Collette Dinnigan: The next chapter | Sunday Style

2nd October , 2015
Image Credit Hugh Stewart What Collette Did Next | Sunday Style

Collette Dinnigan: The next chapter

  • Sunday Style
  • October 2, 2015
  • Journalist: Alexandra Carlton
  • Photographer: Hugh Stewart

Pull into the driveway of the sprawling country retreat on the NSW south coast that designer Collette Dinnigan shares with her husband, hotelier Bradley Cocks, 37, and two children Estella, 11, and Hunter, almost three, and you’re greeted with the bucolic serenity of a Thomas Hardy novel: lush green pastures, grazing alpacas and rambling wisteria.

Pull into the driveway of the sprawling country retreat on the NSW south coast that designer Collette Dinnigan shares with her husband, hotelier Bradley Cocks, 37, and two children Estella, 11, and Hunter, almost three, and you’re greeted with the bucolic serenity of a Thomas Hardy novel: lush green pastures, grazing alpacas and rambling wisteria.
Until you step inside. Then, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve stepped into Central Station at peak hour. The designer herself, looking far younger than her 50 years, is dressed in a printed chiffon skirt and an oversized dusty-lavender sweater, toughened up with ankle-high riding boots. She darts around her rustic farmhouse kitchen like a sparrow, flitting between people and projects that need her attention: signing off images for her retrospective at the MAAS’s (Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences) Centre For Fashion at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum, appraising raw images from a morning photoshoot, and ushering in catering for hordes of hungry photographers and crew. Estella chatters in the background and Hunter gurgles with a carer. ABC TV will be showing up at any minute to film some scenes for Australian Story. Oh, and the bloke who helps foal the horses has just arrived, too.
Just a typical day in the life of Australia’s most acclaimed designer. It’s the same woman who, only two years ago, was reported to have stepped back from the high-voltage commitment of running standalone boutiques and showing her main line in Paris twice a year to spend more time with her family. At the time, the fashion media lamented the end of an era, fearing that they’d seen the last of the woman who put Australian fashion on the global stage. “It’s understandable that she might choose to leave on a high, and on her terms,” wrote Glynis Traill-Nash, fashion editor at The Australian, at the time, as Australia bid Dinnigan farewell.
If this is what ‘leaving’ looks like, imagine what it was like when she was really busy.
“I haven’t stopped!” laughs Dinnigan when asked if the scene before us here today is some sort of ‘comeback’. “When I made the decision to stop showing in Paris and doing my mainline, it came at a huge cost. It was a decision I made for my family. I was dictated to in terms of travel and I wanted more control. But I haven’t been working any less.”
The scenes I’ve just witnessed are incontestable proof of that. Sunday Style is visiting the designer to get a first look at some of the half dozen projects she has on the go at once – including the first shots of the two luxury oceanfront suites she’s designed at Bannisters hotel in nearby Mollymook, and some of the shots from her latest Wild Hearts lingerie collection for Target.
But the project that’s dominating the conversation in the crowded farmhouse is the one that will make owning a little piece of the Dinnigan legend a reality for pretty much anyone. Before you read another word, grab your diary. Or your phone calendar. Uncap your pen, crack your knuckles and make a note: on Wednesday, October 14, you can buy genuine Collette Dinnigan childrenswear, priced from as little as $11.99 at – wait for it – Aldi. That’s right, the bargain basement supermarket giant, better known for discount loo paper and stark German austerity, is about to stock high-quality fashion from one of Australia’s most celebrated fashion designers, one synonymous with opulence and attention to detail.
It’s as if Fabergé eggs were suddenly being sold in cardboard 12-packs.

Image Credit Hugh Stewart What Collette Did Next | Sunday Style

Dinnigan smiles as she acknowledges that “Aldi feat. Collette Dinnigan” may seem like a surprising collab at first. “I hadn’t really shopped with [Aldi] before,” she admits. But once she was approached to design a range, she began looking into the company’s practices and found herself impressed with its way of doing business. “What they have is a fantastic economy of scale, which means they can make good products at a reasonable price, and small drops of one-off things,” she says, adding that she’s controlled every aspect of the design process to the tiniest stitch, insisting on using 100 per cent cotton for the almost the entire range, as well as making sure all her garments were produced ethically. “Aldi don’t pay for presentation, marketing and stacking. It means I could create a range that’s all about good design, good colour, fit and quality at a reasonable price.”

“It means I could create a range that’s all about good design, good colour, fit and quality at a reasonable price.”
The limited-edition collection for girls, called Young Hearts by Collette Dinnigan, stays true to Dinnigan’s dreamy, bohemian aesthetic with its classic prints, broderie anglaise and country-meets-seaside feel. Yet the hughly anticipated clothing range isn’t the first time the designer has combined her unique style with affordability, having teamed up with both Target and Specsavers in recent years. Regardless, her latest collab with Aldi is a long way from the top-of-the-market couture confections that sealed Dinnigan as one of our most internationally recognised designers.
A southern-hemisphere hybrid (she was born in South Africa, raised in New Zealand and lives in Australia), Dinnigan got her start designing a high-end, dry-clean-only lingerie line in 1990, before opening her first store in Sydney’s Paddington in 1992. Anyone dismissing her as a mere maker of smalls – and many did, as the lingerie collection was only really embraced overseas – was knocked sideways when she began to show off the true scope of her talents: intricate lacework and beading on evening and bridalwear that demonstrated a dedication and attention to detail that had rarely been seen here before.

