Creativity showcased on every page

25 years of WOW celebrated in new book

ALAN CLARKE
Last updated 08:46 11/12/2013
Wearable Art

THE ART OF FASHION: One of the super-stylized images from the 2.5kg Wearable Art book.

Wearable Art
GLOSSY: The cover of what the WOW team are calling the ‘‘big book’’.

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Let's get the stats out of the way first.

It's 350cm tall and 257cm wide.

It's 275 glossy pages on high-colour art paper stock, and the printing and reproduction are stunning.

And that all adds up to 2.5kg of pure Nelson creativity.

Those in the know are calling it the big book, and with good reason. This is one occasion where thinking big's paid off.

The WOW story is well known - at least Dame Suzie Moncrieff"s side of it: from the genesis in a tent near Wakefield after a cloudburst killed plans for an outdoor gig merging art and fashion; the funding kickstart by Eelco Boswijk Sr; the rapid growth and gut-wrenching move to Wellington; to the burgeoning international thrust of today.

Then there's the channelled focus from Dame Suzie's sister Heather Palmer, the combined efforts of scores of volunteers, on-stage and off - first Nelson and now also Wellington-based; a totally engaged staff, the continued Nelson base at the WOW museum, and most of all the creativity of designers from near and far.

But the danger is that familiarity with a well-trod path can blur the focus.

For those prone to take what we have for granted, this book, simply titled Wearable Art, offers reaffirmation of just how big the Nelson-born WOW phenomenon is.

It places the true stars of the show - the garments themselves - centre-stage, in detail as clear and sharp as any 21st hard-copy publishing project can get.

Fittingly, the large format book is the work of another Nelson success story.

Craig Potton Publishing both encourages and epitomises creativity.

Managing director Robbie Burton has been alongside WOW from the start - and is thrilled with the way the project has gone.

He worked closely with departing WOW chief executive Meg Matthews across the past year in producing the book, and is lavish in his praise of her efforts.

"She has been a huge inspiration behind this and has been simply stunning to work with.

"She had the vision and courage to think big with this and worked tirelessly to help make it happen. "

Burton reckons it more than matches anything of its type he's seen at international book fairs. [It's understandable if he plays the proud parent in singing the publication's praises.]

The main focus is on the garment photography, captured by Nelsonian Daniel Allen at one spectacularly well organised shoot lasting less than two days.

Seven WOW models were used, with all of the creative makeup and hairdo artistry available commissioned specifically for the project. The resulting array of clear-cuts - full size of specially selected costumes, and closeups of special features - is exquisite.

If the awards show is all about performance, the book is about the show's lifeblood; the designs.

Says Burton: "I really wanted to reshoot every single garment and not use old photographs."

The images then had to be culled by more than half, a task shared by Burton, Matthews ("she has a great eye - a natural publisher," he says), and Dame Suzie.

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"When we were choosing garments to photograph and include in this book, we were never struggling to find great stuff.

"It was more difficult to decide what we would have to leave out."

There are also "composition" and production shots that flesh out the garments section, giving them life and context.

All up it is a superb accompaniment to the show experience, and in particular the touring offshoots now taking the WOW experience to the world.

There are words too, of course, many of them Dame Suzie's. It's worth including a quote, as who better to remind us of what WOW is about.

"For me, the joy and energy of WearableArt is that it enables designers to see the body as a blank canvas on which they can develop any idea that appeals to them. The garments do not have to be commercially viable. They do not even have to take themselves seriously. The only thing is that they must be wearable."

There's also a cool quote from Time magazine: "Wow is equal parts couture, choreography and craziness".

Published to mark WOW's first 25 years and coming out around the same time as the concept was given $900,000 of official government backing, at $80 for this hard-cover edition or $120 for a limited number of special copies signed by Dame Suzie, it sounds expensive but is actually great value.

In fact the signed deluxe edition - about 10 per cent of the whole print run and produced largely with the international market in mind - has all but been snapped up hot off the press.

"There's been a huge thirst for it internationally," says Burton.

Many Nelsonians were quick to knock the WOW team when they moved the show to Wellington.

Then, it was reaching an audience of 8000 a year. Now it's around the 50,000 mark.

It's still anchored in Nelson, and this book is a suitable reminder of that fact.

Perhaps it shows the way forward in book publishing too. Even if cheap pulp fiction migrates online - and there are still many of us who prefer the tactile experience of paper - there will long be a place for top-end, beautifully published, collectible editions such as CPP specialises in. WearableArt, the big book, is really two Nelson success stories in one.

- Nelson

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