Open Colleges

What You Need to Know About Wearable Art

by Helen Hawkes
Posted: October 27, 2015

  Return to blog home


What happens when fashion designers are allowed to let their creativity run wild? We take a look at the World of Wearable Art, where the human body is a canvas.

In real life, fashion is often ruled by commercial imperatives. But what if it was just about art?
The most spectacular global example of this is a critically-acclaimed annual show in Wellington, New Zealand, that attracts international students and designers as well as a visually dazzled audience of more than 50,000.

The “fashion” is daring or, as the Huffington Post put it: “Think of an Alexander McQueen show meets Nutcracker on crack and then take it up a notch. “ This is Lady Gaga on steroids.

Wearing your art on your sleeve

The World of WearableArt™ or WOW® is “a glorious rebellion against the mundane, a choreographed collision where fantasy meets reality and dreams merge with nightmares”, say organisers.

Twenty seven years ago, when sculptor Dame Suzie Moncrieff created WOW®, her vision was to take art off the wall and exhibit it as a live theatrical show – or use the human body as a canvas.

“Today WOW® seems to have given an egalitarian outlet to all sorts of designers and creative thinkers, some well-known, some with a secret tactile passion,” say creative directors Mike Mizrahi and Marie Adams, the creative force behind events such as Louis Vuitton’s 150th Celebrations worldwide and the high-profile David Jones fashion shows staged in Sydney.

“For us it is also a spectacle; an occasion that celebrates creativity within a live performing arts medium.”

Designed to embody the theme of architecture, the outlandish and imaginative garments at the 2015 show were inspired by everything from the Sydney Opera House and Lotus Temple in Delhi to dreams and intergalactic royals.


Wearable Art
Img src:

What is wearable art?

“It is, quite simply, art pieces that can be worn,” says Mizrahi.

Wearable art is now being included in the curriculum of many fashion schools. In the competitive world of business, the fashion industry has not suddenly morphed into a place where art triumphs over fashion - unless, of course, you believe fashion is art.

Esteemed Australian designer Akira Isogawa, who has been in the industry more than 22 years, believes the fundamental difference between art and fashion is that art can be purely a one off-piece for an exhibition, a personal order, a commission or a government body. “But the fashion business is, essentially, based on manufacturing, and when we design a fashion item we must consider how to manufacture multiple numbers,” he says.

The quintessential artist himself, Isogawa says: “Not every single style I produce has to be manufacturable. My passion is on the art side, the beauty of textiles, rather than manufacture. The real juice of creativity is in a one-off piece.”

For fashion students, he advises: “The true purpose of making wonderful garments is to express your vision as a fashion designer. You need a dream and faith in your vision. Without that, fashion is nothing.”

Fashion with WOW factor

If your passion is for wearable art, rather than mass-produced pieces, there’s always the $170,000 worth of prizes at WOW® as well as scholarships and a chance for your outlandish designs to be seen by an international audience. A show has recently opened in Honolulu at the Bishop Museum and will go to the EMP Museum in Seattle, while a second exhibition is destined for Europe in early 2017.

WOW® also has strong partnerships, including with the world-famous Cirque du Soleil International Headquarters in Montreal, Canada.

Creativity on the loose in 7 gobsmacking wearable art moments:

Divas Dreamscape, Peter Wakeman

Creative Excellence Section: Architecture

The supreme winner of this year’s WOW® Awards was created with stainless steel, wool and fibreglass. Wakeman, a commercial cleaner from New Zealand, says he was inspired by art deco style and form which he interpreted through architectural design. “Capturing the futuristic industrial, blended with timeless beauty and glamour - a diva is born,” he says.


Deadly Beauty, Xi Zhang

Wellington Airport Avant Garde Section

Overall runner-up in the awards, this stunning garment by Chinese student Xi Zhang resembles a huge beetle, with the colour and inspiration coming from South America’s scarlet macaw. Zhang used feathers, bead and mesh cloth to create the show-stopping look.


The Quilt Monster, Daisy May Collingridge

American Express Open Section

Children’s tales speak frequently of the ‘things in the dark’, says British student Collingridge. “The quilt monster is a beast with fickle permanence,” she says. Viscose jersey, cotton lawn and wadding helped turn this monster of children’s imaginations into a fashion/art reality.


The Stitch Witch, Sarah Seahorse and Luna Aquatica

Weta Workshop Costume & Film Section: Other Worlds

This magical and mythical creature is an incarnation of all the precious but unwanted scraps, buttons, trinkets and junk from the floor of the sewing studio of these Melbourne students Sarah Seahorse and Luna Aquatica.


One For Sorrow, Gillian Saunders

Man Section: Uniform

Inspired by a young magpie fallen while defending his territory, this uniform uses baling twine, watch parts and buttons to come to life. “After I read this passage from The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, I became intrigued by bird funerals,” says Saunders. “Out of the many, I chose European magpies because of their beautiful iridescent colours and the fact that they love shiny treasures.”


To Be Or Not To Be, Joanna Peacock

Weta Workshop Costume & Film Section: Other Worlds

A British artist who is studying beekeeping, Peacock used industrial waste scraps to invent as many different shapes as she could out of the small scrap circles. The yellow particles represent toxic pollen collected from crops that have been treated with pesticides while the light bulbs in the Queen Bee's abdomen are symbolic of hope for the future.


Exotic, Qianwen Hong

Wellington Airport Avant Garde Section

Be exotic, be strong, be independent, be yourself is the message behind this garment, says the designer. PVC, fibre optic and stainless steel were all used by Chinese student Hong to create an eye-catching look inspired by “magical creatures from another world, breaking into human beings’ world”. 


Helen Hawkes

Helen is a lifestyle Journalist, Happiness Coach and Author who has written for major magazines and newspapers in Australia and the United Kingdom. She is also an avid follower of fashion and currently lives in Byron Bay.

Interested in online study?

See what it’s like with our 7 day free course trial.

Find out first-hand what it’s like to study with Open Colleges. Experience our world-class learning platform for yourself and discover how online learning can work for you. There are no obligations and no payment details required.

Start Today

Course areas