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World of WearableArt 2022: A Chat with the French Designers

The World of WearableArt is New Zealand’s largest theatrical production. Combining dance, theatre, and music, it showcases the finest wereable art designs wrapped up in an incredible stage performance.

More than a spectacular experience, it’s also an art competition, recognised all around the world, where finalists exhibit their creativity, new techniques and materials in front of a judging panel.

World of WearableArt

TSB Arena, Wellington

29 September to 16 October 2022

For more information and book tickets:

From the graphics developed by WOW

Two French designers have been selected to join the line-up of finalists this year: Kelly Harrouk (NZ based) and Maria Friese (France based).

Images supplied by Kelly Harrouk

Kelly Harrouk

First things first – please tell us a bit about yourself and your background. Who is Kelly Harrouk?

Originally from Saint-Étienne in France, I am a designer and a costume/prop maker. I have been living in New Zealand Aotearoa since November 2017.

I studied Fashion Design (Adrien Testud high school in Saint-Étienne, BEP & BAC PRO Design de Mode) and graduated with a Performing Arts Technician degree specialised in costumes and wardrobe dressing (La Martinière Diderot high school in Lyon). As part of my professional trainings I collaborated with Disneyland Paris, Lyon Opera House and Birmingham Costume Hire in England.

As a fan of Lord of the Rings since I am 11, it was my dream to visit to New Zealand. While travelling in Aotearoa early 2017, I fell in love with the country. Upon my return to France, it felt like a part of me was still there. I returned 6 months later. I am now living and working in the Kāpiti Coast, growing my network to make a name for myself in the film and costume industries.

How did you decide to become a designer? What was your very first creation?

Since a very young age, I’ve always been very creative, playing with beads, paint, fabrics. My grandmother taught me a bit of sewing when I was around 8-9 years old.

From watching the Lord of the Rings, I knew that I wanted to work in the film industry. Although too shy to pursue a career in acting, I decided I would work backstage. Making costumes is the perfect job for me. Studying fashion made me realise that this was the path I wanted to take.

I made a few creations at school but nothing that really felt like my own. It always had to tick some boxes. I didn’t feel free to do what I really wanted. We also organised a fashion show where we would model for our own creations. Even though this was very rewarding, I still wasn’t sure about my tastes and inspirations.

Then I was fortunate to volunteer for CKFilmDesign in Wellington February 2018. Charlotte Kelleher was very impressed with my designs and offered me a contractor position. I have been working for her since then. It helped me develop new skills, boost my confidence in my work to, at last, find the courage to show my own designs.

This has led me to become a finalist at World of WearableArt 2021, so I guess this was all a good decision!

How do you define your style as a designer? (What inspires you? Who’s your favourite designer? etc.)

I find my inspiration in fantasy, nature, and History.

To fulfil my goals here in New Zealand, I have been doing quite a bit of acting and stunt work. It makes me appreciate even more the importance of a costume in order for an actor to fully impersonate a character.

What I love the most about what I do is giving life to a garment, seeing it being worn, getting dirty. We can tell a story from it. I love detailed work, mixing textures and techniques.

The fashion industry is very different from the costume industry. I definitely consider myself a costumer rather than a fashion designer. However, I absolutely love Iris Van Herpen, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Alexander McQueen’s designs.

I am also inspired by what I see in my everyday life: materials, colours, shapes etc.

How would you describe the creation you’re presenting at WOW?

My garment, entered as part of the Elizabethan Era category, is called “The Queen’s Dame”. It represents my vision of female empowerment. Queen Elizabeth, the first queen of England, was a strong and powerful woman. My creation is my vision of the female knights who fought alongside her.

I have used mainly leather, but also chainmail, for some elements of the armour such as the pauldrons and the morion (helmet). Carving the leather is the most time consuming. As it was my first attempt, it was a good opportunity to practice this particular skill. I was hoping the judges would love it - and they did!

What’s next for you? What are your other upcoming artistic projects?

I am pursuing a career in the film industry. I am hoping more opportunities will come out of my participation in the World of WearableArt 2021 competition. I would love to work on sets as a dresser or costume assistant for example.

My ultimate goal is to work for WETA Workshop.

Of course I will enter World of WearableArt again next year. I am already brainstorming ideas for a new garment. I am also focusing on obtaining my resident permit as it would allow me to devote myself fully to my career here.

Images supplied by Maria Friese

Maria Friese

First things first – please tell us a bit about yourself and your background. Who is Maria Friese?

I was born in Germany in 1980. I studied Textile Design, graduated in 2004 and then moved to France. I have lived and worked for more than 15 years in the southwest, near Toulouse, in a picturesque, natural countryside setting.

Initially specialised in weaving techniques, I did not discover felt making until nearly the end of my textile design studies. This discovery blew my mind and completely changed my life!

In contrast to all the other textile techniques I had tried before, felt making opened endless possibilities, especially in terms of surfaces and three-dimensional design. I was so fascinated by the prospect of these possibilities, that I threw myself completely into this art form and became a full-time felt artist. I especially created sculptural artwork and wall hangings.

