WORLD OF WEARABLEARTS:
MEET THE CREATIVES
CHICHI NYANGONI & KAROL RUSZKIEWICZ
Pictured above: Singer and Lead Performer Estère at the 2022 World of WearableArt Awards Show (WOW).
Created by Dame SuZie Moncrieff in 1987, World of WearableArts is one of New Zealand's largest design competitions.
The cultural event allows and encourages designers from Aotearoa and around the world enter the competition in the hopes to showcase their incredible wearable creations and win one of the coveted yearly awards.
Photographs of Brian Burke and Malia Johnston courtesy of World of WearableArt. Photograph of Estère by Steve Boniface
We at MODE had no idea what to expect when we attended World of WearableArts Awards Show for the first time this last October. In a nutshell; it was one of the most magical and eye opening experiences. The event is more than a show and a competition; it’s an experience that I would encourage anyone who relishes in all things creative to attend. It will awaken your inner child and leave you wanting to create.
On the 1st of October, 2022; a couple of hours before attending the show, we had the opportunity to sit down with Brian Burke the Executive Creative Director, Malia Johnston the Show Director and Estère the Lead Performer for 2022’s World of WearableArts Awards Show. They shared their experiences working on the show, their processes and hopes for the future of WOW.
Flourish Tumulus, Cai Min Yan & Liu Yan-Ling, Shih Chien University Kaohsiung Campus, Taiwan at the 2022 World of WearableArt Awards Show (WOW). Photograph by Getty Images.
MODE: What can first time goers expect to see tonight? Could you give us a hint about part of the show?
Brian Burke: A little hint is that we’re bringing some Las Vegas to Wellington. So we’re taking the heart and soul of WOW and we’ve upped it a notch. Or two, or ten!
That’s exciting, tell us more!
Brian: The garments by the designers are the main feature ofcourse, but then we have dancers, we have acrobats, we have ariealists, we have singers, have Estère; her music is featured all through her show. We have original choreography and staging; Malia does everything from scratch every year. It’s a completely new show every year. So even for those who have seen the show in the past, you’re getting something different each year.
What inspired your creative direction with a Las Vegas theme or energy for the show?
Brian: We wanted to up the level of the production. The show has been going on for 30 years or so we wanted to elevate the production value of the show itself. So I came on board to work with Malia.
Malia, when did you start working for WOW?
Malia Johnston: started working in WOW in 2001. Although I think WOW started in the eighties; when I started it was still more of a community based show and it was still massive; I’d never seen anything like it.
Did you expect the show to grow into what it has now become? On an international scale with international designers?
Malia: Oh yeah, you could see it then - even then. You could see the potential and it was so successful; the audience loved it. I think that’s always been Suzie’s vision; to have art on the same platform or level that things like rugby or other large sport events are celebrated on. Suzie always had that vision very strongly from the beginning.
What drew you to joining WOW?
Malia: I had trained as a dancer; my background is as an artist choreographer and dancer. I was looking for work when I learned about an assistant choreographer role that was available on the show! So I applied and sent through footage of my work and I got hooked. It wasn’t long after that I started choreographing the show. I’ve been involved with the show for 20 years now, although I had a break for a while.
Ngāti Pōneke at the 2022 World of WearableArt Awards Show (WOW). Photograph by Getty Images.
Call of the Kōkako by Stephanie Cossens of New Zealand at the 2022 World of WearableArt Awards Show (WOW). Photograph by Getty Images
That’s incredible, how long does it take to plan the direction of the show each year?
Malia: This particular show has taken a long time as we had Covid, but we started talking in 2020, then we changed plans in 2021. We’re starting now on next year!
is it a full time work for you?
Malia: You’re working on it all year, but not full time all the time. But then when you’re here on the ground and the shows on, you’re on the go 24/7!
Brian: Also we send each other inspiration all throughout the year, things like photos and ask each other like “what about this? Or that?
Do you send each other moodboards?
Brian & Malia : (All laughing) Oh yeah! We love a good moodboard!
Brian: We’re very moodboard or visual people. One of the main things Malia does so wonderfully; every year there are sections/themes that the designers have and on top of directing the entire show; Malia also brings the garments to life through the models. You’ll see it, it’s incredible the way they bring these garments to life in a spectacle. It’s storytelling.
