Gillian Saunders, New Zealand, Inkling, 2013. EVA foam and paint. Courtesy of World of WearableArt Limited.

SALEM, MASS.- The Peabody Essex Museum announces it is the exclusive east coast venue for WOW® World of WearableArt - the exhibition - presenting extreme wearable artworks from New Zealand's renowned annual design competition. Using a range of unexpected materials, from wood and aluminum to fiberglass and taxidermy, visionary makers from around the world create exuberant ensembles that celebrate lavish creativity and push the limits of wearability. WOW® World of WearableArtTM is presented as part of PEM's fashion initiative and has been dramatically installed at the museum from February 18 through June 11, 2017. 

For nearly 30 years, WOW® has inspired hundreds of entrants from an international array of creative backgrounds -- from sculptors and costume designers to textile artists and architects -- to push their talents in new and unexpected directions, unpacking the creative possibilities of where fashion and art meet. The resulting works, which have been called "a glorious rebellion against the mundane," are unveiled each year at a choreographed awards show in Wellington, New Zealand for an audience of more than 50,000 people. WOW® is the country's largest art event and the globally touring exhibition features 32 ensembles, media installations and a hands-on workroom where visitors can explore their own creativity. 

"I love the egalitarian nature of this competition - encouraging fresh perspectives and different types of creativity to intersect and bloom," says Lynda Hartigan, PEM's James B. and Mary Lou Hawkes Deputy Director and curator for this exhibition. "These artists are pushing the limits of what you can do as clothing and how design can fundamentally alter the human form. It's exhilarating to see skill sets and design logic from disparate fields activated to create these unique moments of surprise and delight that are revelatory for lovers of design and fashion alike." 


Sarah Thomas, New Zealand, American Dream, 2012. Vinyl, leather, papier mâché, builders foam, plastic. Courtesy of World of WearableArt Limited

Inspiration Spotlight 
Growing increasingly unhappy in her marketing job, USA's Lynn Christiansen picked up a self-help book that posed the following question: When did you last lose track of time? She thought back to graduate school when she had sculpted a small leopard from clay, oblivious to the fact that day had turned into night. She enrolled in art school soon after. Gothic Habit (2014) started with a fascination with laser cut felt and a photo that she had taken of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Her design is made of laser-etched felt and wood, and constructed from more than 2,300 individually cut pieces. She drew inspiration for the garment from the idea that entering a religious building provides a spiritual experience in itself. 


Lynne Christiansen, USA, Gothic Habit, 2014. Felt, wood. Courtesy of World of WearableArt Limited

Peter Wakeman decided to enter the competition after seeing an extravagant WOW® garment made from saw blades and possum fur. He loved the thought of being able to design something for himself, answerable to nothing but his own imagination. Wakeman, who works as a commercial cleaner, is completely self-taught, having honed his skills working in construction and boat building. He spent more than seven months making the bubblegum pink fiberglass and plywood gown Chica Under Glass (2013) in the garage of his home in Motueka, New Zealand. His wife, a mother of three daughters, volunteered as his model, getting scratched by fiberglass as he worked on his design. She had some creative input however: the hot pink color was her idea. 


Peter Wakeman, New Zealand, Chica Under Glass, 2013. Fibreglass and plywood. Courtesy of World of WearableArt Limited

A lover of horses since childhood in the United Kingdom, Mary Wing To's decision to work with leather is not surprising based on her profession. A trained saddle and harness maker, she once apprenticed under Queen Elizabeth II's master saddler and was even responsible for adjusting the horses' harnesses in the wedding procession of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Wing To created her ensemble Hylonome (2011) from leather and horse hair, using various traditional leather craft techniques. Each leather piece is hand cut, edged, stained, stenciled, stitch-marked, molded, sculpted, hand-stitched and finally hand-laced together. The centaur's life-size head alone took 15 hours of nonstop molding work, and is finished with a mane of real horsehair. 

"At PEM we think of fashion as an experience of self-expression, and creativity very close to our bodies and souls, rather than a parade of famous designers or a line-up of trends and styles," says Hartigan. "Surprise, wonder, adventure, possibility -- the works in this exhibition tap into these elements with a sense of drama that reminds us of just how powerfully fashion invites creativity."


Sarah Peacock, New Zealand, Totally Sheepish, 2012. Wool and thread. Courtesy of World of WearableArt Limited


Marjolein Dallinga, Canada, Skin, 2011. Wool, silk. Courtesy of World of WearableArt Limited


David Walker, USA, Lady of the Wood, 2009. Mahogany, lacewood, maple, cedar. Courtesy of World of WearableArt Limited.