From the Sheep’s Back to the Sharp End of Fashion — WoolOn Wows the Crowd in Central Otago
(Pictured above: National President Fiona Gower, Chief Executive Officer Penelope England, Region 1 Area Chair Gill Naylor, Board Member Margaret Pittaway.)
Fashion garments entered at the recent Rural Women New Zealand WoolOn Awards in Alexandra sparked huge admiration for both their designers and the raw material they were created with.
“I’m in awe of the talent that is out there, the creativity of those designers and what they made — how they turned an incredible wool product into the most amazing garments”, Rural Women New Zealand National President Fiona Gower, said.
Andre Johnston from Gore collected the $5000 Supreme Award with a cross-stitched dress entitled “For the Love of Spring”.Johnston, who has been designing for twenty years, said the one-shouldered dress had taken “two to three hundred” hours to make. Her mother, Viv Tamblyn, last year’s Supreme winner, won the Peter Lyon Shearing Streetwear category.
The event, opened by the Hon. Damien O’Connor, Minister of Agriculture, has blossomed over recent years into a showcase for contemporary wool fashion. Entries, which must be at least 75% wool, are judged over eight categories.
Head judge Simon Swale of Dunedin said Johnston’s piece was contemporary and modern, while using traditional craft.
“It was very clever, it played to the traditional but the work looked almost digital. There was nothing else like it.”
Swale, senior lecturer at Otago Polytechnic School of Design, said the entries overall were “bigger, bolder and more ambitious”.
Auckland-based judge Cushla Reed of Minx shoes, commended entrants, many of whom have been crafting wool for decades to gain the skills required.
“The felting category in particular actually blew me away. How they took that traditional look and made it modern.”
Fifty-four garments were on show in an industrial warehouse, transformed for two nights into a glitzy fashion venue. Tickets had sold out months prior for the Saturday event, and nearly 800 people attended over the weekend, co-chairperson Leonie Williamson said.
Tweed, crocheting and merino wool mesh came together in the winning Collections Category entry judges described as “colonial cool”. Becs Calder from Omakau kept her stunning design true to Central Otago right down to the buttons, fashioned from the horns of a merino ram.
New categories for novice designers and wool accessories had attracted good entries, boding well for the future of the event, Mrs Williamson said.
Tania Irons bold interpretation of her home province, Central Otago, going from drought to lush green after rain was a crowd pleaser, taking out the novice section.
Both the Avant Garde and Special Occasion categories were won by Napier designer Laurel Judd, a seasoned competitor who first entered WoolOn in 2006. Her machine-knitted merino lace gown complete with bejewelled looking glass was described by the judges as “a real life fairytale”.
Ms Gower said wool remained the backbone of many rural communities in New Zealand and she believed it had a positive future as a remarkably versatile, sustainable product.
“To see it shown in such an incredible light is hugely positive. I have great faith in what we can do with wool and shows like this help get the word out there.”
The WoolOn Organising Committee could be very proud of their event, she said, as could local businesses who had supported it through sponsorship.
“We are very pleased to be a part of it and we loved the show.”
Results: Supreme Award: For the Love of Spring, Andre Johnston, Gore Streetwear: Perfection in Pink by Viv Tamblyn, Gore, Handcrafted: For the Love of Spring, Andre Johnston, Gore, Felted: In the Pink, Heather Kerr, Wanaka, Highly Commended, Circle of Life, Maureen Mckenzie, Alexandra, Novice: Let it Rain, Tania Irons, Becks, Highly Commended Nifty Chic, Beverly Baker, Alexandra, Collections: Tweedle Dee, Becs Calder, Omakau, Special Occasions: Barcelona, Laurel Judd, Napier, Avante Garde: Mirror Image, Laurel Judd, Napier, Accessories: Diamond Herringbone, Sue Mclean, Oamaru, Highly Commended Autumn Warmth, Gillian Parkinson, Roxburgh, Under 23 Award, Expression of Tartan, Neesha Johnston, Havelock.