The BLOG: Culture

‘World of WearableArt’ Show WOWs ‘Em At Peabody Essex Museum in Salem

The Peabody Essex Museum challenges the notion that Fashion Week is limited to the catwalks of London, New York, and Paris.  Now through June 11th the Salem museum is hosting “WOW,”  an exhibition of quixotic couture collected from a New Zealand runway competition where creative expression has been crashing onto the shores of the Pacific Island nation for thirty years. 

The World of WearableArt Show is the love child of Dame Susie Moncrieff. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II first recognized the accomplishments of the young bohemian’s spirit in 1998, appointing her to the New Zealand Order of Merit. Fourteen years later she was promoted to Dame Companion for her ongoing contributions to art and tourism in the country infused with a blend of European, Māori, and Asian traditions.

Born in Hope, New Zealand, Moncrieff’s career began to unfold in her thirties after a tapestry of tribulations and a few bolts of inspiration helped design her future.  Failing to earn placement in art school, failing to find teachers’ college of interest, and failing to thrive working in a psychiatric hospital, the promising sculptress found success after she bought a dilapidated cottage and transformed the space into a gallery with six enterprising co-opters. In need of publicity, the seven struggling artists staged a competitive production of dance, theater, and wearable arts in 1987. The presentation launched the World of WearableArt Show which now entertains more than 50,000 people annually as New Zealand’s largest art event and globe-trekking exhibition. 

An amalgam of those shows has turned one of the Peabody Essex Museum’s galleries into an outrageous armoire. Called a “glorious rebellion against the mundane” this exhibition is WOW‘s exclusive East Coast venue. The sassy melange of 32 wearable ideas and looping video are unbranded examples of personal expression. More high-minded than high-brow, this fashion consortium reflects personal statements of international craftspeople who dare to flare. A quote from Dame Moncrieff stenciled on an exhibit gallery wall captures the spirit of the collection:  “The more provocative, unorthodox, and original the better. ”

These sartorial statements encourage museum guests to ponder heartfelt expressions of hope and the towering pride of tribal and intergalactic warriors, as well as internal mayhem. Cruising on the third rail of electrified runway couture, a personalized homage to women living with cancer, a leather centaur hand-stitched by Queen Elizabeth II’s master-saddler, and a felt-spiked ensemble crafted by Cirque du Soleil artist Marjolein Dallinda are three WOW-worthy standouts to see.  

Coinciding with the World of WearableArt exhibit, “The Scarf Project: Nurturing the Tie Between Art & Healing” celebrates health, giving, and healing as a community endeavor.  Partnering with Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, the Peabody Essex Museum announces a collaborative project intended to “help patients maintain strength, dignity and beauty during physically and emotionally challenging times.” 

A flowing scarf of blues designed by Amesbury, Massachusetts artist and cancer survivor Bonnie Ashmore is representational of the team effort.  Ashmore was treated for Stage 3 breast cancer in 2010, and she expressed her experience with cancer treatment by painting a series of her own 29 chemotherapeutic infusions.  A fluid interpretation of Taxol’s molecular structure has been transformed into a silky agent of beauty from Ashmore’s original acrylic-on-birch painting of “Flux.”

A matching scarf will be donated to a patient at the Mass. General Cancer Center for every scarf purchased at the Peabody Essex Museum gift shop, Images Boutique at the Mass. General Cancer Center in Boston, and at the Mass. General /North Shore Cancer Center in Danvers.  

For more information about WOW or “The Scarf Project,” go to: 

or call: 978-745-9500 

Scarf dimensions: 70″ x 24″ 

100% Silk  (Dry-clean only )


The Peabody Essex Museum:

161 Essex Street

Salem, Massachusetts

Open Tuesday -Sunday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Also open the third Thursday of every month 10 a.m. -9 p.m.

General Admission $20.00 

Seniors $18.00

Students with ID $12.00

16 and under or Salem residents with ID admitted free