Christopher’s garment Haerenga (Journey) is the 2022 Sustainability Award winner, and made a massive impact on the judges who said, “the designer’s concept of making something using pumice, native seeds and flax that would return to the land at the end of its life was exceptionally beautiful and really resonated with us”.
Q. What drew you to first enter a garment into WOW?
A. My first was called Itchy Stich, it’s a garment made from knitting needles, and that piece was a therapy piece for me as I was going through a back operation at the time – and for me, I just needed a distraction. Also, my grandmother had passed away at that time. I was given her knitting needles and I recalled her really itchy jumpers, so I wanted to create this garment that was really like a child’s nightmare of what we used to think the jumpers were, and Itchy Stich was created.
Believe it or not, I never intended this garment for WOW, it was just for me to have this therapeutic piece, and it was my Mum who encouraged me to enter, saying ‘you’ve got to believe in yourself – this is a WOW garment, you’ve got to send this away!’ At the time I thought, no, it’s not good enough, WOW standards are high, you’ve got to have a qualification, you’ve got to be a professional, but I sent it off. I thought, I’ll just send it, it will be sent back, and that would be that. But Itchy Stich was shown on stage, and it won the 2011 Sustainability Award. Ever since that I’ve entered every single year cos, I absolutely loved it.
The moral of the story is aways listen to your Mum!
Q. What was it like seeing your garment on the stage for the first time?
A. Seeing Haerenga on stage was unbelievable. I feel like you give the choreography team a starting direction and they always bring your garment to life in a way you wouldn’t expect, but you always love.
I thought he moved beautifully on stage, and I’m just so grateful for my model, Lucan Willis, who did a beautiful job. It’s amazing how much the models take on the garment. I think as a designer you enter a garment, and you think ‘sure, the model will bring the garment to life’ but to talk to Lucan and to see that he’d really got into the story and into the headspace of exactly what I wanted the garment to be was just incredible. Without the models our garments would be nothing!
I feel that everyone involved with WOW is in a very similar headspace – we all come together every year, we all understand the amount of work and time that goes into each garment, and we all have this bug that we just can’t get enough of WOW, and we all come together to celebrate that.
As you are both a Garment and Landscape Designer – how does your creative process work for both?
A. Someone once said to me, ‘you can’t do both gardening and fashion – you have to pick one,’ to which I replied, ‘why not do both?’ For me, they are clearly related through design.
Once you understand the fundamentals of good design you can apply it to different mediums. I will look at a garden and say, ‘that hedge is the wrong proportion for this space’. When I’m designing a garment, I am also thinking of the proportion on the body. There are so many design principles that cross over: colour, form, texture, proportion, and shape. It’s good to challenge yourself as a designer; opening your eyes to a different medium can do this.
Q. What is your secret weapon when it comes to you creating a WOW garment?
A. My secret weapon would be a bath! Now, I know that’s bizarre, but I find pretty much all my garments have been designed within a bath, there’s something about the warmth of the water and being in that relaxed head space and just having that peace and quiet, and time to visualise the garment in my mind. Quite often I can see the garment, on stage, moving – I can see the silhouette, I can see it come to life – then I’ll quickly jump out of the bath and sketch.
This process leads to a lot of very damp first concept drawings!
Q. What is your advice for anyone thinking of entering WOW for the first time?
A. Just go for it!
Don’t let anything limit you, run with your imagination and just enjoy it. Don’t enter with any expectations. Don’t enter expecting to win an award or anything. Enjoy the process, enjoy your garment and I feel like you’ll enjoy the result you get.
You might get halfway through the garment and think ‘this is getting all too much, what am I even doing, this is a mad idea,’ but once you see it on stage it’s all worth it, so just go for it and persevere!