L-R: GESTA HUNGARORUM (2014), TEMPLA MENTIS (2015), ALHAM-BRA (2016); Daniella Sasvári, New Zealand

For some, entering WOW is a creative outlet. For others, it’s an extension of their work. But for New Zealand-based Hungarian designer Daniella Sasvári, WOW has been a guiding light, and in many ways, it’s the reason she’s been able to make a life in New Zealand.

Sasvári, 41, won the Sustainability Award in 2015 with her exquisite hand-painted garment Templa Mentis, and won honourable mention in the Weta Costume & Film section in 2014 for Gesta Hungarorum (Chronicle of the Hungarians).

She’s lived in New Zealand since 2007, but before that she was a successful costumier in her home country, spending 10 years working with a regional theatre; in Hungary, theatres are part of the government education department, and are funded much like libraries.

As a costumier with a fashion degree, each year she would help create the costumes for six large stage productions, at least two children’s productions and several smaller ones as well.


“It was pretty busy, and it was very good; I was lucky,” she says.


TEMPLA MENTIS, Daniella Sasvári, New Zealand

But when she married, her Hungarian husband brought her and their two children to New Zealand. Settling into a new country with young children was a challenging transition, and though she had a job offer from Whanganui’s Kooky Designer Fashion, she had to wait a year to start work because of immigration issues.

In 2008 she finally started work as a pattern-maker, and later as a garment assistant and fashion technician. However, more difficulty and hardships arose when Sasvári’s husband died in 2010, leaving her a single mother of a five- and six-year-old, without permanent residency. Those early years after his death were “terrible”, she says. She was isolated in Whanganui by language and culture.

She had first entered WOW in 2008, with a garment called New Zealand in My Eyes that represented the landscape around Whanganui. Unfortunately, it wasn’t selected for the competition, however she persevered and in 2010 she entered again, was selected, and would go on to do so nearly every year since. It was the only competition she could find in New Zealand which drew on her skills, and she used the opportunity to explore European customs and history through her artwork.

She became a New Zealand permanent resident in 2012 – and Sasvári decided to pursue a career change, where she could use her skills and continue to do meaningful work. She decided to study to become an arts and technology teacher. WOW was her pathway to doing so; the competition not only allowed her to continue developing creative work, but she was able to use her WOW entries to gain publicity and recognition as a productive, successful artist.


“It was a very good journey,” she says. “it slowly built up every year as I learned more about the competition.”


2015, when she won the Sustainability Award, was “a breakthrough”.

She used $5000 of her 2015 WOW prize money to become a student, taking a post-graduate diploma in computer graphic design at Whanganui’s Ucol, which accepted her based on her portfolio, work experience, and her successes at WOW. 

Today she is still studying, towards two diplomas – one in art and creativity and another in Māori visual arts. Next year, she will do a diploma in adult education and an advanced diploma in art and creativity.

TEMPLA MENTIS, Daniella Sasvári, New Zealand

Throughout her journey, she had help from the office of Chester Borrows, Whanganui’s MP, and also from the Whanganui community.


“I wouldn’t have been able to stay without their help, assistance and public support,” she says. “They helped me because I could show my talent through WOW.


“I daresay if I didn’t have WOW I wouldn’t have residency,” she says. “I gained recognition and public support for myself and Whanganui through the competition, which I could use as an asset to support my Immigration New Zealand applications.”


Sasvári eventually remarried, to a Kiwi man, Aaron, and they now live in Upper Hutt.

She says the 2-3 month period where she works 10-12 hour days on a garment isn’t easy for the family.


“My kids learned to enjoy and take advantage of it. They could get away with things when I was so focused on other things,” she jokes.


Things are much better these days, and Sasvári says her experiences have taught her how to go after the life she wants.


“I’m 41 years old and the first 30 years were about fighting for the right to be an artist,” she says. “Except for the years I spent in the theatre, my father never actually saw what I could do because he’s colour-blind. I was forced to go to business school and both my parents wanted to turn me to the business and hospitality industries.


“I said no, but it wasn’t an easy journey. I learned to speak up and fight for what I thought was valuable for me.”


And she is only just beginning, she says; though she will take a break from the competition this year to focus on study and develop her skill. She has a wish to “paint like Rembrandt” before she can finish her next piece.


“I’m really grateful the competition is there because it supported me as an artist,” she says. “It’s a wonderful thing.”


Photos provided by World of WearableArt™