Australian fashion designer Collette Dinnigan’s exhibition Unlaced, which recently opened at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, marked the beginning of the Centre for Fashion. In conjunction with this exhibition was an in conversation between fashion journalist, critic and Vogue International Online Editor, Suzy Menkes and Dinnigan. I’ve often viewed fashion is Sydney as an elite club I don’t belong to and on this particular afternoon it really did feel as if everyone in the room knew one another, each looking around and speculating on the importance of the person sitting next to them. I’m sure the woman next to me was immensely disappointed.
Over the course of the hour various topics were touched upon – from the intricacy of working with lace, the politics of outsourcing labour overseas and the sheer competitiveness of the fashion industry. Beginning by commenting that she views herself as a ‘fashion suffragette’, Menkes and Dinnigan reflected on fashion during the 1980s and 90s when strong women were beginning to make a name for themselves, Dinnigan included. Having taught herself how to work with lace through trips to the lace houses in France, the designer is known for her intricate pieces which promote the trend of lingerie as outerwear, a trend which, as Dinnigan puts it, ‘gives men permission to look.’
The age-old debate of whether fashion is art was discussed and if so, is Dinnigan an artist. She commented that a lot of what she does is decorating in which she is telling a story through colour and texture. The talk became animated as the two discussed whether we’ve become an international world when it comes to seasonal dressing, with all the shows appearing to be trans-seasonal, which both agreed was a bit unrealistic. Menkes biggest piece of advice – never travel with just one suitcase. She also feels as if Australia really should be everyone’s go-to for swimwear fashion – for both men and women – but she insists this isn’t just because she loves the idea of beautiful men wearing very little down the catwalks. Dinnigan talked passionately about helping workers in third world countries and how this responsibility also lies with the consumer making smarter choices when looking to buy that $2 top.
As the Vogue International Online Editor Menkes had a lot to say about the incorporation of digital technologies into fashion. While she joked that most fashion bloggers can be dismissed immediately – ‘they don’t have an opinion and they can’t spell’ – many should be considered assets to the industry. Dinnigan clearly favours a more tangible existence, commenting that she is trying to find a balance between the digital and the real world – ‘I love touching things too much but you need both. Our business wouldn’t exist now the old way.’
The talk ended with a lovely anecdote from Dinnigan who recalled the moment back in 2002 when she received a call to say Halle Berry would be wearing her dress to the Los Angeles premiere of Die Another Day. At the time she was in the toilet paper aisle of the super market arguing with an ex-boyfriend about the pattern on the toilet paper. This is what Menkes calls ‘fashion reality’ – the woman who is around the corner from an event madly shoving her flats into her handbag in favour of stupid heels she can’t walk in.