The Art of Passion with Dame Suzie Moncrieff

Thirty-five years ago, Dame Suzie Moncrieff was a full-time sculptor. She exhibited her figurative ceramic art at the William Higgins Gallery in Nelson. She wanted to help raise the gallery’s profile, so she created a show that mixed art and fashion. The first show had a selection of local artists and designers submitting wearable art and attracted an audience of 200 people. Today, the World of WearableArt Show attracts entries from over 20 countries and last year had an audience of almost 64,000 people.

Dame Suzie Moncrieff posing in between two mannequins wearing World of Wearable Art costumes. In the background there are shelves and boxes.

Dame Suzie Moncrieff

Dame Suzie has never had a specific interest in fashion – it was always about art. “Before I started WOW I was a full-time sculptor. The idea of taking art off the wall and on to the moving body was the catalyst for me”. When evolving a show that involved a catwalk and models it was important to differentiate it from other fashion events. New Zealand already had a fashion week. “What they did was great, but I wanted to do something entirely unique”. Anchoring it firmly in the artistic realm and opening entries up to anyone created an experience that was inventive, non-elitist, and fun.

The vision was clear right from the start. “WOW is about bringing people together and enriching the community in a positive and joyful way. Where would we be without inspiration or imagination?” Dame Suzie knew the idea had huge potential and was driven to achieve it. Her father was entrepreneurial, and her mother was very outgoing so she knows where she got her drive from. “I also thought – what have I got to lose, just give it a go.”

In 2005, WOW moved its yearly extravaganza to Wellington seeking a larger profile and audience base. The capital delivered, and the show continues to grow. Its current season runs for three weeks.

Dame Suzie thinks Wellington was the perfect fit for WOW to flourish. The food offerings, shops, galleries and museums, and excellent accommodation all make the city a natural fit for the WOW audience. “WOW is a unique experience and Wellington is a unique place.”

At the beginning, WOW was a family and friends affair. Dame Suzie’s sister was competition director, and her daughter dealt with scripting and music. Cousins and friends were corralled to help while the event was getting established. Now, WOW is an internationally recognised competition. Over 10,500 people have worked on the show and 830,000 have seen it. Dame Suzie now acts as an ambassador and is involved in the judging process. There’s no day-to-day minutiae to worry about. “I don’t have to worry about budgets anymore – I get to sculpt again. Everything has come full circle.”