This year, one of the most visually stunning categories is returning to WOW in a blaze of colour and light – and it’s just one of several exciting sections that WOW designers can pick from in 2017.

Illumination Illusion, a section celebrating ultra-violet light, has been resting for a few years – something WOW does occasionally to keep things fresh. But it’s time to reignite it, WOW founder Dame Suzie Moncrieff says, and she’s chosen a theme of Float, Fly, and Flow to best bring out the qualities of dramatic black light.

“I think we’ll see some amazing entries this year,” she says. “I see this as an opportunity to create magic and mystery, where the performer wearing the costumes becomes a puppeteer or magician controlling the design they’ve made.”

Obviously, anything under UV light that is black won’t be seen, which brings up endless possibilities. The designs will be judged under UV light and will be performed by professional dancers to best take advantage of the materials.

Psychedelic Symphony by Janice Elliot of New Zealand, on stage in the 2009 WOW Awards show

Some ideas Dame Suzie offers include designs featuring moveable protrusions on and around the body that are attached to UV materials.

“Revealing or concealing is good; it’s the element of surprise,” she says. “It might be a sculptural work on the body or something that spins or a volume of fabric that captures the air when moved fast.

“It’s all about creating magic and tricking the viewer’s eye. UV also flicks out a wake of colour if it’s moving or spinning fast, leaving a magical trail. Or you could work on two to three costumes coming together and apart, becoming one thing and then joining back into something else. There really are no limits. It will take you into a whole other world during the show.”

As well as Illumination Illusion, the six WOW sections this year include Red, Avant Garde, Open, Aotearoa New Zealand, and the Weta Workshop Costume & Film, with a 2017 theme of Science Fiction.

Queen Angel by Adam McAlavey of the United Kingdom, on stage in the 2016 WOW Awards show

Dame Suzie says Red is an exciting new section that will again provoke a vast variety of responses. Costumes must be either all red or shades of red – no venturing into pinkness.

“Red is the colour of emotion; it has many connotations,” she says. “It means anger, warfare, blood, and danger – but also romance, strength, and excitement. What does it mean to you personally? It could be a beautiful floaty piece or strong and sculptural.”

Mana Uha by Olivia Hall of New Zealand, on stage in the 2010 WOW Awards Show

The Aotearoa New Zealand section will also return, and Dame Suzie says this is a great opportunity to explore New Zealand’s diverse cultures and heritage – ranging from the land and sea, Maori culture, early settlers, Chinese miners of the gold rush days and today’s urban melting pots of communities from all over the world.

“There’s a myriad of inspiration and it’s up to our designers to interpret what New Zealand means for them,” she says. “WOW is a place for designers to look at historic culture and examine them in a more contemporary way. For example, who are modern Maori today? How does culture fit into today’s world? What are indigenous people facing? How about inspiration from our endemic world – the patterns in bark, a shell, waves and bush?”

Incognita by Ian Bernhard of New Zealand, on stage in the 2016 WOW Awards Show

For designers wanting to explore art that has a fashion focus, the Avant Garde section will provide. Dame Suzie says this section is truly where fashion and art collide.

“The garment can be inspired by the designer’s wildest dreams and doesn’t have to be a commercial piece but rather a showcase of what the creative mind is capable of,” she says. “It’s showing off who the designer is. We often find that when some of our entrants who work as fashion designers are creating their garment they find new ideas they can include in their commercial collections. It’s a wonderful opportunity to experiment and push boundaries. With WOW’s worldwide stage there’s also the chance for a designer to be noticed and make new opportunities for their career.”

The Kraken by Nicole Lupton of the United Kingdom, on stage in the 2013 WOW Awards Show

Another new opportunity this year is the Weta Workshop Costume & Film section, themed Science Fiction. This invites designers to explore the limitless universe of space, time, and out-there ideas.

“I’m looking forward to this one,” Dame Suzie says. “You’re a bit like God; you’re creating a race. This is your chance to make something – or someone – who has never been seen before, inventing something completely wild and bizarre.

Finally, there is the Open section, in which a designer can enter absolutely anything they want; it just has to be wearable. That has been pure WOW since the awards competition began nearly 30 years ago. There have been thousands of entries in those years, and Dame Suzie says this is the section to enter if your creative ideas don’t fit the other themed sections.

Stella Nova by David Walker of the United States, on stage in the 2016 WOW Awards Show


Finally, she has some words of encouragement for all entrants.

“We had a record audience attending last year, and WOW continues to explode with growth and opportunity,” she says. “The most successful stories we have are those people who have been daunted by their pieces but have pushed through their doubts and carried on.

“Many of those who have won the Supreme Award never thought they would be up there on stage one day – so make this year yours.”