Buy tickets
      Press Release

      Art + Fashion collide at PEM this winter

      Released December 19, 2016

      PEM exclusive east coast venue for WOW® World of WearableArt

      Art & Fashion collide at the Peabody Essex Museum

      February 18 through June 11, 2017

      SALEM, MA — The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) announces it is the exclusive east coast venue for WOW® World of WearableArt™ - the exhibition - presenting extreme wearable artworks from New Zealand's renowned annual design competition. Using a range of unexpected materials, from wood and aluminum to fiberglass and taxidermy, visionary makers from around the world create exuberant ensembles that celebrate lavish creativity and push the limits of wearability. WOW® World of WearableArt™ is presented as part of PEM's fashion initiative and will be dramatically installed at the museum from February 18 through June 11, 2017.

      For nearly 30 years, WOW® has inspired hundreds of entrants from an international array of creative backgrounds -- from sculptors and costume designers to textile artists and architects -- to push their talents in new and unexpected directions, unpacking the creative possibilities of where fashion and art meet. The resulting works, which have been called "a glorious rebellion against the mundane," are unveiled each year at a choreographed awards show in Wellington, New Zealand for an audience of more than 50,000 people. WOW® is the country's largest art event and the globally touring exhibition features 32 ensembles, media installations and a hands-on workroom where visitors can explore their own creativity.

      "I love the egalitarian nature of this competition - encouraging fresh perspectives and different types of creativity to intersect and bloom," says Lynda Hartigan, PEM's James B. and Mary Lou Hawkes Deputy Director and curator for this exhibition. "These artists are pushing the limits of what you can do as clothing and how design can fundamentally alter the human form. It's exhilarating to see skill sets and design logic from disparate fields activated to create these unique moments of surprise and delight that are revelatory for lovers of design and fashion alike."

      Inspiration Spotlight
      Growing increasingly unhappy in her marketing job, USA's Lynn Christiansen picked up a self-help book that posed the following question: When did you last lose track of time? She thought back to graduate school when she had sculpted a small leopard from clay, oblivious to the fact that day had turned into night. She enrolled in art school soon after. Gothic Habit (2014) started with a fascination with laser cut felt and a photo that she had taken of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Her design is made of laser-etched felt and wood, and constructed from more than 2,300 individually cut pieces. She drew inspiration for the garment from the idea that entering a religious building provides a spiritual experience in itself.

      Peter Wakeman decided to enter the competition after seeing an extravagant WOW® garment made from saw blades and possum fur. He loved the thought of being able to design something for himself, answerable to nothing but his own imagination. Wakeman, who works as a commercial cleaner, is completely self-taught, having honed his skills working in construction and boat building. He spent more than seven months making the bubblegum pink fiberglass and plywood gown Chica Under Glass (2013) in the garage of his home in Motueka, New Zealand. His wife, a mother of three daughters, volunteered as his model, getting scratched by fiberglass as he worked on his design. She had some creative input however: the hot pink color was her idea.

      A lover of horses since childhood in the United Kingdom, Mary Wing To's decision to work with leather is not surprising based on her profession. A trained saddle and harness maker, she once apprenticed under Queen Elizabeth II's master saddler and was even responsible for adjusting the horses' harnesses in the wedding procession of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Wing To created her ensemble Hylonome (2011) from leather and horse hair, using various traditional leather craft techniques. Each leather piece is hand cut, edged, stained, stenciled, stitch-marked, molded, sculpted, hand-stitched and finally hand-laced together. The centaur's life-size head alone took 15 hours of nonstop molding work, and is finished with a mane of real horsehair.

      "At PEM we think of fashion as an experience of self-expression, and creativity very close to our bodies and souls, rather than a parade of famous designers or a line-up of trends and styles," says Hartigan. "Surprise, wonder, adventure, possibility -- the works in this exhibition tap into these elements with a sense of drama that reminds us of just how powerfully fashion invites creativity."

      WOW® World of WearableArt™ is the most recent offering from PEM's fashion initiative, undertaken as the next chapter for one of the country's leading collections of historic costumes and textiles from around the world. PEM's fashion initiative began in 2009 with Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel, followed by Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones (2012), Future Beauty: Avant-Garde Japanese Fashion (2013), Native Fashion Now (2015) and Shoes: Pleasure and Pain (2016-17). Concurrently, the museum has made, and continues to make, major acquisitions of 20th and 21st-century fashion.

      Explore garment design, construction and materials with fashion designers, costume makers and other artisans. Enjoy art making, performance, demonstrations and more. For more information, see

      Please join us for a cocktail reception and exhibition preview of WOW® World of WearableArt™

      High-resolution publicity images and captions are available upon request.

      The World of Wearableart Exhibition Catalog is available in the PEM Shop and for purchase.

      WOW® World of WearableArtTM is presented in partnership with the New Zealand government. Carolyn and Peter S. Lynch and The Lynch Foundation provided generous support. The East India Marine Associates of the Peabody Essex Museum also provided support.

      Media Partners
      The Boston Globe

      90.9 WBUR

      Gillian Saunders, New Zealand, Inkling, 2013, EVA foam and paint. Courtesy of World of WearableArt Limited.

      One of New Zealand’s cultural success stories is the spectacular WOW® World of WearableArt™ created by Dame Suzie Moncrieff. At the core of WOW® is an international design competition that attracts entries from forty countries. The range of garments produced for each year’s WOW® competition is simply breathtaking, as the rules of competition mean that anything that is in any way wearable can find a place on stage, as long as it is original, beautifully designed and well-made. This also results in garments that are constructed from an extraordinary array of materials, pushing the boundaries of expectation.

      Now staging its 28th production, the annual WOW® Awards Show presents selected designs in what is New Zealand’s largest and most technically challenging theatrical production, brought to life by 350 cast and crew. For the 2016 show 163 designers’ garments were seen in performance by an audience of 58,000 over a three-week season in Wellington, New Zealand. The winning garments from each year’s show are then seen up close by more than 50,000 people at the iconic National WOW® Museum in Nelson, New Zealand. WOW® World of WearableArt™ – the travelling exhibition – showcases 32 award-winning garments curated to present the best of New Zealand’s creative activity to the world.

      Over the last 20 years, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) has distinguished itself as one of the fastest-growing art museums in North America. Founded in 1799, it is also the country's oldest continuously operating museum. At its heart is a mission to enrich and transform people's lives by broadening their perspectives, attitudes and knowledge of themselves and the wider world. PEM celebrates outstanding artistic and cultural creativity through exhibitions, programming and special events that emphasize cross-cultural connections, integrate past and present and underscore the vital importance of creative expression. The museum's collection is among the finest of its kind boasting superlative works from around the globe and across time -- including American art and architecture, Asian export art, photography, maritime art and history, Native American, Oceanic and African art. PEM's campus affords a varied and unique visitor experience with hands-on creativity zones, interactive opportunities and performance spaces. Twenty-four noted historic structures grace PEM's campus, including Yin Yu Tang, a 200-year-old Chinese house that is the only such example of Chinese domestic architecture on display in the United States, and the Phillips Library, which holds one of the nation's most important museum-based collections of rare books and manuscripts. HOURS: Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 am-5 pm, and the third Thursday of every month until 9 pm. Closed Mondays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. ADMISSION: Adults $20; seniors $18; students $12. Additional admission to Yin Yu Tang: $6 (plus museum admission). Members, youth 16 and under and residents of Salem enjoy free general admission and free admission to Yin Yu Tang. INFO: Call 866-745-1876 or visit

      Whitney Van Dyke - Director of Communications
      978-542-1828 |
      Melissa Woods - Communications Specialist
      978.542.1609 |