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Wow - Kiwi Chic

There is more to New Zealnd than bungee jumping

Downtown Auckland is bustling with activity

Photo by Kieran Scott

(page 1 of 2)

For many Americans, “New Zealand” evokes images of craggy peaks, frothy trout streams and adventure vacations that involve things like trekking or—heaven forbid!—bungee jumping. There’s another side of New Zealand, though, that doesn’t require Vibram soles or leaps of faith. This New Zealand is sophisticated, cosmopolitan and cultural, as evidenced in the abundance of museums, cafes, shops and elegant hotels we found during a recent trip to Auckland, Wellington and Nelson.

Our first stop was Wellington on the North Island, where we spent an intriguing afternoon exploring the Museum of New Zealand, or Te Papa, which is Maori for “our place.” Completed in 1998 at a cost of more than $500 million, Te Papa offers four levels of innovative and interactive experiences. There are historical exhibits about the island nation’s 65-million-year-old geologic past and its first settling by humans some 800 years ago, as well as more contemporary displays like one we saw about the Lord of the Rings film trilogy just prior to the exhibit’s departure on a six-stop international tour.

With a good dollop of culture under our belt, we were ready for a dose of Kiwi creativity, and there’s no better example of that than the Montana World of WearableArt show and competition. This eight-day creative extravaganza held every September is part Cirque du Soleil, part Lion King and all spectacle. WOW, as the event is known, takes art off the wall and puts it on the body, or more specifically bodies—hundreds of strong, lithe, moving figures dancing and writhing to some of the most haunting Maori-influenced music, by New Zealand’s Oceana, that you’ll ever hear. Accompanied by an ever-changing spray of light and color, the scene is impossible to forget. “The 145 creations dazzled and WOWed on the catwalk last night,” one Wellington newspaper article observed. “From bike helmets to pipe cleaners, anything goes when it comes to putting together entries in the Montana World of WearableArt show.”

At one point in the sold-out, 3,000-person arena, the lights suddenly went off, the music took on a Twilight Zone rhythm and a hole opened in the ceiling 60 feet above. Out of the darkness descended a dozen acrobats clad in jumpsuits outlined by tiny white lights. They floated gracefully, seemingly defying gravity, to the stage. And that was just one act.

Many of the entrants in WOW are designers, so the event attracts fashionistas and media types of all stripes. Among this year’s WOW winners was Auckland fashion designer Rodney Leong, whose piece The Love of Icarus enclosed a comely model in a bubble made of 20,664 plastic collar stays. Others’ pieces included Sir Zuki, a warrior assembled from used car parts, and A Touch of Glass, a wedding dress with a bodice crafted from stained-glass panels. Of course, any wearable art contest worth its cutting-edge salt needs a touch of the risqué, and WOW did not disappoint: In the Bizarre Bra category, for example, the winning entry featured a young woman on whose shoulders perched a pair of miniature golden construction cranes. Cables extended downward to support the lovely lady’s breasts. The second-place winner was our choice for best-named entry—a buxom lady with a pair of large shoes covering her chest was entitled These Boobs Are Made for Walking. 

The Love of Icarus: 2006 Wow competition winning entry.


WOW was the brainchild of local artist Suzie Moncrieff, who started the festival in 1987 in the town of Nelson on the South Island, just a short plane hop from Wellington and our next destination. While the picturesque pastures and rolling vineyards surrounding Nelson certainly are more tranquil than an evening at WOW, they also complement a very active artists’ scene.



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