Exclusive to the Powerhouse Museum,
Collette Dinnigan: Unlaced is not only a fashion retrospective, but a visual expression of Collette Dinnigan's imagination and inspiration, explored through her work and creative process.
As one of Australia's most successful fashion designers, Collette Dinnigan has led an impressive career spanning 25 years. Known for her ultra-feminine, sensual take on evening dresses, lingerie and bridalwear, Collette's sought-after designs are loved by celebrities such as
Angelina Jolie, Taylor Swift and even Kate Middleton.
The first Australian to be invited to exhibit at the prestigious Haute Couture week in Paris, Collette has been credited with putting Australia on the global fashion stage. Her influence on Australian fashion, culture and business has led her to receive countless accolades, including being honoured with the 5th Australian Fashion Laureate Award — recognising her outstanding creative and intellectual achievement in the Australian Fashion Industry.
When we caught up with the internationally-acclaimed designer, we were delighted to learn that not only is her remarkable career inspiring, she is down-to-earth, humble and generous with her words and time. Keep scrolling to hear what Collette had to say about confidence, passion and her favourite places to shop!
POPSUGAR Australia: What first sparked your interest in design?
Collette Dinnigan: It was never a calculated or thought-through interest — I guess it was more a natural thing. When I was at high school, I was always sort of an arts-based student rather than an accounts-based one, so it was just a natural progression really.
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PS: What’s the best piece of style advice you’ve ever received, and who was it from?
CD: A few things — my mother always said, "Dress to be confident, and it doesn’t really matter what other people think." I think that sort of gives you a sense of independence . . . and you know, "Wear what suits you." She was always in very colourful things and mixing prints. I think the best style is confidence really, because no matter what it is, if you wear it well — with confidence — it says a lot.
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PS: Who in the fashion industry had influenced you the most along the way, and how?
CD: I guess when I look at other European designers — probably not so much as an influence, but who I’ve respected as designers — I see how what they’ve done is be so true to themselves, and be able to freshen and bring the brand forward. Brands like Balenciaga, you know from straight back in the '60s, a lot of the pieces you could wear now and just change the shoes and makeup so you’re kind of on trend . . . but also other designers like Dries Van Noten. Just with their use of colour and prints, and how they’re consistently true to themselves, but bring something new each season.
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PS: What has been your career highlight to date?
CD: Oh gosh, I mean doing the museum retrospective — I think that’s pretty amazing, I mean it’s a large exhibition and spans my whole career, so it’s got all the highlights in it. I guess along the way, WWD putting me on the cover 20 years ago, that was pretty amazing. Showing in Paris, in the Victoria and Albert Museum doing the month of Fashion in Motion, opening my store, meeting the queen — I guess there’s been lots of different highlights, but they’re kind of things that in the moment, they’re not as important as when you look back at them.
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PS: What advice would you give to young aspiring fashion designers?
CD: They need to be very, very passionate about colour and design — be more interested in the garments than they are in the social side, because you know, it’s a lot of hard work, so if it seems like work, then it’s the wrong industry. You still have to be able to navigate problems and you have to find solutions for them, and every day is finding solutions and how to move forward and it shouldn’t feel like hard work — because then it’s the wrong career.
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PS: What is your favourite piece you’ve ever designed?
CD: Oh God, I wouldn’t know! I mean there’s lots of pieces I love, but I think some of the most simple scarf prints from my resort collections . . . I think more than piece, collection? Resort would be my favourite because of the use of colour, and just the ease — it’s quite relaxing and floaty.
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PS: What does an average working day look like for you?
CD: It doesn’t really have a time around it — not with children — because you just have to work in whatever you can at the time and it’s more about how you juggle it all, and are able to prioritise what has to get done in the day, so for me, it’s always about what the first thing I have to do is, and the last thing at night — and that’s usually an email to Europe because they’re waking up.
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PS: Where do you draw most of your inspiration from?
CD: From the idea of travel, or little dreams in your head of places you want to go, colour — a lot of colour and texture, things that are old — I still love modern architecture and modern finishes so I guess mixing things that are opposites, like old and new, male and female, sharp and soft . . . I’m inspired by contrast.
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PS: If you could pick anyone dead or alive to wear one of your designs, who would it be?
CD: Maybe the queen — she’s so unexpected. I’m not a royalist by any means, but somebody like her, that people wouldn’t expect to step out in a Collette Dinnigan dress, rather than someone who’s beautiful, a size 8, and either on the red carpet or the catwalk. It’s nice to have someone unexpected.
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PS: What’s your go-to power outfit when you need to impress?
CD: I don’t really worry about that, I think it’s more how I feel comfortable and confident, and so I think you need to make sure you have comfortable shoes, your hair’s done . . . I think it’s not so much about a power outfit, it’s how you wear it.
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PS: If you could switch wardrobes with anyone in the world, who would it be?
CD: Probably not necessarily somebody from now, but Talitha Getty back in times gone by, or even Audrey Hepburn, Sofia Loren.
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PS: What are your three wardrobe essentials for Spring Summer?
CD: I always have a pair of Benjamin flat shoes, a good pair of shorts and a khaki shirt. White and khaki I think is lovely — elegant, comfortable, practical.
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PS: Where are your favourite places to shop?
CD: I don’t get to do it often in Sydney, but I think Parlour X has a great selection of clothes. There’s lot of other brands that have probably been brought to light now that I’m not doing as much of my own stuff — I’ve been wearing Celine and Armani, because I think in those stores the customer service is excellent — and I still love Prada . . . from the shop, to customer service — the presentation is fantastic.
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PS: Finally, could you describe your design aesthetic in five words?
CD: Feminine, modern, designed in a way using colour, texture . . . and at the same time there’s an etherealness to it, particularly in the Summer and resort collections — feminine and floaty.
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