Fashion is fantastic in New Zealand

A playful, artistic sensibility creates a special kind of Kiwi magic, columnist Ursula Maxwell-Lewis discovers.

Definitely WOW: Lucid Epiphany

Definitely WOW: Lucid Epiphany

Kia ora! Welcome to New Zealand – Land of the Long White Cloud. The Pinot Noir is plentiful, Frodo and a Lord of the Rings crew are tucked away in the hills making more magic, and I’m at The Rock, Wellington’s International  Airport … being WOW’d by a fashion show.

The show, a surprise highlight at an international press reception, features award winning designs from the World of WearableArt Awards Show held annually in Wellington. The actual WOW Gallery and Classic Cars Museum is in Nelson, on the South Island.

How does one effectively describe elegant young women gliding down the runway encased in a sporty red…car chassis?

American DreamAptly named American Dream, described as “I’ll get my kicks on Route 66”, and constructed out of vinyl, leather, papier-mâché, builders’ foam and plastic designed by New Zealand’s Sarah Thomas, has the full attention of every guy in the airport conference hall.

Slinking along behind is Hermecea, a lobster-like lass playfully snapping major pincers at the press. My program tells me she is “Crustacea dwelling on sea beds” designed by Jan Kerr out of handmade fabric, papier-mâché and wire. My practical daughter observed “I wouldn’t want to have to go to the bathroom wearing that!”

The Greatest Show, billed as “A mysteriously dreamlike lady, unashamedly accompanied by a solo freak show”, spreads her skirts wide revealing a surprise picture show – drawing your eye away from the “mouse” on the cage around her neck. Wood, bird cage, fabric and paint forming this creation won the 2011 Shell Student Innovation Award for Sophie Littin of Wellington.

Skin, designed from wool and silk by Canada’s Marjolein Dallinga, won the 2011 Geni Creative Excellent Section: Under the Microscope. “I’ve got you under & on my skin” is the description.  I can almost feel blood gurgling and bubbling – sort of a human Rotorua. Mettle, a US WOW 2011 Factor Award runner-up by Frank Strunk 111 intrigues me. Fashioned from copper, aluminum and steel, the result is “a stunning festive bustier; a dress with an industrial edge.” I’ll say!

I’d seen previous award winning designs in the static display collection at the WOW Gallery, but viewing the innovative, intriguing  wearable art modeled in living colour was a unique privilege.

Days later, my Kiwi art education takes another giant leap.

After swimming with a clearly joyful pod of frolicking dolphins (it was mating season!) in Queen Charlotte Sound, a little R & R is scheduled at Lochmara Lodge. Built in 1997 by former abalone diver Shayne Olsen and Louise Bright, the property has evolved from a backpacker’s hideaway to a combination art and Marlborough Sounds Wild Life Recovery Centre.

I panic slightly at the lack of TV, radio, or clock, in my rustic patio room… until opening the patio doors onto the view of the bay twinkling in the warm sun beyond the lemon tree.  Suddenly, the world seems very far away. I like the feeling.

Wandering up the hill past the lodge lounge decks I come across KuneKune pigs. I swear those placid porky critters never moved a muscle in two days. Rambling past the wildlife enclosures, I pick a hillside trails and am delighted to literally come face-to-face with random, playful  art works blending into the lush hillside. Mythical faces carved into the sap of trees peer at me through the forest, framed ferns, and wooden rail headboards for the original cabins contrast with carved works secreted among the trees. “Don’t climb the dodgy corporate ladder” warns the tongue-in cheek wooden sign. Nearby the “Stairway to Heaven” indicates lichen-covered stone stairs through the forest…clearly for invisible forest folk.

A wood carver’s shack – still used by the wood carver – sports not-so-mod-cons.  A claw foot tub offers a panoramic Bay view. Closer inspection reveals a tongue-in-cheek note: “Wish you were here”.  That reminds me, I’m booked for “a bath”.

Locating a small hillside wood cabin, I open a side door expecting to find an attendant. Not a soul. Clearly I’m expected, though. Two steaming eucalyptus-scented baths, snowy towels, and bottled water await. I smile. It feels a bit like magic. Folding back double slatted doors, my personal tree house is completely private. Breezes play in the leaves. Birdsong – so noticeable everywhere in New Zealand – is the only music. I take the skinny dip plunge with pleasure. This is definitely my kind of magic. An hour later I reluctantly pad back past the lemon trees to my room. Fresh sea food is on the menu for a casual dinner. I have no idea what time it is. I just don’t care.

Ursula Maxwell-Lewis did find the OneRing – along with everyone else. Wellington really is “the coolest little city in the world.” Kiwis are inordinately courteous. Marlborough wines are worth the trip. There really ARE more sheep than people in New Zealand, and Air New Zealand flies Vancouver-Auckland non-stop. If you go, tour the North or South Island by rental car. Be prepared to walk, ride a bike, hunt for Hobbits, relax…and breathe deeply. Check Tourism New Zealand on the web for more information.

Follow the Cloverdale Reporter on Twitter and Facebook. View our print edition online.

Be Among The First To Know

Create a free account today, and start receiving free newsletters.

Sign Up with google Sign Up with facebook

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Reset your password

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

A link has been emailed to you - check your inbox.

Don't have an account? Click here to sign up