I tried and tried, but there is no way to avoid it. The title of this post just had to be a pun. There were no other options – everything I thought of, even if I was purposely avoiding pun-ness, turned out to be one anyway.
It’s quite fitting though, because if there is one thing you can be guaranteed to encounter at WoW, it’s puns. This year we were treated to ‘Hive and Seek’ (inspired by a beehive), ‘She Shells’ (shell bras), ‘Totally Sheepish’ (made of wool), ‘Dress Circle’ (a dress made out of circles), ‘I Stitch, Sew I Am’ (a celebration of embroidery), ‘Laser Gaga’ (I’ll leave that one up to your imagination), ‘Hairs to You Too’ (made of hair), as well as ‘Avante Garden’ & ‘Florabundance’ (wearable gardens), among other.
So wait, what the heck am I talking about?
I’m talking about the The Brancott Estate World of WearableArt™ Show, the world’s biggest showcase of avante-garde, not-quite-fashion, not-quite-theatre-costume garments (in the broadest sense of the word garment). It’s also a totally NZ production, the biggest costume event on the Wellington calendar by far, proving that while NZ may be short on amazing historical costume stuff, we make up for it in other ways.
It’s also the biggest event that I’ve been invited to as media so far. I didn’t start out writing this blog intending to be a journalist and to get media privileges, I just thought people might like to see what I do, and that I knew a few things that people might find helpful. Then, quite unexpectedly, I started getting asked if I would like to come to events to cover them and write a story.
This is still new enough that I get super excited. And I thought you might enjoy hearing about what it is like to be media at a major event, rather than my trying to cover the winners, which a lot of other actual journalists are writing excellent articles about.
So what happened? First, I got an email from Wellington City Council (an official WoW sponsor) asking if I would like to attend WoW as media. Of course I said yes! I’ve been before, and the show is amazing, but it’s not my very favourite thing to spend over $100 on, so I wasn’t planning on going.
The night of the show (media attends on the 2nd night of the show, the awards night) I arrived an hour before the show began, showed the ticket I had been sent, and headed through the crowds of revelers giggling over the muscled men in silver paint and not much else, and admiring the exhibitions of costumes from previous years to the media room. There I was given a media pack stuffed with the show programme, Air New Zealand’s in-flight magazine, the Dominion Posts special lift-out magazine on the show, a bottle of water, business cards for all the media people, a notepad, a pen, information on how to get images, and media badges.
Then it was drinks, nibbles, and schmoozing with other media folk. I’m bad at all three. I did my best to be polite about the inevitable orange juice (why, oh why is orange juice the go-to non-alcoholic alternative to wine? Why not gingerbeer? Or sparkling grape juice? Or anything that doesn’t make you feel like a 5 year old at breakfast), didn’t eat because I was too nervous, and did my best to talk to the other media people who didn’t have anyone talking to them.
The drinks and nibbles are an incentive to make us attend a media briefing. I actually found the briefing fascinating, and could have skipped the drinks and nibbles. The media briefing is a good opportunity to see how an organisation is trying to present itself, and to see what they do and don’t want you to write about (In all situations like this I have to resist the urge to immediately write about all the things they don’t want us to).
In this case, all I couldn’t do was take pictures during the show, so all the images in this post are either from the lobby & entrance, or courtesy of The Brancott Estate World of WearableArt™ Show.
My images aim to give an idea of the mood of the event: from the excuse to dress up, the fascination of previous award-winning costumes, to (most of all), how excited everyone was about posing with mostly naked men in silver paint. For all the effort of the elaborate and artistic on-stage garments, sometimes it is the simplest ones that get the biggest reaction!
After snapping lots of photos it was to the loo for a wait in line in preparation for a 2 hour long (+ the awards ceremony) show. The WoW audience is predominantly female, so lines are just part of the WoW experience.
And then, the show!
