Underling, Gillian Saunders, New Zealand

With a background in furnishing and textile design, Nelson-based designer, Gillian Saunders, has entered WOW 18 times since 2000 and won numerous awards including the Supreme WOW Award in 2016 for her garment Supernova. 

‘I had been making props for theatre and TV for years. WOW was the perfect challenge – could I make props for the body as well?’

In 2018, for the 30th anniversary show, Gill entered Underling in the Competition. Full of colour and character, Underling burst into life on stage in the Open Section. Gill’s creation impressed the judges with its incredible detail, the judges praising her for having every aspect of the design skillfully resolved. Underling won the 2018 Open Section. 

And now you have the chance to appreciate the detail and craftsmanship behind this spectacular design for yourself! Not only is Underling the face of the campaign but you will also be able see this work of wearable art as part of our new extraordinary exhibition at Te Papa – World of WearableArt – Up Close | Ao KākahuToi – Kia Tata 


In the living world Underling is an urban art warrior, committing art crimes to bring joy to inner-city dwellers. After an unexpected turn of events, she is forced to take her art off the walls, bridges and underpasses, to adorn her body in the underworld.

Underling sets to work immediately and begins a colourful celebration of the beauty she remembers, real or otherwise, from the living world, no surface left untouched. Never has the underworld been so vibrant and alive; her street art radiating hope to all trapped beneath.

Meanwhile, back in the living world, the sun slowly rises and the residents awaken to a new day. The scene before them ignites their imaginations, filling them with joy, making their urban-jungle existence just that little bit brighter.

An Up Close Top Tip: 

When you get up close to Underling, check out the way that Gill has created shading with her painting on the garment. To create a sense of depth and shade, Gill used a toothpick to paint tiny dots all over the garment, a detail that can’t be seen on stage! 


Tickets are on sale now! 

Running for a strictly limited season only from Saturday 12 December 2020 – Sunday 14 February 2021, don’t miss your chance to experience this theatrical journey and immersive exhibition with World of WearableArt!