If you’d walked in the door of WOW’s wardrobe department a week ago, manager Leonie Trathen says, you could have rollerskated around the empty floor. But now, with three months to go until the show, the entries have begun to arrive into Nelson from around the world, and the floor is filling with hundreds of boxes.

WOW’s wardrobe department has expanded from six people to nine as they work to get through all the entries, some of which are as large as a small car – one large piece arrived in Nelson last week in a horse float.

“The WOW wardrobe never stops, but now it’s kicked into super level,” Leonie says. “Everyone is champing at the bit to see the new entries. It’s like Christmas.”

Transport partner Mainfreight drops off about a dozen large deliveries over the course of this month, and all the entries should have arrived by June 20, ready for cataloguing and then a series of judging weekends. It’s a time when the new show really starts to come alive, and Leonie says it’s such a buzz seeing the new creations that the entire Nelson WOW team can’t resist coming down to wardrobe to check them out, holding their weekly staff meeting in there instead of the boardroom.

Mainfreight

To ready the garments for judging, the team works off the paperwork the designer has provided, which outlines their materials, inspiration, and garment components. Checking and recording every entry takes the team more than three weeks, with about 1000 boxes to examine. It’s a slow process – one entry can have up to three garments and two dozen individual pieces. Last week, a single entry took a wardrobe technician eight hours to catalogue.

“It’s a long process, but it’s very rewarding,” Leonie says.

The team checks the garment’s pieces, makes sure every part is individually labeled, and puts together a file for each entry that will stay with it throughout competition. It contains back, front, and side images, dressing instructions, the inspiration behind the piece, special choreography, and a component sheet. Up to 15 people might deal with the garment as it makes its way from wardrobe door to the Wellington show, and the booklet means it will appear on stage the way the designer intended. It’s a labour-intensive process, but it helps the garment come alive onstage, Leonie says.

“That information makes the model more of an actor,” she says. “They have to sell that garment to the judges and then to 55,000 people in the audience.”

Many of the wardrobe team have backgrounds in fashion and design, and all appreciate the high-quality craftsmanship coming through their doors.

“We do have our favourite designers,” Leonie says. “We love the incredibly well-made garments, and those where you can tell they have put their heart and soul into creating their piece.”

Getting the garments to Nelson from depots around the world is a complex logistical exercise. Mainfreight, which operates in 22 countries, has helped national and international designers get their garments safely to and from WOW headquarters since the show’s earliest days, and operates 28 drop-off depots around the world.

Each designer has a cubic metre of space, and once they’ve got their garment to the depot point, the garments are checked to see if they’re packed safely, are collected into containers, and sent by sea to New Zealand, where they’re repacked in Lyttelton or Auckland and brought to Nelson.

Leonie says the Mainfreight staff are “awesome”.

“They know how to handle the garments and I think they look forward to coming and doing their deliveries,” she says. “The support they give us is incredibly appreciated.”

The arrangement also substantially cuts the cost and hassle for the entrants, says Todd Chandler, Mainfreight’s national sales manager for air and ocean New Zealand. Designers, though brilliant, aren’t necessarily known for their expertise in international freight.

“We did an exercise recently where one of the designers had managed to make something six cubic metres instead of one,” he says. “When we worked it out, that one was going to cost US$350 a cubic metre, whereas we’re charging US$150 to get it all the way down to Nelson and then return as well,” he says. “A courier could be two or three times again.”

He says the company enjoys working with WOW and is proud of its long association. It’s also involved in helping WOW’s touring exhibition, opening at Seattle’s EMP Museum at the end of June.

“It’s really quite cool,” he says. “It’s thrilling for us to be involved in something that’s a little outside the world of a transport company. We don’t usually get involved in fashion and the arts in general, but it’s great to help out a fellow New Zealand company expanding around the world.”