Montana World of WearableArt™ (WOW®) 2008

TSB Arena, Queens Wharf, Wellington

25/09/2008 - 05/10/2008

Production Details


The Montana World of WearableArt™ (WOW®) has grown from humble beginnings in Nelson to a world-class event firmly entrenched on the design, fashion and costume calendars around the world, turning many creative heads towards Wellington, New Zealand.

In 1987, Nelson sculptor Suzie Moncrieff needed a concept to promote a rural art gallery. She dreamed up a novel idea to take art off the wall and adorn the human form, showcasing each creation in a dramatic setting. In the 1980’s arts’ sponsorship was difficult as corporates were more focused on supporting sports. Securing funding for some prize money, to entice artists, was proving difficult for Suzie. She was explaining her challenge to Eelco Boswijk, an enthusiastic Nelson arts patron and café owner when he handed her a cheque for $1000 and told her to, "Make the dream happen". The result was more than a promotion – it was a mesmerizing unforgettable performance; a new way to experience art and fashion was born and Suzie Moncrieff called it WearableArt™.

Twenty years on, the annual prize pool has grown to $NZ100,000, the WOW® Awards Show is sold out every year to an audience of 35,000, and over 6000 garments have been entered by artists and designers from: The USA, UK, Australia, India, Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Dubai, Germany, Iceland, The Netherlands, Israel, Fiji, Canada and New Zealand.

The Montana WOW® Awards Show shifted from Nelson to Wellington in 2005, opening the doors to bigger opportunities, audiences, partners and -the Wellington International Airport. Well over eight million dollars is generated every year for Wellington – the creative capital of New Zealand.

WOW® mini shows have traveled to Dubai, Japan, India, Singapore, Thailand and Australia. "The success of WOW® has always been dependent on new designers participating and our pool of talent is growing as more and more countries discover us," says Suzie.

WOW® has inspired designers to fashion garments out of the most unusual materials such as: sculptured photographic paper, Japanese tea ceremony felt, taxidermied birds, corrugated iron, cocktail umbrellas, suitcases, teaspoons, bicycle inner tubes, human and horse hair, a Chinese wedding blanket, paper clips, corrugated iron, and recycled furniture.

Every designer lovingly hands over their garment when they enter the Montana WOW® Awards Show and how that piece is interpreted and brought to life on stage through dance, lighting, drama and comedy, is what makes WOW® so magical every year.

Suzie’s sister Heather Palmer, is the Competition Director and has been with WOW® from the beginning – ensuring over 3500 garments have adorned the stage over the years.

A plethora of section themes have inspired artists and designers such as: ‘Reinterpret the Kimono’, ‘Dynasties and Empires’, ‘Cyber’, ‘World of Inventions’, ‘Natural Forces’ and ‘Realm of Gods’.

The original concept of WearableArt™ is still the linchpin behind every Montana WOW® Awards Show and like all great leaders, Suzie inspires a team of people who all buy into the same vision. More than 6000 dedicated cast, crew and performers have helped make the Montana WOW® Awards Show the theatrical extravaganza that it is, across a myriad of roles: makeup, hair, modelling, dressing, prop making, rigging, lighting, sound, choreography, back stage and front of house. Even the occasional animal wrangler has been bought in over the years, to manage doves, goats, pigs, dogs, donkeys and a white stallion.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister contributes to the extraordinary event; Helen Clark modelled in the Air New Zealand Oceania section in 2002 and presents an award every year.

Nelson is the home of the World of WearableArt™ & Classic Cars Museum, which gives people the opportunity to view WOW® garments up close and personal 364 days a year. Over 340,000 people have enjoyed the historic collection since the doors opened in 2001.

The exciting role of judging WOW® has enticed: Janet Street Porter, UK media star and Zandra Rhodes, Princess Diana’s designer, along with Gladys Perint Palmer, Executive Director of Fashion from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, to New Zealand. The panel always includes a New Zealand artist and fashion designer alongside Suzie, and many have taken on the enviable task including: Jeff Thomson, Jane Evans, Trelise Cooper, Neil Dawson, Francis Hooper, Richard Taylor, Margarita Robertson, Denise L’Estrange-Corbet, Terry Stringer, Doris de Pont, Liz Mitchell, Michael Tuffery, Sally Burton, Ngila Dickson and Gaylene Preston.