I have exhibited my work in Europe and given professional training courses and workshops in felt techniques across the world (Europe, USA, Canada, South America).

My work has been presented in French galleries and exhibitions all over Europe. In 2013, my work “Cycle” – a monumental three-dimensional wall hanging - won the “Young Designer Award” awarded by the Atelier d’Art de France.

I love challenges and with each single project I try to push my own skills a little further. I have extensively explored the possibilities of the three-dimensional and relief techniques. I love to work with felt in a manner which seems to be in opposition to its qualities. At first sight my art appears sometimes to be ceramics like, but on closer look the warmth and vitality - caused by the nature of the sheep’s wool - radiates.

For me felting is a proper art form and the most appropriate one to implement my own personal style. It allows the interpretation of my feelings for nature and life in my very own language.

Even at a young age, I was fascinated by the influence that art has on the body, mind, and spirit. In 2016/2017 I entered a life-changing period where I also decided to turn to art therapy. I started studying art therapy and energy work. Art making began to take on a different meaning. I no longer envisioned my art being hung in galleries, and felt that, instead, it should be brought to life in a different way. This is also when I started the creation of my entry-costume for WoW.

During the creation process of the costume, I became increasingly aware that making art has a powerful transformative quality. Art is a bridge between the visible and the invisible world. It is also a powerful ambassador which is able to affect the environment when we allow it to fully come alive.

How did you decide to become a designer? What was your very first creation?

I feel like I never really made the decision to be a designer. It was more like a natural development process. I wanted to study fine art but was not accepted in art school. I then accompanied a friend to the entrance exam for the textile art and design studies. At first, I wasn’t particularly interested in it, but I was promptly accepted. Life pushed me in that direction.

There was also the fashion design department at my school. I admired the students’ work and performances so much. At this time, I didn’t see myself as being capable of creating 3D wearable art pieces. It was overwhelming just to think about it. And sewing was not really my strength.

My understanding of the 3D construction of complex art pieces came all along by developing my own techniques with the 3D felting process and my 15 years of research and experimentation with the materials. I finally gained the abilities to work on complex seamless 3D sculptural artworks in one piece.

It is quite a miracle to me that I made it into the World of WearableArt Awards Show! It’s like a dream coming true!

“Am I an artist or a designer?”. I have often asked myself. I think I am both and many other things.

My first creation in wearable art was in 2015. I created costumes for a friend and her circus company “La Ô” (France) for a performance called “Lunarium”. That was a big challenge for me because these outfits need to be fit for the needs of the artists. There were 3 headpieces and accessories for trapeze artists who performed on a large steel sculpture in the shape of a crescent moon. When I first saw the performance, with my costumes, I was completely overwhelmed. Seeing my work come alive moved me deeply and the expression was so strong that I still get goose bumps today when I think back on it. Something deeply hidden in me was triggered then.

How do you define your style as a designer? (What inspires you? Who’s your favourite designer? etc.)

My work is inspired by nature and geometry. Primarily I am fascinated by the geometry of natural forms, inhabiting all living elements. Analysing and translating symmetrical orders into an art object allows me to connect with the origin of creation. Very poetic irregularities just happen while felting, like in nature too, and make the works of art become vivid, unique, and organic.

The hidden, inconspicuous, and unusual nature of underwater creatures, seed pods, plants and fossils, captivates me every day. Sometimes I feel like a kind of ‘felt archaeologist’. Always looking for new secret forms and creatures to explore the secrets of life and creation by incorporating them into my art.

How would you describe the creation you’re presenting at WoW?

It is my masterpiece and the culmination of all my technical knowledge and research. It is also the very first wearable art piece in this size. The piece is very meaningful to me, as it is a symbol of my personal transformation. When I created the costume, I thought it would be my very last piece. It felt like I had explored everything I wanted with the technique. Right after I stopped felting for almost 2 years.

Today I think it is probably a new beginning on my artistic journey, a new cycle, not yet completely revealed to myself.

So, the piece is closing one phase and opening a new one. It’s like a cocoon, like a shell where transformation happens inside. It is an end and a new beginning. Death and rebirth at the same time.

What’s next for you? What are your other upcoming artistic projects?

After my life changing period in the last few years, where I also thought that I would no longer create (had to take a break during the last two years) I now need to find my new direction.

I started to create again. Differently, in an even more meaningful way.

I am someone who needs to travel to get inspiration. After nearly 2 years of no travel, I am now in a big need to move for inspiration. So, the first thing I need to do is: an inspirational artistic journey.

I want to find out more about the meanings of geometric patterns in other cultures, get inspired by them and translate them with my own expressions and techniques in unique pieces of art. In a way they will send out the messages of a universal very ancient symbolic language and inspire others.

Being selected as a finalist is giving me value and lots of motivation to dive into creating wearable art pieces... something I never thought that I would be able to do! I am really inspired by the WoW 2022 designer sections.

So, with this new cycle starting in my life, I am quite curious about what life has in store for me and my artistic journey on earth.


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