Simply elegant

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Acclaimed designer Collette Dinnigan has been designing beautifully detailed clothing for over two decades. Perhaps best known for her lingerie and childrenswear, she brings a chic yet delicate touch to her work. She also is the first Australian designer to show her collections in Paris by invitation from the prestigious Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture.

Born in South Africa but raised in New Zealand, Dinnigan has called Australia home for many years. After finishing school at Wellington Polytechnic in New Zealand, she joined the costume department of the Australia Broadcasting Corporation. Dinnigan soon launched her own label in 1990 and her first retail store in 1992, quickly becoming well known for her lingerie-style dresses and lace pieces. After ten years of success, she opened her third store in Chelsea, London in 2000 and began a number of retail collaborations, including a lingerie line with Marks & Spencer in 2001 and with Target Australia in 2008.

In 2004, Dinnigan launched her first childrenswear line, the Collette Dinnigan Enfant collection, inspired by the birth of her daughter Estella. A few years later, she expanded into bridal, introducing the Collette Dinnigan Bridal collection in 2007. Dinnigan now designs three main collections per year, including three Collette by Collette Dinnigan collections, two bridal collections and three lingerie collections.

Glass recently talked with Dinnigan after her June launch of her Resort 2014 collection in London.

After finishing school, you spent part of your early career working in the costume department of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. What was this like? Did you get to design for any costume dramas (aka Pride and Prejudice type productions)?
I loved working in the costume department, I learnt so many old techniques which I have since applied to my fashion brand such as corsetry. I worked on a couple of period films as well as comedy and many music video clips.

You are the only Australian designer ever to show in Paris by invitation of the haute couture gods, the Chambre Syndicale. How did this experience shape your career?
It made me focus and work to deadlines (ie Paris show date) but also taught me how important quality and good design are.

You have been designing for over two decades and have an impressive career that spans lingerie, haute couture, prêt-à-porter, childrenswear, and bridal. What is your favourite type of clothing to design?
I love lingerie and children’s wear and both give me a sense of playfulness and prettiness that my mainline collection doesn’t have.

In particular, both bridal and lingerie are notoriously difficult to design because of the intricacy of materials involved. Yet, you have brought innovation to both fields through the use of specific fabrics and handcrafted pieces. What are the challenges of designing lingerie and bridal?
Lingerie needs to be feminine and sexy but also comfortable as often fabrications are neglected for look and cost savings. To me they are the most important part of the process as if they are irritating it defeats the whole purpose. Both bridal and lingerie need to look feminine and fresh so shapes like the fabric are equally as important.

You have done an amazing amount of collaborations and diffusion lines, including with Marks & Spencer and American retailer Target. How do you find these types of collaborations? How involved are you in the design and manufacturing of these pieces?
I really enjoy collaborations especially with retailers like M&S who have great track records in quality manufacturing. For me it is very satisfying being able to provide a quality product well designed at an affordable price.

Your work for Target was in cooperation with the Australian Ballet in honour of its 50th anniversary to design a range of girl’s tutus, which sounds like every little girl’s dream. Was this a difficult project?
No I enjoy it very much. I was inspired by the idea of an attic filled with vintage tutus every little girl dreams to discover. It was easy to design but a challenge to bring it in on such a price point.

You began designing childrenswear after the birth of your daughter, Estella. In our experience, children can have a very eye-opening effect on a person’s life. Did the arrival of your daughter change the way you design?
I started designing children’s wear for girls after Estella was born. I found it difficult to find pretty little girls dresses in colours that had a vintage feel or weren’t primary colours – also that were in linens, cottons and silk fabrics.

Finally, what inspires you the most as a designer?
Travel, art museums, textiles, architecture, music, film – anything that is visual really as far as creative is concerned. What really inspires me the most are the unsung heroes of communities who help those who are less fortunate and expect no recognition.

by Jessica Quillin

Collette Dinnegan can be found on Facebook and also on Twitter

About The Author

Glass Fashion Features Editor

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