Exhibition spotlight: WOW

As the exhibition title suggests, expect to say the same word repeatedly as you make your way through the galleries, spoken in admiration and complete disbelief.

“WOW” is definitely right.

Now in its 28th year, WOW,® the World of WearableArt competition has attracted thousands of entries worldwide from fashion designers, artists, sculptors, architects, blacksmiths, illustrators, costume makers and other artisans. The challenge: Create something beautiful and wearable from unorthodox concepts and materials.


“WOW” Photo by Paige Besse.

Using the human body as a blank canvas, designers create works of wearable art to be exhibited in the annual awards show staged in Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand. Anything that is in any way wearable, as long as it is original, beautifully designed and well made, is welcome. WOW ® — the traveling exhibition — presents 32 of this competition’s most spectacular and outlandish award-winning ensembles in a fusion of art, fashion and theater. PEM is the exclusive U.S. East Coast venue.

“Lady Gaga, Vivienne Westwood and Julie Taymor would all fall in love with WOW ®,” said Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, PEM’s James B. and Mary Lou Hawkes Deputy Director and the exhibition’s coordinating curator.

“The artists are really pushing the limits of what you can do to clothing and design on your body. I love the egalitarian nature of this competition — with creativity coming from so many corners.”

Here is a preview of some of the looks we hope will have you saying, “WOW,” when the exhibition opens on February 18th.


David Walker (Alaska). Beast in the Beauty, 2013. Maple, padauk wood veneers and aluminum. Courtesy of World of Wearable Art Limited.

David Walker: Beast in the Beauty

A carpenter by trade, David Walker’s wearable art is meant as a tribute to women living with cancer and their struggle to maintain dignity and beauty during treatment. His wife, Renee, had terminal breast cancer. The year before she died, the whole family traveled to New Zealand to join Walker at the WOW® competition.

The garment represents aspects of cancer treatment. The helmet is indicative of a warrior and suggests baldness. The skirt and breast are radiation symbols to convey all the treatments and diagnostic scans a patient receives. The mechanism on the back represents enduring endless chemo treatments and surgeries. The heart is the soul of the woman worn on the chest and the thorns through the soles of the boots symbolize the pain endured.

Gothic Habit, Lynn Christainsen, USA. Courtesy of World of WearableArt Limited.

Lynn Christiansen (San Francisco, California). Gothic Habit, 2014. Laser-etched felt and wood. Courtesy of World of Wearable Art Limited.

Lynn Christiansen: Gothic Habit

Growing increasingly unhappy in her marketing job, Lynn Christiansen picked up a self-help book that posed the following question: When did you last lose track of time? She thought back to graduate school when she had sculpted a small leopard from clay, oblivious to the fact that day had turned into night. She enrolled in art school soon after.

Gothic Habit started with a fascination with laser cutting felt and a photo that Christiansen took of the buttresses of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Her design was made from laser-etched felt and wood, and constructed with more than 2,300 individually cut pieces. Her inspiration for the garment was drawn from the idea that entering a religious building provides a spiritual experience in itself.“ The rising arches, heavy stone and raw beauty are stunning.”


Peter Wakeman (New Zealand). Chica Under Glass, 2013. Fiberglass and plywood. Courtesy of World of Wearable Art Limited.

Peter Wakeman: Chica Under Glass

Peter Wakeman decided to enter the WOW® competition after seeing a garment made from saw blades and possum fur. He loved the thought of being able to design something for himself, answerable to nothing and no one but his own imagination.

Wakeman, who works as a commercial cleaner, is completely self-taught. He learned  his  skills while working in construction and boat building. He spent 320 hours, more than seven months, making Chica Under Glass in the garage of his home in Motueka, New Zealand. His wife volunteered as his model, getting scratched by fiberglass as he worked on his design. The hot pink color was her idea.

Hylonome, Mary Wing To, UK. Courtesy of World of WearableArt Limited.

Mary Wing To (United Kingdom). Hylonome, 2011. Leather, horsehair and pony shoe. Courtesy of World of Wearable Art Limited.

Mary Wing To: Hylonome

Mary Wing To’s decision to work with leather may not be surprising once you learn this horse lover’s profession. A trained saddle and harness maker, she once apprenticed under Queen Elizabeth II’s master saddler and even had a role in the wedding procession of Prince William and Kate Middleton, making sure the horse harness was adjusted perfectly.

Wing To created her ensemble using various traditional leather craft techniques. Each leather piece is hand cut, edged, stained, stenciled, stitch-marked, molded, sculpted, hand-stitched and finally hand-laced together. Just the centaur’s life-size head took 15 hours of nonstop molding work. It is finished with a real horsehair mane.

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“The one thing the world will never have enough of is the outrageous.” – Salvador Dali. Photo by Paige Besse.

WOW® World of WearableArtTM — the exhibition — is on view from February 18-June 11, 2017.

Join us for the WOW® Opening Day Festival on Saturday, February 18 from 10am – 5pm. Explore garment design, construction and materials with fashion designers, costume makers, and other artisans. Enjoy art making, performance and demonstrations. See complete details here!

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