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Gill Saunders wins 2023 World of Wearable Art Supreme Award with Earthling

The 2023 World of Wearable Art Show, Beyond, demonstrates that the new ownership is keen to build on the event’s triumphs, continuing to capture the Zeitgeist with winners from around the world, write Jack Yan and Sopheak Seng
Photographed by Stephen A’Court
September 22, 2023/10.45

WOW 2023 Supreme winner

Stephen A’Court
Above, from top: Earthling by Gill Saunders, New Zealand. Samurai Girl by Chiaki Shimizu, Japan.
Nelson designer Gill Saunders, who took home the World of Wearable Art (WOW) Supreme Award in 2016, has repeated the feat tonight at Wellington’s TSB Arena, with her garment, Earthling.

Saunders won the Supreme Award in 2016 with Supernova and her latest design also takes an otherworldly theme—with even more colour and boldness. It is her 13th WOW placing and seventh award win.

Earthling is a third and final piece in a trilogy by Saunders and is inspired by adult colouring books. It celebrates earth’s natural wonders, and uses EVA foam, acrylic paint, and wire. It also won the Open section, as revealed at tonight’s awards’ night for WOW, presented by TV personality Hilary Barry.

The judging panel comprised WOW founder and ambassador Dame Suzie Moncrieff, Arts Foundation laureate Brett Graham (Ngāti Koroki Kahukura, Tainui), World designer Benny Castles, and Wētā Workshop co-founder and creative director Sir Richard Taylor.

The judges said, ‘Earthling demonstrated an unmatched sense of the unity of wearable art and impeccable craftpersonship. It is absolutely beautiful, joyful, playful and positive, and wholly global yet looks and feels like Aotearoa.’

Saunders takes home NZ$30,000 for the Supreme prize and an additional NZ$6,000 for winning the Open section.

Sarah Nation, WOW’s head of competition, said, ‘The stories behind many of this year’s garments reflect a range of important social issues, making the WOW show not only a brilliant spectacle but a heartfelt showcase of the human experience through some of the most outstanding pieces of wearable art in the world. As ever, the judges had an incredibly difficult job. This year, as we watch and celebrate the evolution of new technologies, materials and techniques, there is something very grounding in celebrating a Supreme winner that is 100 per cent handcrafted.’

First-time entrant Chiaki Shimizu of Japan was runner-up, and won the Avant-garde section, with Samurai Girl, a particularly complex samurai outfit complete with an antlered helmet. She also took home the Wētā Workshop Emerging Designer Award, which gives her a four-week internship and accommodation with the Academy Award-winning company.

Blooming Proof! by Erna van der Wat, Joanne van Wyk and Lena van der Wat (New Zealand) won the Mars and Beyond section. Van Wyk and Lena van der Wat are the two oldest finalists at 81 and 87. Van Wyk’s daughter and Lena van der Wat’s daughter-in-law, Erna van der Wat of Auckland, was the third part of the trio who crocheted the section’s extraordinary winner.

Welder Craig McMillan’s Child·Hood, in the form of a crawling giant wooden wētā, won the Aotearoa section, inspired by growing up on the West Coast.

US entrants Dawn Mostow and Snow Winters won the Gold section and the International Award (Americas) with Digital Ascension of Kitsune, employing Latex to surprising effect. Mostow is a previous International Award winner.

Married couple Kristy Kirkpatrick and David Kirkpatrick of Tuakau, New Zealand, won the Bizarre Bra section with Groundbreaking, modelled after an excavator and inspired by their infant son’s interests.

An excited Abhishek Chauhan of India won the First-time Entrant Award with Oizys—Goddess of Emotion, taking selfies on stage as he accepted his award; Eva Chan of the Hong Kong Design Institute won the Student Innovation Award with Flame Dance; Dylan Mulder and Juliette Thomson of New Zealand won the Wearable Technology Award with Virtually the Same (which also exists in digital form on the blockchain); Carena West of New Zealand won the Sustainability Award with Tears Unseen; Georgia Chalmers-Jones of New Zealand won the New Zealand Design Award with The Golden Age of Queens; Grace DuVal of the US won the WOW Designer Development Award; and Fatemeh Delkhah of Iran won the Dame Suzie Moncrieff Award with Futuristic Fashion Technology.

There were three additional international awards: UK and Europe was was won by Juliet Dodson of the UK with Metamorphosis; Asia was won by Karin Chiu, Cathy Sin Wei Chow and Choy Yuk Nga of Hong Kong with Shadow Warrior; and Australia and Pacific was won by Lynnette Griffiths and Marion Gaemers of Australia with Birth of the Babel Fish.

The World of Wearable Art (WOW) extravaganza, subtitled Beyond this year, featured five headline performers alongside 100 dancers, aerialists and singers.

The 2023 show used an intergalactic journey as the theme tying each section together, with world-class music, choreography and acrobatics, while lighting, animation and visual effects helped transport the TSB Arena audience to new worlds.

R&B and blues artist Deva Mahal and her sister, folk R&B artist Zoë Moon, choreographer and dancer Taiaroa Royal (Black Grace, RNZB, WOW), actor and singer Jaxson Cook, and DJ Aroha Harawira were the five who took the evening’s performances to new heights.

Mahal and Moon’s vocals were powerful and earthy, while Cook had an androgynous and dramatic delivery, dressed in an Iris van Herpen-inspired gown. Taiaroa Royal’s te reo Māori lyrics brought forth a spiritual depth to his performances.

The science fiction theme saw everything from Martian travel to underground planetary life, and the Bizarre Bra models donned wigs reminiscent of those in the Gerry Anderson science fiction series UFO (think Gabrielle Drake’s cut in Wanda Ventham’s blonde shade).

The WOW show is directed by Malia Johnston, with Brian Burke as executive creative director. Burke’s résumé includes Cirque du Soleil, America’s Got Talent, American Idol and Le Rêve.

The musical score has been composed by Eden Mulholland (Ngāti Uepohatu), and has taken a year to complete. Anatonio Te Maioha worked on the Aotearoa section’s vocals, and Helen Mountfort performed on cello.

DJ Aroha also led the pre-show entertainment.

Also behind the scenes are production designer Robin Rawstorne, audiovisual content designers Jean-Luc Gason and Patrick Neys of Drop the Spoon, costume designer Gabrielle Stevenson, lighting designer Trudy Dalgleish, sound designer Bart Barkman, aerial choreographer and apparatus designer Jenny Richie, choreographers Andrew Cesan and Kayla Paige, music producer Paul McLaney, and character hair and make-up artist Hil Cook.

It was the first WOW show under the auspices of Still Ltd., run by Hideaki Fukutake, after it took over from Dame Suzie and her sister Heather Palmer late last year.

Tickets are on sale at and shows continue to October 8 at TSB Arena, Wellington.

Blooming Proof! by Erna van der Wat, Joanne van Wyk and Lena van der Wat (New Zealand)

Child·Hood by Craig McMillan (New Zealand)

Digital Ascension of Kitsune by Dawn Mostow and Snow Winters (US)

Groundbreaking, by Kristy Kirkpatrick and David Kirkpatrick (New Zealand)

Oizys—Goddess of Emotion, by Abhishek Chauhan (India)

Flame Dance, by Eva Chan (Hong Kong)

Virtually the Same, by Dylan Mulder and Juliette Thomson (New Zealand), which also exists in digital form

Tears Unseen, by Carena West (New Zealand)

Futuristic Fashion Technology, by Fatemeh Delkhah (Iran)

Metamorphosis, by Juliet Dodson (UK)

Birth of the Babel Fish, by Lynnette Griffiths and Marion Gaemers (Australia)

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