‘Wearable of the Week’ # 1

‘Wearable of the Week’ # 1

On 24 August, 2013 The WOW Factor, which celebrates 25 years of the WearableArt™ Awards, opened to the public. The exhibition features over 25 fantastic garments from the award’s history, and for the next 25 weeks I am going to endeavour to post a ‘Wearable of the Week’. ‘The Wearables’ is an affectionate short hand term among fans for the awards, with a  ‘Wearable’ of course being an entry.

My inaugural ‘Wearable of the Week’ is Isabelle by US designer Lorene Ireland.

Isabelle by Lorene Ireland, USA, 200?. Photography by
Isabelle by Lorene Ireland, USA, 20011. Photograph by David Allen. World of WearableArt™

Lorene Ireland won the Kiwi Icons section of the WearableArt™ Awards in 2011with Isabelle, although, ironically she is an American. Ireland lives in the La Jolla, a coastal artist colony near San Diego, and specialises in mosaic work. In the case of Isabelle, Ireland’s use of shells was inspired by her grandmother’s 100 year old shell collection. I have chosen Isabelle as my first Wearable, simply because it reminds me of my own grandmother. I never met her, but I know she had an artistic spirit, and since childhood I have treasured a shell covered box that she made, even if it is a little worse for wear.

Shell covered box by Sadie Regnault, c. 1940s
Shell covered box by Sadie Regnault, c. 1940s

Shell work, as the craft form is known, became a fashionable ‘accomplishment’ among young women in the early 19th century. By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, shell work was being produced on a more commerical basis in sea side towns as souvenirs. Some men and women, such as my grandmother, however, simply practiced the art as an enjoyable past time.  Today, shell covered objects, ranging from trinket boxes to coffee tables, are eagerly sort after on the collectibles market. While shell work is practiced in countries around the world, many of us have come to embrace it as part of our Kiwiana heritage.  New Zealand’s most famous example must be Fred and Myrtle Flutey’s paua adorned home, which is now on display at the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch. As such it is easy to see how Isabelle came to encapsulate the theme of New Zealand Icons for the judges.

Isabelle also brings to mind one of my favourite fashion designers – Elsa Schiaparelli who is well known for her Surrealist bent. I wonder if Lorene was paying a nod to Schiaparelli when she designed Isabelle’s three drawer skirt. In 1936 Schiaparelli, who has been described as an ‘architect of fashion, carpenter of clothes’,  skilfully interpreted Salvador Dali’s anthropomorphic cabinet sketches into a smart collection of bureau-drawer suits and coats. The inventive but extremely wearable collection was photographed by Cecil Beaton for Vogue.

Lorene’s garment is somewhat less easily worn than Schiaparelli’s woollen suits. While the shells give Isabelle a delicate look, it is both a fragile and weighty piece that demands a strong and confident wearer. Each year, the World of WearableArt™ models are presented with a range of highly challenging garments to show off to their best effect on stage. Admirably, they succeed in making each look like a breeze to wear.

‘Wearable of the Week’ is posted in conjunction with The WOW Factor: 25 Years in the Making, which is on display at Te Papa until 17 August 2014. For more on the World of WearableArt™ visit WOW® online.

Painted spider conch shell. Gift of Erskine College, 1986. Te Papa

1 Comment

  1. What a lovely entrée to a craft/ skill I had hitherto given little thought. Thanks – am going to investigate Elsa and the box suits – amazing concept.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *