At the epicentre of WOW’s multi-layered universe is the international design competition that challenges artists and designers from all around the world to take art off the wall and onto the human form. The most innovative and outstanding entries are chosen to appear on stage as part of the annual World of WearableArt™ Awards Show.

The selection process is determined by a panel of judges, comprised of WOW founder Dame Suzie Moncrieff and two judges chosen afresh each year, from the worlds of art and fashion.  The initial stage is a pre-selection round for all first-time entrants, followed by first judging for entry into the stage show. The remaining two judging rounds determine the winners of $165,000 in prizes and internships with Cirque du Soleil and Weta Workshop.

First judging is held over a busy three days at WOW’s Nelson headquarters in July each year. Models in full hair and makeup parade each entry, and are responsible for inhabiting the garment and showing it off to best effect. Competition director Heather Palmer is on hand to explain each garment’s inspiration, construction, and materials to the judges as they assess them.

In 2016, the guest judges were Zambesi fashion designer Elisabeth Findlay and sculptor Gregor Kregar, both of whom have taken on the task of judging before.

“I was honoured to be invited to join the judging panel of World of WearableArt for the second time,” Findlay says. “I remember the first time I could not stop smiling because it was so inspiring and so much fun.

 “The level of creativity blows me away. We are presented with extraordinary vision, incredible craftsmanship and use of technology.  Seeing so many entries with such diversity can be quite overwhelming and you feel the responsibility to consider each piece and evaluate it fairly. Sometimes an entry will appear and evoke an immediate response, while others impress on closer inspection. I guess I rely on my instincts and experience in the industry to contribute to the judging process.”

Happily, she says, the three judges often found themselves agreeing on which garments took the top spots, despite the individual lens through which each viewed the works.

Judging can barely be envied – anyone who has seen a WOW show will imagine it to be an impossible task – and Kregar says the work is “intense and enjoyable”.

“I was pretty impressed with the quality and the level of the entries,” he says. “Some sections are stronger than others in different years. In 2012 the Avant Garde section was especially strong and this year I think the Weta section and Bizarre Bra entries were of excellent quality.”

As a full-time sculptor, he says there are some crossovers between creating his work and the show entries, and having a sculptor on the judging team brings that understanding of different, unusual materials – one of WOW’s hallmarks. He echoes Findlay when he says 90 per cent of the time, the judges are all in agreement on a garment’s artistic merit, and much of that is down to a gut feeling.

“I think the first and most important impression is the quite intuitive response you have, which you can rationalise in different ways,” he says. After the gut comes the brain. “It then becomes better when you start realising more about what it is made out of, how it all works, how complex it is, and how it fits the brief.

“It’s really easy to distinguish between really good work and really bad work – that always reveals itself really fast,” he says. “But what’s on top is usually clear.”

The judges’ checklist

  1. Excellent construction
  2. Model comfort and safety
  3. Stage impact
  4. Exhibition ready
  5. Innovative use of materials and techniques
  6. Meets the section brief
  7. A total concept