The World of WearableArt Awards Show® (WOW) is the leading wearable art design competition in the world.

We trace the history of the World of WearableArt Awards Show from small beginnings in 1987 through to the current day. MoaTours have been offering our WOW small group tour for over 10 years, and it is one of the highlights on our calendar.

Images provided by World of WearableArt Ltd, and copy approved by World of WearableArt Ltd. 30 May 2019.

What is World of WearableArt?

The incredible World of WearableArt Awards (WOW) Show is held annually in Wellington every September/October for a three-week season.

The garments that take the stage are made from every conceivable material including rope, rubber, feathers, plastic and latex. The designers' creations bought to life in this spectacular, highly choreographed theatre production with sophisticated lighting and stage technology. The World of WearableArt Awards Competition attracts hundreds of designers from New Zealand and overseas, some from prestigious creative fields including film, fashion and art while others are amateurs. 

There are 34 prestigious awards to be won and a total of $187,500 in prize money. There are also three residencies on offer as prizes, an Invited Artisan Award with international circus and theatre group Cirque du Soleil in Montreal, an Emerging Designer Award at Weta Workshop in Wellington and new for 2019 the Residency Experience Award in Los Angeles. With three rounds of intensive judging, the panel of judges evaluate each garment based on its originality, creativity, innovation and construction. While the designers remain anonymous, the judges are given the name of the garment and a brief on its inspiration.

For more information about WOW see this article for the top 10 Questions about the show.

1987 - The first World of WearableArt Awards Show

Creator of this incredible concept is Nelson sculptor, Dame Suzie Moncrieff.  

In 1987, she wanted to promote a rural art gallery, William Higgins Gallery, so came up with the idea to take art off the wall and adorn it on the human body. With prize money of $1,000 entries rolled in although some entrants mistook the brief of "Wearable Art" and entered colourful knitwear. With an audience of just 200 locals the event was deemed a success.

Following image courtesy of World of WearableArt®. Garment: Wild Walker by Nikki Jiminez, New Zealand, 1987 Supreme WOW Award Winner.

World of WearableArt Supreme Award Winner 1987 - Wild Walker by Nikki Jiminez

1990 - WOW moves to central Nelson

The event grew in popularity until the show could no longer be held in the gallery, moving from rural Nelson to the city’s Trafalgar Centre. With a full house of 2,000 people the event was a roaring success. It was the first time a set had been made especially for the show; a volcanic theme. Seventy-two garments were entered, including one called Bacon Bitties (Lynda Duncan, New Zealand). With a frosted veil and breast plate of real bacon slices encased in resin, it showed the country how capable the Nelson arts community is.

1999 - WOW receives recognition by the New Zealand Tourism industry

The World of WearableArt event has been the recipient of many Tourism Awards over the years including ‘Best Cultural Tourism Experience’, ‘Best Event’ and the prestigious ‘Distinction Award’. In 1999 WOW was awarded the Supreme Tourism Award.

2001 - The World of WearableArt Museum & Classic Car Collection opens in Nelson

As the World of WearableArt Awards Show continued to grow storage was needed to house the historical garment collection. Nelson businessman and philanthropists Peter and Judy Talley developed the World of WearableArt & Classic Car Museum which is WOW's HQ and a museum to exhibit and store the garments, alongside an incredible classic car collection.

After each show winning garments are exhibited at the National WOW Museum in Nelson where visitors can see the garments up close and appreciate the level of detailing and expertise needed to create an award-winning work.

Following image courtesy of National WOW Museum Nelson ®.

World of WearableArt Costumes at the WOW Museum in Nelson

2005 - WOW moves to Wellington

In 2004 the decision was made to move the World of WearableArt Awards Show to Wellington. Founder Dame Suzie Moncrieff says, "I don’t think World of WearableArt Awards Show would be here today if we had not made that step."

Research commissioned by the company showed that for the event to expand and develop creatively and commercially it needed to move. "We had to grow the event and it wasn’t sustainable to keep it in Nelson," Dame Suzie Moncrieff says. The reality is more people could be seated each night at Wellington’s TSB Arena on Queens Wharf.

Following image courtesy of World of WearableArt®.

World of WearableArt Awards Show Performers and Audience at the TSB Arena in Wellington

2012 - Founder of WOW, Suzie Moncrieff is knighted

Following an appointment as an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 1998 for service to the arts and tourism, Suzie Moncrieff received a Dame Companion of the same order in 2012, for service to the arts.

Dame Suzie Moncrieff receiving her Dame Companion from the Governor General

2013 - Kiwi designers win at WOW

New Zealand sisters, Tatyanna Meharry and Natasha English, won the Supreme WOW Award in 2013. Their two-garment entry The Exchange was a contemporary portrait of the Treaty of Waitangi. Dual garments were made from ceramic feathers and coins. The garments portray the ongoing acts of cultural assimilation through the exchange and realisation of gifts and promises.

The Supreme WOW Award Runner-up in 2013 was also a New Zealander from Nelson, Peter Wakeman. His garment, Chica under Glass was awarded first place in the Avant-garde section and runner-up to the Supreme Award. 

