Winner inspired by freedom of creativity

WINNING ENTRY: Chica Under Glass, modelled by Lucy Aitchison, which won the Avant Garde Section and runner up to the Brancott Estates Supreme Award Winner.
WINNING ENTRY: Chica Under Glass, modelled by Lucy Aitchison, which won the Avant Garde Section and runner up to the Brancott Estates Supreme Award Winner.

Motueka man Peter Wakeman is ‘blown away' by his recent winnings at the 2013 World of WearableArt (WOW) Awards held in Wellington. Judith Ritchie talks with him about his experience.

A commercial cleaner, with a background in boat building, construction and various other hands-on vocations, Peter Wakeman had never heard of the World of WearableArt until seeing a David Carson creation at Nelson airport, made from old saw blades and possum fir.

"That was early in 2012, I saw this pretty out there costume at the airport and was totally bedazzled by it," he says. "I was just taken by the freedom of creativity."

CREATIVE SPACE:  Peter Wakeman in his garage, with the ‘Tortured Dolly’’ from which he constructed his winning entry in this year’s World of WearableArt Awards.
CREATIVE SPACE: Peter Wakeman in his garage, with the ‘Tortured Dolly’’ from which he constructed his winning entry in this year’s World of WearableArt Awards.

The garment stayed with him, but it was not until later that year, when sitting at his kitchen table, that he decided to make one himself.

"That was when I made my decision," he says." I thought, I'm going to build a frock for that WOW thing."

Peter's costume titled Chica Under Glass, subsequently won the WOW Avant Garde Section and was also runner up to the Brancott Estates Supreme Award Winner, taking away prizes totaling $12,000.

His aim was to have his garment make it to Wellington, so he was totally shocked to have won two awards.

"It felt pretty damn good to be up there with all the winners," he says. "It was a blast, I feel pretty good about the frock getting out there."

When Peter told his family, wife Teresa, daughters Claudia, 17, Madolyn, 26, and Celeste, 31, that he was "building a frock out in the garage", he says they were pretty low key, saying "good on you Dad". After eight months of working in the garage in the evenings, on weekends and spending over 320 hours, Peter presented his frock to family.

"It wasn't until they saw the whole thing that they were really blown away by it," he says.

So how did he take something from an idea sketched out on a scrap of paper, to a finished costume?

"I had a think about it for awhile, scribbled things on paper that only I could understand," he says. "I'm no artist, I can't draw, but I could understand my rough 2-dimensional drawing."

He had used fibre glass in boat building before, and says he pretty much used whatever he could find to piece the framework together.

"Because I had a picture in my head, I basically built a base, and created a shape for the "hem", then worked up, adding a pedestal to hold the torso."

He was given half a female mannequin, which required forming at the back and shaping around the bust, using plaster of paris and polystyrene, lots of masking tape and hours chipping away shaping the torso. As time went by, the torso became known as the "Tortured Dolly", because of its patched together appearance.

With limited resources and plenty of kiwi ingenuity, Peter slowly built the shape.

"Plenty of times I got stuck, and that was part of the challenge," says Peter. "Solving engineering problems was all part of it."

Plywood stringers were used to form the skirt, with much of the shape made from what was lying around in his garage. Over this went the fibre glass, layer upon layer. He made sure the costume was shaped to sit away from the body, being aware that the fibre glass would irritate the model's skin. During the making process, wife Teresa helped by modelling the costume. She says the first fitting was scratchy and pretty uncomfortable because of all the rough fibre glass, which Peter then sanded back. After much sanding, the costume was spray painted with what Peter calls a "bling" pink pearl, then glitter was added to the final coat, giving the costume a sparkle.

"When the paint went on, that was the moment it hit us," says Teresa. " It actually looked like a sculpture."

The title of the costume, Chica Under Glass, came from the spanish word "Chica", a term of endearment meaning petite, charming, young and playful, with "Under Glass" being a play on words about fibre glass.

Building the costume with the garage doors flung open drew a lot of interest from neighbours. "It's been a bit of a gag around town," says Teresa, "People would walk by the garage and see Peter at work, and have him on about what he was up to."

"It's been a pretty awesome experience for the whole family," says Peter. " Hopefully I've inspired my daughters to achieve their own goals in life."

Peter's advice to anyone thinking of entering WOW is just to give it a go.

"For anybody, particularly blokes, this show is right on our doorstep, all you have to do is make it happen." He says having the garage was handy, but a costume can be made anywhere, it is more the decision to go for it, than how and where.

"I will enter again, not just for the enjoyment, but the WOW team make it so easy, it's very professional and yet still personalised."

"I feel like I've found an artistic avenue, to give exposure to my creations," he says. " It's pretty much a licence to create."

Nelson