I am the walrus: Meet the World of Wearable Art designer with animal instincts

By Francesca Emms
Photography by Jake Mein

Featured in Capital #54.
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Stephanie Cossens is a three-time World of Wearable Arts finalist and a section theme winner. We spoke to her back in 2018 about how she got started with her creature creations.

As a child Stephanie Cossens and all the other Glenorchy school pupils would participate in the wearable arts part of the Queenstown winter festival. ‘We would practice for months and put everything we had into these productions. I just loved every bit of it. It’s something I never forgot, so when I went to my first World of Wearable Art show I was like, I need to be a part of this! I was just blown away.’ After entering three times, Stephanie’s dream has come true and her work will finally make it onto the WOW stage this month.

Stephanie was always the kid helping a stuck goat out of a fence or saving ducklings from a cattle stop. ‘My passion for animals started at a young age. I had an intense fascination which I nurtured through drawing and a lot of David Attenborough documentaries. It’s no surprise I guess that they are an important part in what I create in my artistic life.’ Her love of soft sculpture began thanks to an obsession with the sculptor Joshua Ben Longo and his ‘out of this world, soft sculpture creations.’ She also admires Francis Upritchard. ‘I went to a show of hers a few years ago at Wellington City Gallery and was blown away. In the main entrance she had on display three giant sloths lying on their backs made out of old fur coats. I remember being so excited as I had just started really getting into soft sculpture.’

Stephanie studied at the Dunedin School of Art then moved to Wellington ‘because it has such a cool, creative atmosphere, a lot of character and more opportunities to pursue a creative lifestyle.’ She’s now part of Honey Badgers Creative studios, a collection of artists that share a space on Knigges Ave. ‘The artists I share the space with all have diverse disciplines ranging from photo-realistic portrait painting to graffiti and sign writing, this makes for an awesome and varied atmosphere.’

A day in the studio usually begins with clay modeling. ‘I really enjoy ceramics and use it a lot in the details of my sculptures.’ She uses aluminum, chicken wire and mesh for the frame of her sculptures which she stuffs with newspaper. ‘I then wrap the shape in dacron (pillow inners) and cover it in fleece, then the faux fur and all the fun details on the face come next.’ When she creates a headpiece she does everything by hand. ‘Every stitch and every ceramic detail. It gives me a lovely closeness to the animal I’m creating. From the initial idea down to the final detail, I’m there with the animal watching it emerge. It leaves a lasting connection.’ And it’s not just Stephanie who connects with the soft sculptures. She says that people are often drawn to touch and interact with them. ‘Their soft tactile nature is what draws them in. In a way they are like soft toys which most people can relate to.’

She’s tight lipped about her entry into WOW, but says, ‘I have stayed true to my own aesthetic while making it more refined. There is a fine line between too much and not enough and I guess it’s just finding that balance. The work really needs to have its own voice and tell a story. That’s what makes art enjoyable, it’s what brings it to life.’

Stephanie’s excited to meet the other designers and the creator of WOW Dame Suzie Moncrieff, but admits it still feels like a dream. ‘When I see my garment on stage is when I think all of this will sink in for me, at the moment it still feels a bit unreal! For something that I have worked so hard for I am delighted that it has finally come to fruition.’


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