Following image courtesy of World of WearableArt®. Garment: The Exchange, Tatyanna Meharry & Natasha English, New Zealand.

WOW 2013 Supreme Winner - The Exchange by Natasha English & Tatyanna Meharry © World of WearableArt Awards Show

2015 - WOW connects with Cirque du Soleil

In 2015, World of WearableArt and Cirque du Soleil developed a relationship which meant Cirque du Soleil each year awarded one designer the rare opportunity of a one-month residency at their headquarters in Montreal, Canada.

Weta Workshop also offer a four- week residency, where the winner has the unique opportunity to spend time behind-the-scenes at Weta Workshop in Wellington. The winner of this Award is chosen each year by Sir Richard Taylor, CEO and Creative Director of Weta Workshop.

2016 - More Kiwi Success at WOW

In 2016 New Zealander Gillian Saunders from Nelson won the Supreme WOW Award and the Avant-garde Section with her garment SuperNova,  a star explodes in a far-off galaxy, made with recycled leather, gems and marker pen ink.

Supernova was Saunders' 16th garment to be entered into the World of WearableArt Awards Competition since 2000 and her ninth award. In 2013 her garment Inkling won the Weta: Creature Carnival Award and an internship for Saunders at the five-time Academy Award winning Weta Workshop in Wellington.

Each year she chose a new challenge, either by using a new material or pushing a boundary she was not comfortable with and shied away from having a signature style. "I try and make it so that when it comes in no-one recognises it as mine," she says. The challenge with Supernova was that it was mostly made from leather, which had been hand sewn, something Saunders had not done much of before.

Following image courtesy of World of WearableArt®. Garment: Supernova, Gillian Saunders, New Zealand.

2016 World of WearableArt Awards Show Supreme Winner Supernova by Gillian Saunders

2017 - Internationally renowned designer wins the Supreme WOW Award

Rinaldy Yunardi was a first-time entrant to WOW but is an internationally renowned designer boasting a twenty-year career in designing millinery and fashion accessories. He has designed pieces and accessories for several celebrities including the likes of  Nicki Minaj and Zoe Saldana. He submitted two garments into the 2017 WOW Design Competition, Encapsulate and Cosmos which won the Open and Avant-garde sections respectively. Encapsulate went on to be announced as the 2017 Supreme WOW Award winner. 

Calling his garment Encapsulate, it was shaped like a capsule in two halves and made from plastic ropes and LED lights. He says it was inspired by the universe being a well-ordered whole, encapsulating a system of thought, reason and emotions. His second garment Cosmos also won first place in the Avant-garde Section.

In 2017 the runner-up to the Supreme WOW Award was Refuse Refuge by Grace DuVal from the United States. It was also winner of the Sustainability Award. Grace used bicycle inner tubes pulled from the trash of Chicago bicycle shops and spokes to create an alien warrior woman. The following year Grace entered the Awards again and created
another award-winning garment using the same unusual materials. Mind the Synaptic Gap was created using over 350 recycled bicycle tubes that were cut by hand into long, narrow strips of fringe, and in 2018 was awarded the Dame Suzie Moncrieff Award.

Following image courtesy of World of WearableArt®. Garment: Cosmos, Rinaldy Yunardi, Indonesia.

WOW 2017 Supreme Winner - Cosmos Rinaldy Yunardi

2018 - WOW celebrates 30 years

2018 marked the 30th anniversary show of World of WearableArt.
Since 1987:

  • 4,878 garments have adorned the stage
  • 770,000 people have seen a WOW Show
  • $2,430,000 value of prizes (cash and in kind) has been awarded to designers
  • World of WearableArt Awards Show brings $25.2 million to the capital each year. 

2018 - WOW's International Touring Exhibition heads to Russia

The World of WearableArt International Touring Exhibition has most recently exhibited in St Petersburg, Russia following the 2018 World of WearableArt Awards. It has also toured to Australia and throughout US museums in Hawaii, Seattle and Salem. In 2019 the Exhibition opens in Colorado Springs at the Fine Arts Centre.

2019 - A new and exciting award for WOW

WOW is partnering with "The Residency" to offer an exciting new award for the 2019 World of WearableArt Awards Show to be presented to a designer whose entry exemplifies exceptional cutting-edge design. The winner will be chosen by revolutionary fashion activist, stylist and costume designer, B. Akerlund. 

Following image courtesy of MoaTours, our group and guide about to head into the 2018 show.

MoaTours group at the World of WearableArt Awards Show in Wellington

Experience WOW for yourself with MoaTours

In a nutshell, this is the history of World of WearableArt Awards Show. An idea sparked by Dame Suzie Moncrieff 30 years ago is now a spectacular theatre show and New Zealand is on the world map with a concept not achieved anywhere else.

Tickets are on sale now, but for folk living outside of Wellington take a look at our 6 day World of WearableArt Awards Show Tour with accommodation, Platinum tickets and transport included…a hassle-free way to experience the WOW extravaganza.

Images have been provided by World of WearableArt Ltd, and copy approved by World of WearableArt Ltd. 30 approved for use as of May 2019.

Subscribe to Our Blogs

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Monthly Archive

NEW 2020/21


Tours You’ll Love