shares some superficial relationship to the catwalk shows.
WOW is about art. Yes, it is art to be worn and the human body is the vehicle, but it is the art we admire for its own sake, not wondering whether anyone other than that model would wear it. Or be expected to wear it.
But the WOW shows – the one currently running in Wellington confirms this – is about much more than the art on the body: that art is there through the confluence of design, technology, science, engineering, cultural references, magic, myth and so much more.
It's telling that this year's judges included Sir Richard Taylor of Weta Workshop, sculptor Jeff Thomson, Academy Award-winning costume designer Alexandra Byrne alongside Zambesi designer Elisabeth Findlay and fashion activist/stylist B. Akerlund from Los Angeles.
And wrapped around that is music, performance (aerialists, gymnasts, dancers and so on), choreography, moving images and projections . . .
WOW lives up to its acronym.
One of the smart WOW moves is not allowing cameras because photos posted online, as they inevitably would be, remove the elements of surprise for those attending later in the season. And there are literally hundreds of surprises in the show.
You don't want to know what to expect, and no verbal description would be of much help either.
So let's just says this about the current WOW which runs at the TSB Arena, Wellington until October 16, it is spectacular.
And a spectacle.
This year it comes with the participation of singer Estere who is part siren, part aural MC and who also gets to wear some spectacular costumes, one in bold black'n'white which owes something to African art and Keith Haring simultaneously.
In other contexts accusations of cultural or artistic appropriation would doubtless be leveled, but WOW is an equal opportunity plunderfest of ideas.
So one garment (if we can call them that) may refer to a royal court, another the Indonesian Garuda, another to bone structure and others to imagined animals, Mexico's Day of the Dead, birds, origami, Balinese kites, an elaborate Hindu wedding . . .
And sometimes a costume will have multiple references.
Picking favourites becomes impossible because of the breadth and sheer number of entries: over 100 of all persuasions in categories this year which are Aotearoa, Avant-Garde (aren't the all?), Monochromatic, Open (“complete freedom to explore and create where the only limit is your imagination”), Architecture and the Elizabethan Era (in the latter, performers who looked like lunatics escaped from the court of the Sun King).
With music which ranges from something like Shapeshifter's hefty electronica to Tchaikovsky's Sugar Plum Fairy (and a local reference which had people in gales of laughter), WOW is an aural and visual delight.
It is also a marvellous and rare opportunity for scores of young students of the various arts – from kapa haka to dance – to participate in an enormous public spectacle (20,000 Wellingtonians, 40,000 from outside the city during the season) and be part of something they can be proud of.
WOW is more than the costumes: it is art and culture, Hair and make-up, music and movement, science and technology . . . and best of all, it is fun.
Back after a Covid absence, WOW had a lot to celebrate this year, and does so with style, seriousness and frivolity.
Take a bow WOW.
There are still tickets available for some of the remaining WOW shows, see here