From a field of 133 garments, New Zealand designer Gillian Saunders’ Supernova won the Brancott Estate Supreme WOW® Award at tonight’s international World of WearableArt™ (WOW®) Awards Show. Supernova also won the David Jones Avant Garde Section, seeing Saunders take home two of the 20 top awards won this year by international designers from the UK, USA, China and New Zealand.

WOW® is an international phenomenon that attracts entries every year from designers from over 40 countries, and showcases the finalists in what has become New Zealand’s largest single theatrical show. The show employs more than 350 cast and crew and plays to an audience of 58,000 over its three-week season finishing October 9.

Supernova is Saunders’ 16th garment entered to the WOW® competition since 2000 and her ninth award. 

Her 2013 garment Inkling won the Weta: Creature Carnival Award and an internship for Saunders at the five-time Academy Award winning Weta Workshop. Inkling was also selected for the touring WOW® international exhibition. The exhibition is currently in the EMP Museum in Seattle, USA and will be seen by more than 600,000 people.

English-born Saunder’s background is in furnishing and textile design. She has been involved with theatre and television for most of her working life, first in the UK, where she trained in Yorkshire, and then in Christchurch where she worked as a props maker for the Court Theatre.

“I had been making stage props for theatre and TV for years. WOW® was the perfect challenge – could I make props for the body as well?” Saunders says.

Saunder’s workspace is filled with her book collections, piles of inspiration and her wearable art creations. Gillian’s inspiration often comes from books – a sentence or a word that triggers floods of ideas.

For Supernova she says she was inspired by a famous dress, a sea monster fin and images from space.

“I was inspired by the texture and colours of Thierry Mugler’s Chimera dress and the iridescent spiny fins of the Hippocampus from the Percy Jackson movie The Sea of Monsters and some incredible N.A.S.A images taken by the Hubble telescope,” Saunders says.  “Once all these elements were combined Supernova was brought to life. The large gems represent new stars being born and the dark shadows represent deep space. Each scale has been individually cut, shaded with marker pens and then hand sewn onto the garment.  Each gem has had its sticky backing removed and then glued on by hand.”

Headed up by WOW® Founder Dame Suzie Moncreiff, the 2016 WOW® Award Show judging panel included distinguished judges Zambesi fashion designer Elisabeth Findlay and sculptor Gregor Kregar. The judging process takes place over three months and involves viewing the garments three times; up close and on the stage in performance.

At the awards ceremony in Wellington, New Zealand, Dame Suzie emphasised the high calibre of the finalists in this year’s competition.  “To win this international design competition is an incredible achievement,” Dame Suzie says. “Supernova has the design innovation, the construction quality and vibrant stage presence in performance to win WOW®’s top award.”

More about Gillian Saunders, 2016 Brancott Estate WOW® Supreme Winner:

 Gillian Saunders has entered WOW® regularly since 2002 and has won a host of awards. In 2007, Saunder’s Equus: Behind Closed Doors was winner of the Avant Garde Section and Tikini placed second in the 2009 Air New Zealand South Pacific Section. Inkling won the 2013 Weta Workshop Costume & Film section, which included a four-week internship prize at the five-time Academy Award winning film effects studio in Wellington, New Zealand.