- Location: Paddington
- Photographers: Earl Carter & Hugh Stewart
- Featured in Vogue Living & Marie Claire Italy
- Written By: Susan Westwood
As featured in Vogue Living, March 2007 & Marie Claire Italy, November 2011
BY: SUSAN WESTWOOD
If you have been lucky enough to view one of fashion designer Collette Dinnigan’s Paris shows or to visit her glamorous Sydney home for a relaxed meal, you’ll find yourself immersed in one -if not several -of the moods she always manages to create so brilliantly.
“Look out here – it’s Jamaica!” she exclaims as we glimpse, from the doorway of the white weatherboard cottage in her garden, a vista out through palms to a lush outdoor dining setting. “I’ve always loved that Jamaica feeling of palms, lattice, white, the greens and yellows mixed with that touch. There’s also a bit of rhythm and it’s quite sexy, compared with Bali or other places in Asia where the sensibility is more refined.”
The pretty cottage, with its dark floorboards and cool interior lit with beams of sunlight, was home for Dinnigan for several years as she began building her fashion empire in a small studio in the street behind. Later on she bought the larger house next door and the cottage is now part of its surrounds.
A serene haven in the inner city with a surprising tropical garden, the spacious and romantic interior of the main house picks up on the decorative thread running through her collections of lightness and transparency.
There are hints of Paris and the world of fashion in a collection of sublime pink rose petals in pale frames on one wall. “I found these in the fabric markets: they were used by couturiers in the ’30s for colour samples. I’ve put them into groups and I’m so happy now to have them framed,” Dinnigan says.
India is also a place that has captivated the designer. Motifs from the subcontinent often feature in her collections in the form of exquisite beaded and embroidered fabrics, and here too they are reflected in exquisite crystal lamps hand-painted with gold on a mirrored console and delicate silver chairs of varying styles surrounding an antique dining table. These pieces, she says, are “all originals from old palaces in Rajasthan, but mixing them with new decorative pieces makes them fresh”.
In essence that is how Dinnigan approaches her clothing designs. “I draw from old inspirations, vintage, bespoke beading, and give them a twist to make them modern.”
While in the past Dinnigan would visit India up to four times a year, she now goes less frequently, and takes her young daughter Estella when she can. “I always go to the fabric market, the sequin and beading market, and to one or two restaurants, and stay there to be part of the street life. I love that you can get lost so easily. There’s a madness that’s fun, happy, frenetic and when something goes wrong it’s: ‘Oh well.’ Whereas we get so uptight, for them it’s a bigger universe.”
On her extensive travels Dinnigan has not only gathered ideas and materials for her collections but also spotted furniture and decorative items for her home. “It’s looking for pieces, especially in Europe -in Italy there are great furniture designers. I like the idea of having contemporary furniture with clean lines but also of having something with a tactile quality, that’s user-friendly. That’s what is what I think luxury is now; it’s having personal time to collect.” Her personal touches continue throughout the house. Above the mantelpiece in the living room is a collection of favourite drawings by John Olsen; elsewhere there are paintings by Australian artist Guy Maestri, a rising star. Colour is brought in with the vibrant hues of Turkish kilim rugs.
Upstairs in her bedroom, once more touches of Europe and the Caribbean come together, in drawings from one of the designer’s collections by artist Shelagh Keeley on a wall beside her bed, antique Italian crystal wall scones above the pale velvet bedhead and, as a lively contrast, white palm-tree bedside lamps and a 19th-century black painted bamboo table.
In her daughter’s rooms lengths of lace draped across the windows, Estella’s own colourful abstract paintings “inspired by a grasshopper and on other occasion a holiday in the south of France” and over-sized alphabet graphics add a sense of fun.
Other rooms in the house also express Dinnigan’s intuitive flair for evoking varying moods and provide accommodation for friends who visit from overseas – designer Marc Newson and his partner Charlotte Stockdale call by when they’re in town. Guest rooms include a studio beyond a Mediterranean courtyard off the kitchen with a surf look.
If there is a space where Dinnigan seems really at home, then it’s in her kitchen. “This is a house used for cooking and entertaining, and this is the soul of it, “she says. She attributes her fondness for cooking to her mother and growing up in South Africa, and recalls her “making her own Spaghetti and drying it on clothes hangers”. The family set sail on a yacht when she was seven, eventually arriving in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand. This was her home until her creative drive led her to Europe and fashion.
With its outlook to the pool and garden with its palms, the house has a wonderful sense of serenity. “People always walk in here and say wow!” Dinnigan says. “They like being here and find it relaxing as it is for me when I’m in Sydney.”