One of Australia’s most successful fashion designers, Collette Dinnigan has been an icon of Australian fashion since the early ’90s. When she announced two years ago she was quitting it all, the industry was stunned. Since then, Dinnigan continues designing her children’s line, Enfant, as well as a lingerie collection for Target, Collette Dinnigan Wild Hearts, which launches in stores on September 24. A retrospective exhibition reflecting 25 years of her achievements, Collette Dinnigan: Unlaced, is on at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum until August next year. Dinnigan talked to me about her lingerie designs, life after scaling back her business and why she’s been feeling busier than ever.
Tell me about your new lingerie range.
I did the Wild Hearts collection [for Target] in 2008 and then they approached me to do it again. So I thought, you know what, especially after I decided not to do Paris [and my main collection], it’s a good thing to do. It’s great because it’s so affordable and so accessible to people and still really good quality.
What can people expect to see?
The collection is pretty feminine. It’s practical lingerie, but with a very feminine aesthetic and lots of detail, fine prints and embroideries. It’s very womanly and anyone from 20 to 60 can be wearing it. You don’t feel like you’re too sophisticated wearing a grown-up brand or you don’t feel like you have to be 14 years old with those kind of perky little bottoms!
What is a day in the life of Collette Dinnigan?
Oh my god, well now it’s a bit different. The last three or four months, it has been seven days a week doing the museum [exhibition] as well as doing the lingerie [collection], and also I just did some interiors for a hotel, Bannisters down in Mollymook [on the NSW South Coast] – the haute couture penthouse suites. It was great. I love interiors. And my book [Obsessive Creative] went on sale in May/June in America as well. It has actually been extremely busy – busier than doing Paris [runway shows]!
Tell me about your involvement with the exhibition Collette Dinnigan: Unlaced.
I have been curating with Glynis [Jones of the Powerhouse], we’ve got more than a thousand pieces of clothing in our collection. It was a selection process of what they wanted in the exhibition and what I also envisaged. The museum wanted things that were much more, I guess, dictated by monumental milestones in my career, but I was very hands-on and it’s not just a collection of clothes. It’s also about my inspirations. It takes people on a journey. I wanted it to be younger. So that’s why we created the catwalk, which is a live catwalk we filmed. So you could see the clothes standing there, as well as the girls walking to you.
How do you feel when you look through all your archives?
It’s an emotional journey because every dress has a story. If you’re a woman and you have a dress, you can remember the dress you met your husband in or you can remember the night that you had the best party. I think going through the boxes and taking everything out for me was emotional as all the dresses had so many stories.
Do you have a favourite piece in your archives?
I think my last collection. Even though it’s pretty recent – a year and a half ago – most of those pieces, to me, stand the test time.
Was it a tough decision to scale back your business?
It was really emotional for me and I made that decision on my own because I felt like I didn’t want [my husband] Bradley [Cocks] to be involved or ever have any responsibility talking me into it. But I felt quite liberated because I felt I wasn’t pushed into a financial decision. I felt I had achieved a lot in my career. I think when my book came out, that’s what made me think, “I’ve done all of this.” I had so many other things like interiors I wanted to do and just spending time with the children and being there and able to do things rather than always, every school holidays in January, I’m in the studio making the next collection, or September holidays I’m always off to Paris [for the shows]. So that was kind of really the deciding line.
You said that you scaled back to have time with the family. Are you able to get more quality time with them now?
You know what I do is – I’m still very busy but I get to control the time. I can go down to a farm for the holidays and we’re all there together.
Do you ever miss creating those beautiful gowns and wedding dresses?
No! I feel like, working with the museum, I’ve been doing collection after collection because I’ve been bringing them out of the boxes and restyling and putting them on the mannequins. I feel like I’m living fashion more than I ever have before because it has been in front of me for a whole year.
Do you still get many people requesting you to design their wedding dress?
Do you ever make any exceptions?
No, no. Because when you stop, you stop everything. You need that infrastructure. I still have my studio set up with sewing machines and fitting tables and things, but you either do it all or you don’t do any.
Your daughter will have an amazing wardrobe when she grows up!
Oh yes, but she is so disinterested. Getting her to wear a skirt to the opening night of the exhibition, oh my god! She is more interested in horses. It’s like the cobbler son doesn’t have any shoes!
Do you have a career highlight?
I definitely think making the decision to show in Paris was something that drove the business. Also, The Victoria & Albert: doing the show there in 2000 and opening my store in London, I think that was a huge achievement. I had the store there for 14 years. I guess being acknowledged by some of the big fashion luminaries and editors like Glenda Baileys and Anna Wintours, I think that’s sort of a huge testament to the brand. I think those are my career milestones.
Have you seen the industry change over all these years?
Oh my god [yes]. I can remember shows in Paris; you had to be accredited by Shaun Alexander if you’re a photographer. You had to have an official pass. You weren’t allowed to release any images for three months until Vogue and all the publications came out because they were the first. Then, after that, that’s when you release the collection into store. Whereas now, there are live streaming shows. They’ve already made the collections. There’s no surprise, there is no kind of anticipation of what’s happening because you see everything live. There’s so much at once. It’s so commercialised.
What do you do for fun?
We’re usually at the farm in my vegetable garden. I cook a lot or just go along the beach – just opposite end of the spectrum [to fashion]. Not at all city living. It’s very much about country and beach and family.
WE WENT TO Alimentari cafe, Paddington.
WE ATE Tuna nicoise salad
WE DRANK Tea and coffee.
COLLETTE WORE Collette Dinnigan.
I WORE a Bec & Bridge jacket and Skin and Threads jeans.