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55,000 Hand-cut Scales and Two WOW Award Titles Later: Designer Bethany Cordwell


Winner of the 2022 Avant-garde Section and The Residency Experience Award with her garment Documental, Bethany Cordwell from Australia has delved into her WOW experience and passion for making the banal extraordinary in our WOW Designer Q&A.

Q. Tell us about your garment, Documental, which was crafted during COVID using more than 55,000 scales individually hand-cut from office files!

A. Building Documental during such an uncertain time greatly stabilized my mental health and kept me hyper-focused on channelling my creative skills and ideas.

Inspired by my surroundings, I focused heavily on making the mundane a spectacle by transforming everyday items into high-fashion couture garments.

To create this outfit, I invented a new fabric manipulation using plastic document folders, which I hand-cut into teardrop-shaped scales, layered and machine-sewed each one individually onto a base fabric.

The continuous repetition of cutting, measuring, sorting, layering and stitching over 55 000 scales ultimately gave me a purpose during a time of initially feeling lost and apprehensive of the unknown.

Documental took over 6 months to complete (and a few more trips to the stationery shop!) and was there to fuel my creative energy, and offer comfort through repetitive motions and it is what kept me sane during such a life-altering, isolated experience.

Q. What inspired you to enter WOW?

A. I’ve loved WOW since I was a child! I had a family friend who introduced me to WOW and found this incredible world that supported and elevated costume and fashion designers who created incredible pieces. I knew that one day I wanted to enter and hopefully become a finalist, so to be able to do that this year and then also win my two Awards, is just too much! I can’t even fathom it.

Australian Designer Bethany Cordwell with her garment, Documental

Q. What was it like seeing your garment for the first time on the WOW stage?

A. Such a surreal moment. For such a long time I was creating this outfit in my own home, so then to see it on stage, beautifully worn by my model, was amazing.

I met my model, Daniella Mersi, and I got to thank her for all she brought to the garment. She just embodied everything and brought so much attitude to the outfit.

It was amazing to see the reflective scales under the Show lights, all that movement walking around the stage and the revolving floor that circulated the garment for all angles of the theatre, it was just incredible.

Q. What is your secret weapon when creating a garment?

A. Perseverance! Keep at it! With my work in particular it’s very detail oriented so it takes a very long time, so keeping focused and believing it’s all going to work out is important.

Q. What is your advice for anyone thinking of entering WOW for the first time?

A. You should definitely enter WOW, (of course!), and a key point I found helpful is: create a garment that is really well made. It’s amazing to look good on the stage, but it also must function and be comfortable for the model to wear.

WOW has challenged me in the way I’ve constructed my outfit, knowing that it must be worn for rehearsals as well as three weeks of Shows, it has to be robust enough to handle that ‘on and off’ process.

I think, knowing it was going to be on an Arena stage, I did want to have quite a creative, elaborate finish to the outfit. To have that shiny plastic document folder all cut up reflected well on the stage. So, think of those other elements as well as what it looks like, and how it reacts on the stage.

The silhouette was important too. What WOW needs from its designers is incredible outfits with all those components all well thought out.

So basically, it’s important to look good, but remember it needs to be safe and sturdy too.

More about The Residency Experience Award

World of WearableArt offers The Residency Experience Award in partnership with Los Angeles’ based The Residency Experience, co-founded by B. Akerlund and Kent Belden.

The Residency Experience collaborates with celebrity stylists, editors, costume designers and influencers. The winner of The Residency Experience Award is selected by iconic fashion activist, B. Akerlund, and is presented to a designer whose entry exemplifies exceptional cutting-edge design, giving them a great opportunity to take their art to the next level.

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