The Montana WOW® Awards Show is one of Tourism New Zealand’s top attractions. Media from around the world cover the event including: Marie Claire, L’Officiel from India, The UK’s Independent Newspaper, Canada’s Elle, China’s Modern Weekly, U from Hong Kong, Singapore’s Strait Times, Notebook and Oyster from Australia, and Zink and Tokion magazines from The US. In 2007, WOW® welcomed CBS News from New York, where Suzie featured as one of Phil Keoghan’s Heroes.

Spreading the story internationally is vital to the progression of WOW®. This year, with the support of WCC, WOW® are commissioning another B roll for APTN worldwide satellite distribution, that will include footage of the spectacular show, designers’ interviews and the supreme winner.

Suzie was awarded a prestigious ONZM in 1998 – for services to Arts and Tourism in New Zealand, and WOW® has a plethora of Tourism awards on the mantelpiece including the highly coveted New Zealand Supreme Tourism Award (1999). Keith Bellows, Editor for National Geographic Traveller saw WOW® in 2006 and summed it up, "A phantasmagoric, two-hour runway exhibition that’s part arena-rock light display, aural assault, and celebratory fashion parade. Think Hollywood special effects meets Cirque du Soleil – a galaxy of models troop by in costumes that run the gamut from sci-fi monstrosities and black-lit sculptures to richly textured fabrics, origami designs, and fantasy ensembles".

New Zealand’s Montana World of WearableArt™ Awards Show is more than an art exhibition, it’s more than a fashion show and more than an awards show. Over a quarter of a million people have seen it and this number is poised to increase; recent growth has been enormous with more people having seen the show in the last 5 years than the first 15!

*Montana Wines from New Zealand are avid supporters of creativity, and are the naming partner of the WOW® Awards Show. WOW® is supported by a group of loyal partners; over 40 passionate companies are flying the WOW® flag this year. Bob Haven, professor in Costume Technology from the University of Kentucky summed up WOW®, "Athletes have the Olympics, actors have the Oscars, musicians have the Grammies, and designers and costume creators have WOW®".

For further media comment please contact Gabrielle Hervey on:  or Ph: 021 548 965

Heather Palmer, Company Director
Gabrielle Hervey, Chief Executive
Donna Ching, Marketing Manager
Judith Spencer, Administration Manager
Heidi Mathieson, Marketing Executive

How do they do this every year?

Review by Lyne Pringle 29th Sep 2008

Ok I’ll say it right off the bat – WOW! (My ‘piece of fluff’ at the event kept saying it all night). Immediately I was struck – stating the obvious – by how well the show is named and then by the precise and mighty vision that launched this behemoth in the first place and then by the formidable and dedicated creative team that is the engine driving the delivery and then by the fact that they do it every year on such a massive scale and then by the full to bulging house of expectant  – prepared to pay quite a bit for a ticket – well dressed, happy, verging on joyous punters coaxed to intoxicating bubbly heights by the ‘pre-show’ antics.

Whew the show hasn’t even started yet!

WOW employs 7 full time staff members and brings together 400 cast and crew closer to the event.  In the media brief I talked to the CEO Gabrielle Hervey about strategic choreography including the move from home base in Nelson in order to grow the event, small shows in various places around the planet to entice interest, targeting design courses internationally and the Museum in Nelson which provides up close viewing of the garments. WOW has defined the genre and although there are other Wearable Art competitions all over the world, WOW is the mother ship crewed by an all woman team. So Happy 20th Birthday WOW, take a bow Suzie Moncrieff and ON WITH THE SHOW!

There are 7 sections and each has a conceptual kernel although there are some overarching motifs.  Throughout the script is strong and Malia Johnson does a great job on the choreography with help from Glenn Birchall (Open Section) and Taiaroa Royal (South Pacific Section)The first image is of a little girl on swing with very long ropes moving to a sweet nostalgic song, her satiny dress rustles in the breeze as a Marcel Marceau figure moves around her. This is charming and kinaesthetically satisfying intro before 2 hours plus of sensual overload is unleashed! Here goes.

A huge fan opens upstage forming a screen for succulent projections as the Children’s Section with the theme of reinterpreting/reinventing the tutu kick’s off. I had been told that the show is not what one would expect and I find this to be true. At the heart of it are the Wearable Art garments with specific choreography for each model according to the requirements of each garment they wear.

