But, that was just us – WOW’s wardrobe technicians, everyone involved in make-up and hair, dressing our models, the creative team tasked with filming and choreographing the annual Awards Show, and almost everyone from management who could get to the wardrobe department during the very important first stage of this international competition. Even those of us who didn’t really need to be there, slipped in for the chance to see the wearable art entries on the models for the first time. And, we’re all sworn to secrecy, by the way – in writing. Even the children, who model the creations for the children’s section of the competition, know they cannot go home and talk about the garment they have been chosen to model. 

In a room off to one side of our wardrobe building, the WOW Awards judging panel sat for much of Friday afternoon and all day Saturday and Sunday. As much as we enjoy the excitement, the anticipation – and the privilege – of seeing the models dressed in the garments for the first time, it’s really only the judges’ reactions that matter.

Aside from when the models are entering and leaving that judging room, the door is kept firmly closed. None of us are allowed in there. None of us know what the judges say to one another and we don’t get to see their facial expressions; their reactions.

One by one, our models walked, teetered and even rolled (some garments were on wheels) in front of the judges – and struck poses, turning and twisting to display all sides, tops and bottoms of each and every competing garment.

A judging room virtually in ‘lock-down’ is a very good thing. It’s an assurance the whole confidentiality-factor in the judging system at WOW is rock-solid. All the designers – whether they’re veteran competitors in the WOW Awards or entering the competition for the very first time, know every garment that goes before the judging panel does so with complete anonymity. The judges never know the designers’ names, where they come from and they don’t even know each designer’s gender!

And, if you’re imagining “Project Runway,” think again. There is no ‘line up’ of garments from each category, filing across a stage in front of the judges. Each and every entry is viewed on its own; worn by the model it best fits.

It’s not until each model leaves the judging room that we find out whether the garment has been selected for the Awards Show in September. The model either turns left and waits to be photographed in the garment – or, turns right and heads for the garment changing area.

We saw some impressive tricks in the wardrobe department, as models stepped into the garments or twisted and turned and ducked their way into them – or out of them. Sometimes, they could only stand still, arms up or out, as our wardrobe staff cleverly dressed them. (Best memory from my visit there: the model who extricated herself from a voluminous ‘skirt’ by holding her arms straight up above her head and slowly sinking downward. When the wardrobe staff lifted up the heavy skirt, there was the model, curled up on the floor).

What good sports the models are, too! We notice they earn little temporary ‘badges of honour,’ from wearing the garments – mostly red marks on their skin – because a whole raft of materials are used in the creation of the garments. The designers generally do their best to create their pieces over comfortable, wearable fabrics, but some poking and prodding comes with the territory.

Leather, feathers, tickly faux fur, sometimes-sharp sea-shells, papier mache, mosaic porcelain, plastic and metal – including pot-scrubs – were just some of the materials to adorn our models’ bodies.

The proportion of entries from around the world and from within New Zealand has almost reached a perfect half-and-half.

By Sunday afternoon, the three judges had unanimously decided to put through their selection for this years show. These garments will compete for 41 prizes, over seven different categories, and a share of the $165,000.

-Victoria Clark