Collette Dinnigan, who gave up her fashion empire in Australia to reset the balance of her life, is coming back to the business that started it all: lingerie. In the autumn, she will relaunch children’s wear and a twenty-first century update of her early lingerie designs.
“Things that women want to wear, not that men think we should wear,” said Dinnigan, who was in London to catch up with friends and launch the book that tells of her bohemian life.
Her parents relocated from South Africa in 1975 they built a boat and, with Dinnigan aged eight, they set sail for New Zealand.
In Sydney, Australia, Dinnigan started work on Valentine’s Day in 1984 at the Australian broadcasting operation costume department. By the Nineties, Dinnigan had launched her dry-clean-only lingerie and was showing her collections at Paris fashion week.
Now that she has given up the one-off wedding dresses and semi-couture demands in favour of spending more time with her two children – Estella, nine, and Hunter, two – Dinnigan tells with wry amusement the stories from the mad days of dressing celebrities.
When a call came from Halle Berry’s people, the designer was wearing a tracksuit and buying toilet paper in a supermarket.
By the time she had sent the dress, the next call came: sorry – the star had changed her mind and had decided to wear an outfit from another designer.
”So when the calls came in from all over the world, I did not believe it until I saw the picture – and then all I was asked was whether she was wearing underwear!” says Dinnigan, referring to the short, racy lace dress sliced open at the side that Berry had chosen after all.
Dinnigan – blonde, glamorous in a casual way, and one year shy of 50 – may have shuttered her business, although she still produces licensed clothes. But now the urge to recreate corsets dressed with lacy layers is coming back. The relaunch will be after a major retrospective of her work opens in Sydney’s Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in September.
In spite of the one-off celebrity dresses, starting with Kylie Minogue in 1988 and leading on to Angelina Jolie and Nicole Kidman, there won’t be any reprise of red-carpet clothes – nor bridal gowns. Those were started in 2007, the year she met her husband, Bradley Cocks.
The celebration dinner for Dinnigan on Monday was hosted at London’s Mr Chow restaurant by fellow Aussie Marc Newson and his wife, the magazine editor and stylist Charlotte Stockdale. As a product inventor and interior designer, Newson worked with Dinnigan in 2007 when her show was staged in the new first- and business-class area of Qantas, the Australian airline that launched a designer amenities collection designed by them both.
The large and handsome book Obsessive Creative, published by Harper Design (an imprint of Harper Collins), relates the highs – and the few lows – over the last 20 years, since Dinnigan’s mother died, but left her daughter a bohemian spirit.
Hard graft, as the designer started to show in Paris, and successful staging of collaborations with friends such as Baz Luhrmann and his wife CM (Catherine Martin), took Dinnigan fast forward.
She even prides herself with having halted the spread of fashion grunge when American store Barneys bought her silk lingerie with antique lace in the Nineties – and advertised in the New York Times.
Photographs in the book show images of her daughter in cute dresses and even has her dancing on stage with a Damien Hirst painting as backdrop.
But even with her mother making more family time for brother and sister, Estella shows no sign yet of a passion for frilly things.
”My daughter loves horse-riding,” Dinnigan says. ”She doesn’t want to know about a dress!”
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