The stage is huge with a small revolve at the front a lobes sticking out into the audience for better viewing of the garments and what is surprising is the choreography for the chorus and the stunning images that swirl around the garments sometimes foreground sometimes background. There is often a lot going on and some images flit through so quickly that they are almost missed adding to the wonderful sense of texture that the whole event has. This first section has a bohemian European circus feel with some fine dancing from the New Zealand School of Dance classical students and a beautiful build in the choreography riding on the energy of the music. (There is lots of great music throughout but this is uncredited in the programme, I would like to know more)

Some wonderful characters waft through with live animals including swans, dogs and chickens. A gaggle of ecstatic little girls in long tutus (students of Deirdre Tarrant) and an excellent chorus of boy soldiers are some of the highlights. The mix of professionals including the WOW troupe and Footnote Dance Company, unpaid performers including children and students gives a wonderful community feel to the show with all participants having a ball and performing their hearts out.

An older couple dancing a waltz – a bit stilted – provides the segue into the Open Section. A panoramic projection of a stilt walker on a beach takes us into the realms of the French Foreign Legion. The projections develop in a stunning way. There are strange birds and Romanian type music, a fantastic piece of choreography for a line of peasant girls. Unison choreography really pulls the eye in a satisfying way until it gets pulled away in several directions. Wonderful animations of flamingos and live birds again take us into a strangely familiar folksy world. My garment favourites this time include Perfect Pins and High Societies Visit Bill Hammonds Paradise. Once more some fine dancing from NZ School of Dance students and with a fall of luscious curtains we are into the Avante Garde Section.

A surprise visitor drops out of the sky to harass an audience member. Hilarious, a clever script and a clever way to fill the time for the set change. Now we are in the realm of ladders and violins and back to the bohemian circus feel. Men in camp bondage strut to opera, the women work cleverly with fans and umbrellas and at one point a bevy of nuns on skates breeze through – blink and you miss them. I love the element of surprise. A surreal world is built with performers in the air, clever use of walking patterns and a balancing act on chairs. A multilayered Moulin Rouge type playground with great dancing from Footnote and the WOW troupe that finishes with a kiss on top of a ladder.

The South Pacific Section has a completely different feel with a circle of nikau palms defining the space. Beginning with a waiata from the audience there are some stunning visuals as we move into the primordial world of birds. I am struck by the amount of costumes that are made for the chorus throughout the production. Skeleton masks are particularly effective here. There is a Pacific Venus very loud music and warriors amongst the nikaus. In this section it is easier to focus on the garments. A chorus of what I take to be robins or riflemen are lovely and with precise arm movements capture the essence of these small birds with contrasts in weight and lightness.

Surprises again as lit bodies distributed throughout the audience flash on and off leading us into the Illumination Section. Stick figures float into the air holding onto balloons and the magic of ultra violet light makes us all gasp with delight and enjoy the sense of whimsy. Magic! Some of the garments here are really clever particularly a character with its shadow in front of a full moon. This section is upbeat and vibrant, well-paced with some excellent choreographed chorus work.

Almost saturated but wait there’s more; a tribute to the past winners over the last 20 years was very moving and inspiring.

After another transition we are into the Architecture Section with a Metropolis Fritz Lang type feel as silver clad figures slink from smoky underground hatches – nice image; futuristic and great theatre. Throughout this section a large metal tower is built as the striking structural garments are paraded through. I really enjoyed the play of these garments with the bodies of the models, they were the most dynamic for me which why I guess it is the last of the full costume sections.  The payoff for the tower image was somewhat lacking due to choreography or lights – not sure – and the dismantling took a very long time but I kind of enjoyed the rest and seeing the techies on stage doing some real nuts and bolts kind of work was quite a nice pragmatic juxtaposition with all the other visuals so far.

A lit up model plan launches the Shell Bizarre Bra Section and its all on for a razzmatazz runway to the finale. Pink parachutes fall from the sky. GIs and the Beat Girls bounce their way to a Boogie Woogie Bugle boy be bop frenzy as dancing girls join them in snappy dance routines that launch eventually into a Busby Berkley type number with several Marilyns on a tiered cake as the fireworks go off and everybody has danced themselves into a lather.

Ending with a bang this massive show leaves me with a smile on the dial and I’m off to sign up for the WOW fan club. I’ll be back next year to witness this major event on the theatrical annual (how do they do this every year?) calendar.


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