Since 1998, making a garment for WOW has become a regular project for Upper Hutt’s Chris Wilson and husband Gary. They were introduced to the show through Chris, who took a WOW weekend workshop and entered the scuba diver concept she’d developed, Disco Deep. Gary, an engineer, created the stand that the scuba diver lay on as the outfit moved down the stage. To their delight, it won the Illumination section, and Chris was hooked.
“It was just so exciting,” Chris says. “It was amazing making it and then winning.”
They have made four further pieces selected for the WOW Awards, and most of their work has involved some sort of engineering component, taking advantage of Gary’s expertise. Their three daughters, Shelley, Vanessa and Amy, now in their 30s, have all been garment models for Chris and Gary’s in the past, and lately son-in-law Miles was collared to help out too.
“All the family get called in,” Chris says. The children got used to it over the years as the house turned into a giant studio. “They’ve been very supportive of what we’ve done. They learned to live in a house with the creation of garments taking up several rooms at a time and they knew they would have to carefully open the doors so they didn’t hit anything.”
The couple took a break from WOW in 2002 to concentrate on their business, Artrix Glass Studio, which makes decorative windows, trophies, and other glass and colour creations using sandblasting, etching, and leadlight overlay.
“I’m really lucky that it’s a nice, arty job,” Chris says. In fact, it was the front door of her leadlight business that inspired Miss Tiffany, the couple’s return to WOW competition in 2012. Showing off her love of colour and light, Chris created a stunning lamp-like headpiece set atop a dress and jacket hand knitted on circular needles from strips of silver sequined fabric. She dedicated it to her late parents, Ron and Lass Orr, whom she cared for in their last years.
Miss Tiffany picked up an honourable mention in the American Express Open Section, ahead of 44 entries with the winner of the section going on to take the Supreme Award. Seeing her come to life onstage was a particular highlight for Chris. “The model was fantastic; she sashayed her way down the stage and it really looked amazing. I was absolutely rapt with that one.”
This year, they were excited to have a garment selected again.
The couple turns to Gary’s firm Whakatiki Engineering when they need to fabricate something, and other local services help them too. Every time Chris takes the frame of another WOW garment to their local powder surface business, the owner greets her with a smile and says: “What are we doing this year?”
– Naomi Arnold