VOGUE Australia



At a time when the runways were all-consumed with pared-down looks, designer Collette Dinnigan championed a new kind of elegance, one that women really wanted to buy into. Lace, silks and corsetry were key and the mood swung the pendulum. Here, from her base in Puglia, the designer reflects upon a dramatic era in Australian fashion.


“When I started designing, it was very different to the era now. There was no social media, no Instagram, in fact, there was so much secrecy surroundin­g the runway shows. I remember my first presentati­on in Paris [in 1995] and the great lengths we went to in order to protect the photograph­s from leaking before Vogue published them in Australia. The security was intense; no-one was allowed cameras. There was also a big focus on androgynou­s fashion: Helmut Lang, Ann Demeulemee­ster and the Belgian labels were big. The look was much darker and more about suiting. I started working with French laces, which was a completely different mood, very feminine and based on lingerie and corsetry. I wanted to create something that felt fresh and youthful.”


“My first show was at Angelina [the grand Parisian cafe located near the Louvre on the Rue de Rivoli]. I was staying with Stephen Todd, who was writing for The Australian at the time, and we had no idea of the enormity of putting on a lingerie-based show with so much corsetry and lace-up details. We had 10 models, we had to borrow shoes from a friend, we were backstage franticall­y pulling everything off and lacing it up, and I remember collapsing at the end. But the press was interested, and they turned up to the next show, and then more came after that, until one season we went up against the Sonia Rykiel runway presentati­on, which prompted the designer to complain to the Chambre Syndicale – I had taken away her important journalist­s. It forced us into a resolution, because I was determined to keep showing, even though the Syndicale probably didn’t think that I would or could. And so when they officially put me on the Paris schedule, right at the beginning of fashion week, the brand took off.”


“It was hard work. I tried to sell the collection in Australia, but the buyers weren’t interested. So I went to Barneys in New York, where it was very successful, which was great validation. And then Joyce Ma [founder of Joyce boutique in Hong Kong] picked up the brand, and Harvey Nichols also secured us. Suddenly, I had this fantastic internatio­nal distributi­on. That prompted me to open my own store [in Sydney’s Paddington], where I had to become a one-man band, designing, making, cutting, doing the accounts at night. It was very organic and the business grew quickly. I was still absolutely focussed on perfecting quality and finish and working with the most beautiful fabrics from France and Switzerlan­d.”


“At the time, there were a lot of brands that were working in lace but not in the way that I did. I don’t think there was the same freshness. I signed up to Purple PR in London, I had just opened my shop in London, and the agency was beginning to focus on celebrity dressing – suddenly, every day, girls such as Kate Hudson, Angelina Jolie or Halle Berry would make an appearance in one of our dresses. They wanted something cooler and younger, they wanted to look feminine, perhaps as a reaction to all the androgynou­s clothes that were around, and we received so much press from that. It really pushed the label in a major way.”


“I’m so involved in interiors now, it’s hard to imagine what will come next after my time in Italy. I love retail and fabrics, and I think at some stage I’d love to explore something in a smaller retail world. I want to work on an idea that grows from a passion and a desire. I don’t know what that is yet, but I think there is so much that fashion can do in terms of producing sustainabl­e, high-quality products. Obviously, we need to focus on quality and longevity. I’m all about pushing the idea of going back to a more artisanal moment, a slower process, creating garments on mannequins. I think that’s so very important.”

 ?? ?? Collette Dinnigan backstage at one of her shows. Right: backstage in Paris for autumn/ winter ’03/’04.
Collette Dinnigan backstage at one of her shows. Right: backstage in Paris for autumn/ winter ’03/’04.

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