Rubber outfit stretches imagination


 Imagination gone wild Amy Roberts' ensemble, The Phoenix, was recognised at the Canterbury 2019 Wearable Arts Awards. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Imagination gone wild Amy Roberts' ensemble, The Phoenix, was recognised at the Canterbury 2019 Wearable Arts Awards. Photo: Supplied
By Rachel Macdonald

Amy Roberts uses art to express herself, whether it's colouring or styling clients' hair at work or designing fashion at home.

She needs to be busy, and her imagination seems boundless.

Last weekend, the Cust hairdresser took away a first in the Canterbury 2019 Wearable Arts Awards, hosted by Art Couture New Zealand.

This follows a win in the adults' section of the 2019 North Canterbury Wearable Arts competition late in August.

Both gowns were designed and hand-glued or stitched around a dressmaker's mannequin in her sitting room. One is made out of individual jigsaw bits and the other of stylised "feathers", but weighing enough that it had to be divided into a separate bodice and skirt.

The first gown, currently on show at the Oxford Museum, is called The Sky is the Limit. With a bodice, train, fascinator, and bracelet, it was created painstakingly from puzzle pieces separately hot-glued on to a cut-away underskirt. That dress was all about giving something a go, trying to create something beautiful whether you fail or achieve, says Amy.

"If you achieve, that's great. But if you fail, I've come to understand, you get an even better steer on what you could do better, what ideas might work better next time."

Art Couture asked her to submit the same dress for the Canterbury show, but Amy had other ideas.

In this case, the class was called Here We Go Again, where every garment had to comprise 70 percent recycled product. So, with just four weeks to work with, and always up for a challenge, she started looking around for new materials to repurpose.

The gown started out being made from bicycle inner tubes. When they ran out, Amy turned to car inner tubes. Each "feather" was painstakingly cut by hand, then spray-painted, before being hand-stitched on to the base garment.

The crowning moment came when she found an exploded steel radial tyre on the roadside, stopped the car and picked it up – to the horror of her daughter – took it home, extracted, curled and spray-painted the metal, and used it as the sculptural heart of the ensemble's headpiece.

The ensemble is called The Phoenix, building from a black train, through red and orange, then to gold and pink through the bodice and shoulders.

"The myth has it that the phoenix rises from the ashes, becoming stronger and wiser as it gains new life," Amy says.

"For me, the story – and the gown – is about women who have faced, and overcome, depression.

"So many women around me have faced really hard journeys, died a little bit, but have come though it. They go from this dark place, and get back up on their feet in this new position of insight and power that makes them a real force to be reckoned with."

What does the future hold for Amy's aspirations? First, she would like to see both award-winning gowns mounted in the window of her hair salon, Cedar Heights, in Cust. Second, she dreams of devising an ensemble that might qualify for the World of WearableArt Awards in Wellington.

"That means a whole audition process.

"It would be great to take some message to a wider audience," she says.

"With WOW, when you get to that level, you have to come up with an idea, audition the garment and presentation, and be accepted into the show. I enjoy art as a personal way to express myself and support the people around me, and some of those statements seem to resonate.

"I'd love to see where that could go."