And then came the big one. At the age of 30, she became the first Australian invited to show on the prestigious Paris Fashion Week schedule. The Australian fashion media were thrilled that we had our own global fashion sensation, but for Dinnigan, who by her own admission struggles to delegate, it meant the beginning of a gruelling schedule that dominated her life for 20 years.
At the same time, she balanced a personal life that was anything but straightforward. Married to Eurogliders frontman Bernie Lynch in 1992 and divorced nine years later, she went on to have her daughter Estella with TV personality Richard Wilkins, enduring a very public break-up just before the little girl was born.
She met her second husband, Bradley Cocks – a Canadian who’s more than 10 years her junior – when Estella was just three years old, and was then charged with transitioning from single mother to a blended family while keeping her business running at its peak, a feat she credits in part to Cocks’ strength as a stepfather. “[Richard] loves Estella a lot, but he’s not as present as Bradley is,” Dinnigan explains. “Bradley has been absolutely amazing. [Estella] looks up to him so much. He’s been present in her life every day since she was three.” Since the birth of their own child together, Hunter, a surprise natural pregnancy, she says Cocks has flourished in fatherhood even more than before. “Before it was ‘my daughter’, but he loved her. Now it’s ‘our children’.

He understands the importance of being there for the two of them, but also how to make her feel important,” she says, her voice thick with pride.
This fiercely family-oriented side of Dinnigan is one that is generally only noted in passing, an addendum to her extraordinary career. Play a game of What Do You Think Of Collette Dinnigan? with a random sample of people and you’ll likely hear lines such as, “She seemed sort of stuck-up” or, “She seems so driven” – usually with a tone that’s less than complimentary and that says a lot about the comparatively harsh way we judge hardworking women, as opposed to men.
But these are mere perceptions. In person, there’s a generosity to her, a quickness to make sure everyone around her is looked after, and a sweet, almost Princess Diana-like shyness as she peers beneath that famous curtain of hair. “She’s misconstrued because she’s so private,” explains her friend of 11 years, fashion marketer Dominique Ogilvie. “But she’s like jelly underneath it all. She’s kind. And incredibly loyal.” And since she’s home more, Ogilvie says, she’s softened further. “Estella, Bradley and Hunter have made her realise what’s important.”
Whenever one of her children is in sight, Dinnigan’s face, usually held with the poised watchfulness of a woman who knows she’s needed in eight different places at once, softens into a meltingly pretty smile. When horse-mad Estella (who’s as energetic as her mother) asks her to go riding, Dinnigan wraps her eldest child into a woolly hug and presses her cheek against the little girl’s hair, promising they’ll go later. When an almost imperceptible wail that only a mother could pick up floats down the stairs,

Dinnigan leaps from the sofa like one of the flighty horses in the paddock opposite and races to her little boy’s side. She’s loving being able to be present in ways she never could when Paris was always eating up her time, she says. “I keep being asked how I manage work-life balance,” she says. “And the truth is, you can’t get balance in a single day. There are extremes and you get an average at the end. If the average is out, then maybe it’s time to step aside and see if you can shift the equation.”
The key is flexibility, and being totally present in whatever you have in front of you. Based primarily in Sydney but travelling a lot – including regular trips to Audi Hamilton Island Race Week event (Dinnigan has been an Audi Ambassador since 2000) – the countryside is their little getaway. Once there, busy days are spent riding horses, growing vegies and rounding it off with pizza and red wine by the fire. “That’s why Bradley and I got on so well when we met – we have a love of nature and the beach and we’re bohemian spirits,” says Dinnigan. “He travels, I travel, but we try to make our calendars meet. We do tag weeks with the children or we do trips where we try to take the children.”
That’s the dream, right? To be able to take your children to work?
“Yeah, until you get there,” she says, laughing. “Then we think, ‘Oh we just need some time together!’”
Now she’s in her fifth decade, what’s next for the designer who never stops? “I don’t feel 50,” Dinnigan says in a voice that lets you know any follow-up questions about ‘slowing down’ or ‘stepping back’ as she gets older will be laughable. “Thirty years ago, someone turning 50 felt like they were at the end of their career,” she says, flashing me that pretty smile. “When I was 30, I was more ambitious; I wanted to conquer the world. Now I just feel normal, but I feel energised and healthy, and I have plenty of things that still excite and motivate me. Having dreams keeps you young.”
The Young Hearts by Collette Dinnigan childrenswear range is available from Wednesday, October 14, exclusively at Aldi stores, while stocks last.

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