This sounds amazing; it sounds like there’s so much work that go into every single aspect of the show?
Malia: There are so many parts to the show that are the heart and soul. Storytelling (Bring the garments to life), the music is also part of this. It helps us convey the emotional depth and storytelling that then can be expressed out through the movement of the garments.
Brian: We also decided we wanted to have a muse for the show, so we’re looking for someone who could be in the show and embody the designers and energy on stage. We wanted a local artist too and Malia presented Estère and we just fell in love. Not only is a she a singer, but she’s an artist, performer, dancer, aerialist, flying, actress. She’s the whole embodiment. (Laughing) We almost wanted to ask her if she could fly.
Malia: oh yeah she is, we wanted a female power house.
You totally are Estère! Also how many instruments do you play?
Estère: As I produce my music, I play everything at home, but I’m shy to say that - but I’d say that I play guitar, drums and sing confidently! (Laughing).
Is your music featured in the show new music or is it from previous music you have released?
Estère: The section that’s primarily based around my music is from music that’s already released. Some of it is current, some of it is from an album I released last year or older. Then there’s also music that was made for the show specifically!
Estère performing during the Avant-garde Section of the 2022 World of WearableArt Awards Show (WOW). Photograph by WOW
Andromeda by Cecilio Castrillo of Spain at the 2022 World of WearableArt Awards Show (WOW). Photograph by Getty Images
Your album Archetypes, feels and sounds like music that would be perfect for a show like this. It’s very creative!
Estère: There will be a couple of songs from Archetypes as well!
We can’t wait to hear it. How do you all stay so creative and stay inspired or grounded in your creative efforts?
Malia: It’s almost like a lifestyle; you’re living it so it’s not separated from all the experiences that you’re having. So I guess life feeds a show like WOW for sure. The other thing is inspiration comes from all the energy of all people involved in it. There are a lot of creative people involved in the show and it’s amazing and uplifting and it gives you a power surge. You’re activated by everybody in this space.
This resonates with us; learning about the creative work that takes place leading up to the show is very interesting and would be major for interested designers, dancers or attendees. Work that occurs behind the scenes!
Malia: We would really like to share this side of the show, this is what we love. Seeing the show is one component of it. But then you see all of the work and pieces and processes behind the scenes. We really want to be able to share more about the story behind the show and behind the scenes.
Brian: I agree with Malia; ever since I was young I’d imagine what music looked like. It’s something I can’t explain but creativity isn’t something that I can turn off. I feel like everything I see is something that inspires me that I can put on stage or put on a show of. I find inspiration in many things so I take pictures of inspiration and try note things down. Inspiration is constant, I’ll wake up in the middle of the night with ideas.
It must be so rewarding to be able to have an idea; and turn it into something tangible, musical or visual.
Estère: It’s been amazing working with Brian and Malia; seeing their concepts and then they manifest them into a physical reality. Especially as their ideas are so spectacular and they execute them at such a grand scale; it’s incredible they just make it happen.
How was your experience collaborating together?
Malia: The word collaboration is used a lot in this industry but it doesn’t come easy. It either comes or it doesn’t. People think you can just throw a couple of people together and it’ll work; but that’s not always the case - they have to connect. We have had a wonderful experience with this show and our entire team. We definitely collaborated but understood the pressure we were all under and we pushed. Everyone on the creative team worked really hard.
X-Ray by Lyndal Linton, Brett Linton & Harvey Linton of New Zealand at the 2022 World of WearableArt Awards Show (WOW). Photograph by Getty Images
Brian: It’s not the kind of show you would rehearse with this short amount of time, something like this would rehearse in 6 months to pull off
How long did the rehearsals take?
Malia: 6 weeks!
Oh wow! Aren’t you all stressed out?
Brian: Oh of course! Are you kidding? You should’ve seen us last night (laughing).
We know so several artists, designers or creatives who may not know about this show yet, and we hope to share WOW with potential designers for the show!
Brian: Yes! We want to expand! We want more artists and designers to come. We want everyone to come along and join us! Someone said to me last night that they forgot they were in an arena. We’re trying to get people to forget where they are.