(Spoiler alert: since most of you won’t be able to attend, I’m including specific details of the show. If you are going to see it and want it all to be a surprise, don’t read the rest)
How to describe WoW. It varies from the sublime, to the ridiculous. From pathos to laugh-out-loud comedy. It’s a series of scenes and sketches that serve as a backdrop to the different categories of wearable art that entrants have submitted costume to. The show always begins with the children’s section (presumably so that the child actors and dancers can be sent home in time for bed), this year to the classic motif of ‘toys coming to life’. A small girl is sucked into her toybox, and emerges into a world where all her favourite dolls are life-sized and alive, as are the less-expected costumes, like the fabric cabbage with leaves that lifted to reveal bugs.
The next section was South Pacific, which opened with a chant and a truly spectacular dance act which involved Maori warriors battling with computer programmed counterparts. It was amazing. Some of the works of wearable art that went with it were also amazing, but the fundamental problem with WoW begins to show at this point. The costumes don’t always meld with the choreographed show, and the costume section and the choreographed sections can jar, making both feel like the drag. It’s not a good thing if you wish the show would hurry up only two acts in.
We still had the Open Section, to a backdrop of dancers in a palette of rosy full-skirted gowns doing amazing choreography with chairs, the Illuminations Section, where glowing garments frolicked under ultra-violet lights and the dancers closed by showing us how many things you could do with long, flexible sticks in white stockings. A lot, as it happens, and they are pretty-darn entertaining.
The high of Illuminations was followed by the least-successful, draggiest part of the show the ‘Visual Symphony’ where entrants were asked to submit costumes that made noise, and then a work of music was crafted around it. The idea was brilliant, but the end result was…strange, and even the orchestra and escorts in Steampunk BDSM outfits (yes, you read that right) couldn’t really lift it. The biggest excitment came from the fire-eater, not because it was a good fire-eating show, but because the thought of all those plastic costumes on stage with so much fire gave me the petrifiying conviction that we were about to witness a repeat of the Bal des Ardents.
After Illuminations came the Tourism New Zealand Avante Garde Section, where robed dancers lit candles and models in hard-edged costumes strutted against a backdrop of candelabra.
And, then, the final section. The Bizarre Bra is a WoW tradition, and for all the talk of art, the silliest thing is what WoW does best. It’s hilarious, it’s ridiculous, it’s totally campy, it’s a hundred women dressed up in the craziest bras anyone can think to make, and it’s fabulous fun.
This year the theme was ‘out of this world’, and started with a spaceship taking off to Queen’s ‘Flash’, complete with male dancers in red lycra and blonde wigs. It only went downhill from there, in the best possible way, because who wouldn’t love a show that ends with sexy female aliens being rescued from space kraken by Flash Gordon to the background of a hundred dancers and models wearing bras made from taxidermied hedgehogs and old telephones?
After the last spaceship took off and the last dancer shimmied their way offstage, things got serious as a series of dignitaries were escorted onstage to speak about how fabulous The Brancott Estate World of WearableArt™ Show is, and how it only gets more fabulous every year, before announcing who the winners in a specific category were. The highlight of the awards section was delivered by Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, who showed up to give the Wellington International Award in a clinging gown entirely covered in multicoloured sequins that plunged front and back and had a slit up to the top of her thigh. The entire audience gave a gasp, and someone behind me whispered “should we wolf-whistle?.” Go Celia!
After the awards finished it was back to the media room to interview Dame Susie Moncrieff, the WoW founder, and then to interview the supreme winner, and to see the winning costume up close. By this time it was 11.30 at night, but the models, constrained in their costumes and probably exhausted after the show, smiled graciously and did their best to look glamorous, Moncrieff was charming, but after 24 years of WoW, struggled to find something new to say, and the supreme winner spoke through an interpreter, making it hard to gain a sense of immediacy.
Luckily I don’t represent a regional newspaper, because after the interviews with the supreme winner they headed to yet another press function to meet and interview the regional winners. I blessed my stars I write my own blog and came home to collapse into bed, to think about all the fantastic things I had seen, but also to be just a tiny bit glad it was over. Will I go again? Oh yes! (but I need a year to recover). Should you go if you ever get the chance? Beyond a doubt!
Want to see the other news articles on the show?
ChinaDaily.Com (with a focus on the Supreme winner)
Stuff.co.nz (with lots and lots of pretty pictures)
Skynews.com.au (with a focus on Australian winners)
Massey.ac.nz (with information on the Massey students who won)