The Wow factor
If you've experienced a World of Wearable Art show and yearned for a closer look at how those spectacular garments are constructed, this museum in Nelson – the city where WOW was born – is the place to go.
For some visitors, the biggest surprise is not the frocks but the gorgeously restored classic cars on display.
You can't miss it, as they say down here. The World of Wearable Art and Classic Cars Museum is on the roundabout from Nelson airport into the city, on the main road from the West Coast, so it's highly visible.
Based on a design from a previous WOW show, the building loops around its precious contents like a silk sash. The classic car of the day, on display outside the door, is a taster for the collection within.
In the foyer, an airy cafe, opening on to a shallow pool, is a destination in itself – the perfect place for this writer to catch up with a long-lost university room-mate.
Challenging visitors at the entrance to the WOW gallery is the 2010 supreme winner Loops – a single piece of laser-cut off-white merino felt manipulated to create a lacy figure that's part clown, part shaman.
Its creators, Yogesh Chaudhary and Manas Barve, are part of a burgeoning group of winning designers from the Indian sub-continent and around the world who enter the Brancott Estate World of WearableArt Awards each year.
Around the corner into the museum proper, Susan Holmes' iconic 1996 Dragon Fish – possibly the best-known winner in WOW's 24-year history – is suspended overhead, almost like retired regimental colours in a cathedral.
It has lost none of its impact even in the company of more recent winners, such as Rodney Leong's Conversations with Guggenheim, Nadine Jaggi's Ornitho-Maia and Holmes' 2010 entry Gondwana, which uses silk dyed by renowned Australian textile artist India Flint.
The exhibition's theatrical darkness both protects against destructive light levels and adds dramatic impact to the garments, which are rotated six-monthly.
Currently on show, last year's category winners hold their own alongside stars of earlier years. The next change will be in May.
A rotating exhibit offers a scintillating selection from recent years, including items featuring budgerigars and beehives from the wildly popular Bizarre Bra category.
"Completely bonkers!" proclaims a London woman.
A totally black room comes alive with winners from Illumination Illusion, one of the sections that best allows artists and designers to, in the words of founder Suzie Moncrieff, "realise their wildest dreams". The bright daylight of the car museum, one of the largest in the southern hemisphere, is a perfect foil for the textile treasures next door.
WOW garments, such as Robina Hobbs' Bizarre Bra Traffic Stoppers, made from traffic cones, work wih a cavalcade of everything automobile, from the sleek to the silly – a 1908 Renault AX, several gleaming vintage Rolls Royces and Austin Powers' Union Jack-adorned Jag, the "Shaguar". Visitors make the most of photo opportunities – I take a snap for a couple posing inside the 1967 Mustang.
Shropshire visitors and veteran museum-goers Jean and Steve come out of the backroom Classic Collection of more than 100 cars, accessible for an extra fee, well pleased. They've seen bigger collections, they say, but none as varied as this, and they've enjoyed watching the chaps working in the restoration workshop. They're impressed by everything from the shop and corridor gallery to the lighting; they may even buy tickets for the next WOW event.
They have only one complaint: their guidebooks highlighted the fashion rather than the cars. "We nearly missed it!"
WORLD OF WEARABLEART AND CLASSIC CARS MUSEUM
Open daily 10am to 5pm 1 Cadillac Way, off Quarantine Rd, Annesbrook, Nelson 03 547 4573