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From Wairarapa to WOW with love

Brita DellaBarca from Masterton is a finalist in the avante-garde section of the World of WearableArts this year. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

It’s not easy getting into the World of WearableArt. PAM GRAHAM talks to a Wairarapa designer who’s made the move from Swedish heavy metal to serious leather work.

Brita DellaBarca chuckles as she tells how she got her “gigantic” garment out of Wairarapa to the 2018 World of Wearable Art [WOW] design competition.

“It is huge, about 3m tall. I didn’t have a car big enough and I couldn’t get time off work.”

Packaging was sorted with the help of her uncle, a builder, who made a container out of double layers of cardboard sourced from appliance stores, and ply, with handles from old drawers.

“Dad had to wrangle it on the back of his ute and mum drove it to Wellington in a roaring southerly for me. It was a real family effort.”

But DellaBarca is the real star of the story. She has been selected as one of 148 designers from 17 countries, her first entry to the world-renowned competition, which celebrates 30 years of existence this year.

The effort she put in to making the garment in her Kuripuni flat, which she shared with a best friend, is mind-boggling.

She stitched 15,000 beads on by hand.

The garment is made of leather, a material she has always loved. The leather has been worked, dyed, and painted, and she says parts of it no longer look like leather.

Apart from the under-frame, it is all hand stitched.

The shoulder is made of vegetable-tanned leather, which is also used to make saddles and can be carved and tooled, while much of the rest is made from tanned cow hides that drape beautifully.

“Basically, I used the equivalent of two whole cows … two really big, fully-grown cows.”

She decided to enter after her friend suggested it when she was a bit bored in Masterton, after returning from several years following Swedish heavy metal band ‘Opeth’ around Europe.

She started making the garment in October and it took seven months.

Working on it for about 15 hours a week while in Masterton, she then got a job in Wellington and only came back at weekends.

“I worked non-stop [during those weekends], like 48 hours straight, just stopping to have a nap and eat.

“It was hours and hours of sitting in front of David Attenborough documentaries. David Attenborough, and coffee and beads, were my life”.

She developed “pretty rough fingers”, dye and paint under her fingernails and on her clothes, but she loved what she created.

The garment is based on an image by Danish illustrator Kay Neilsen of a fairy tale.

“There was something in that painting I always loved and wanted to bring to life,” she said.

She said people who sewed always said they never made their own ball dress or wedding dress because they grew to hate what they were making, and only ever saw the flaws.

That wasn’t the case with this garment.

“There was never a point in this project where I despised what I was making. It only ever got more exciting for me as it took shape.

“I was still in love with it at the end of it, and I still love it to pieces.”

DellaBarca is a finalist in the avant-garde section at WOW, for wearable works of art that are experimental, radical and unorthodox. The challenge is to dare to defy the boundaries of fashion and create a work that is unique and innovative.

A key catalyst for her entry was having her heart broken by a “gorgeous but idiotic boy” and instead of wallowing in self-pity, deciding “to get off my arse and chase my dreams”.

She also entered because she wants to one day work on costumes at Weta Workshop.

“This is a good thing to start to practise skills and get my portfolio together. It was something to focus on, a bit of a challenge, which I always enjoy.”

She is currently living in Wellington and working in the boutique retail shoe store, I love Paris.

She sourced the leather from NZ Leather Supplies, which she has been using since she designed leather garments as a student.

She spent $3000 on the project and used a model from Featherston for the images in the entry.

First-time and overseas entrants go through a pre-selection process for WOW and the emails kept coming, informing her she was making it through the steps in the process.

She said she was on the phone to her mother when she heard her phone go beep, indicating a new email, but thought nothing of it.

She said goodbye to her mum then checked the email to find she was a finalist.

“I rang mum back 10 seconds later and just screamed my head off. She was very happy.” Dad and a good friend in the background having coffee in the kitchen added to the chorus of delight.

Pretty much “everyone” she knows is going to the show. She will go to it twice, including the key Friday night when the winners are announced.

A total of $160,000 in prizes is up for grabs and as well as the avante-garde award, DellaBarca is also in the running for the first-time entrant prize.

She says Wellington loves WOW.

“It is a really nice competition to be involved in. It makes you feel like a VIP.”

The World of WearableArt is New Zealand’s single largest theatrical production. More than 60,000 people will see it at the TSB Arena from September 27 to October 14.

The awards are announced on the night of October 28.

Model student hits books on train
Kate Lewis commutes from Masterton to model in WOW.
PHOTO/PAM GRAHAM

St Matthew’s Collegiate School student Kate Lewis has an after-school activity to die for and she and her family are working together to make it happen.

The 16-year-old from Masterton is a first-time adult model in the World of WearableArt [WOW] award show in Wellington, one of only five to be selected this year.

For the past two weeks, she’s been catching the 3.38pm train to Wellington and then heading along the waterfront to the TSB Arena for rehearsals. One of her parents drives over and picks her up, typically about 10pm, and drives her home.

She does her homework on the train and sleeps in the car on the way back.

The process, which happens up to five days a week, continues until a friends and families night on September 26, effectively the final full rehearsal, then the public season from September 27 to October 14.

Kate is loving the experience.

“The people are so lovely. They are very friendly. This is a massive show, the production is huge, but it started very small,” she said.

“It is a family, and everyone is looking out for each other.”

Kate is modelling four garments, one in the open section, one in avant-garde, one in bizarre bra, and one in the microscope section.

The Year 11 student said a friend and her dance teacher encouraged her to go to the auditions in Wellington.

Kate, at 1.79m, met the 1.7m height criteria, while others were sent on their way.

Her mother Rachel waited outside and watched a stream of people coming out of the building while her daughter remained inside.

“I walked in that day and I don’t know what happened, but I did actually feel very confident,” Kate said

“Probably because I had encouragement and a dance background.

“I thought you know – if I fail I fail, and it’s a really cool experience just to witness the audition.

“Just see how you go and whatever happens, happens for a reason.”

Confirmation she had made it through the first audition came in an email to mum.

Her family has a tradition of making announcements during dinner and toasting them, so Kate found out sitting at the dinner table where the happiness at achieving such a cool goal was shared.

A second round of auditions followed with returning models from previous years, and then she was asked back for garment fittings. The family were on holiday when they finally heard she was in the show.

Rachel said they discussed the commitment involved and how they as a family could make it happen.

She said the school pickup is like a Formula One pitstop. Kate changes clothes and gets driven to the train station.

Kate said she was one of the youngest models in the show, she believes only three are under 18, and the WOW family were really looking after her.

Her family will be there to watch her, including brother Oliver, who is coming up from Otago University.

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