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Doodle leads to WOW

What started as a “little squiggle on paper” has propelled a Wairarapa artist onto one of the world’s most prestigious and colourful fashion stages.

Featherston local Taralee Freeman and her Wellington-based co-designers Marie Wright and Zach McDonald-Wright were among the 15 design teams from the Wellington region chosen as finalists for the 2023 World of Wearable Art Awards Show [WOW], beginning on September 20.

A total of 120 artists representing 23 countries were selected for this year’s competition – now in contention for a prize pool of more than $185,000 across six categories. The event will also feature the annual WOW showcase: Combining dance, aerial performance and lighting effects with outfits made with everything from synthetic hair, to Barbie dolls, to drone waste.

Freeman will be representing Wairarapa for the fourth time at WOW – with her design team selected for the 2017, 2019 and 2022 events.

Last year, the team entered “Gloriana”: A stunning 16th-century gown, comprised of unconventional materials – tissue paper, building underlay, leather EVA foam, and second-hand jewellery – to create the illusion of fabric and metal. “Gloriana”, for which Freeman was the lead designer, was awarded second prize in the Elizabethan section, one of the most hotly contested categories.

Freeman’s team has two entries selected for this year’s WOW – one of which, she said, was the result of an impromptu doodling session. She was tight-lipped about the appearance of said garment [the final version must stay under wraps until the show], but did give a few hints as to its humble beginnings and avant-grade construction.

“The inspiration came from a little symbol I scribbled down on paper one day. It was basically a squiggle that looked like a teardrop and a question mark,” Freeman said.

“I showed Marie, and she said, ‘I actually really like that’, and it went from there.

“I can’t say too much – but we’ve used a lot of materials you wouldn’t normally think of for clothes. We haven’t used much fabric, but we’ve got a few things builders use.

“We’ve taken elements of what we’ve learned from Gloriana, and have pushed those even further. We’ve gone the whole hog.”

Freeman, a tutor at Featherston’s Fareham Creative Space, said she has been an artist “all [her] life”, and mostly specialises in assemblage sculpture, using found objects

Fashion design had previously never crossed her mind, until she befriended Wellington-based Wright – who invited Freeman to collaborate with her and her son McDonald-Wright on their 2017 WOW entry. Their piece, “Theodore”, made from fabric, orange peel and horse hair, was a finalist in the science fiction category.

“We’ve been a team ever since,” Freeman said.

“We work together cohesively – the aim is for our work to look as if one person created it. It’s like when you mix primary colours together [to create new colours] – you can’t have one without the other. It’s a real blessing when you find that.”

However, all team members have different strengths – with Freeman’s sculpting abilities ideal for creating optical illusions. For example, the metallic details on Gloriana were created from tissue paper.

“It was cool to take something soft and gentle, and transform it into a metal that’s hard and heavy. It looked like a big statue. That’s where the artist’s brain comes in – being open to experimenting and bending reality a bit.”

Freeman said creating a piece of WOW calibre can be an involved process – there are usually at least six to 12 months between concept to completion.

“There’s hours and hours of work that goes into it. Our design for this year, for example, involved a lot of embossing – all done by hand.

“There’s some trial and error. You come up with little swatches that might work well, piece them together and give them a test run. Eventually, you hit that sweet spot and run with it.

Freeman said receiving an award last year was a “surreal” experience.

“I didn’t realise we’d won. I was clapping and thinking, ‘wow, those people did well.’ And then someone sitting near us was like, ‘that’s you!’ It didn’t sink in for a while.”

WOW runs from September 20 to October 8 at TSB Arena in Wellington. Winners will be announced on September 22.

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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