Collette Dinnigan on her new Spirited eyewear collection with Specsavers

Collette Dinnigan

Designer Collette Dinnigan (centre) with children in her new Spirited children’s eyewear collection with Specsavers. Image supplied.

Collette Dinnigan and Specsavers released their latest collaboration ‘Spirited’ this week, which is the first children’s eyewear collection by the celebrated Australian designer. Dinnigan has been releasing women’s eyewear collections with Specsavers since early 2013 and her sharp eye for design and the brand’s huge reach has meant the eyewear is extremely popular. Her new children’s collection features seven ophthalmic frames in playful designs, made from high quality materials that are created for girls who like to dance to beat of their own drum.

The talented designer has had a distinguished design career and since closing her eponymous womenswear label in 2014 to spend more time with her family, Dinnigan has been pursuing different design projects and was recently awarded the Order of Australia for her distinguished services to fashion. Dinnigan visited New Zealand to promote her new children’s eyewear collection recently and we caught up with her to find out what it’s like working with Specsavers, what her style rules are and her advice for anyone who wants to design for a living.

Your women’s collections for Specsavers have been really successful, what has it been like working with the brand and what appeals to you about eyewear?
It’s fantastic. It’s like a dream really especially because they have the ability to do economies of scale so it means the customer gets really good prices. Whereas if I was to do a glasses collection I would probably be working with handmade bespoke pieces and the prices wouldn’t be as affordable. So it’s great because they also understand the business of eyewear and I think they’re the best at it. It’s smart to get designers involved rather than just working with optometrists who don’t actually have an idea about design. I believe even in childrenswear and really anything you do if it’s a lower price it doesn’t have to look bad. You can actually get things looking really good by good design and just applying it to the volumes to make it affordable. It has been a great relationship. I stopped the womenswear a couple of years ago but this is going stronger and stronger but I guess there is also less out there for people to buy of my brand as well.

Where did the idea for your Spirited girls range come from? Did it have anything to do with your own daughter?
Yes. She needs to wear glasses and over the last three years I’ve been going in and it was always so difficult to find glasses as she’s so not a Disney girl and I’ve had to buy from the adult collection for her. So, I wanted to do something for children who could go in and get something that wasn’t Disney or a caricature and it’s not about buying what your mum wears, it’s about something cooler and more colourful. Also more petite because it is that transition from being a little child to being an adult and your face is still growing.

Did you get her opinion on your new collection?
No, anything I do is not kosher with her. Her friends are interested but she is like ‘don’t talk to me about any of mum’s dresses. I just wear pants.’

Collette Dinnigan

Children’s eyewear from Collette Dinnigan and Specsavers new Spirited eyewear collection.

Children grow so quickly, what do you keep in mind to design for them as opposed to women?
It’s about having the understanding that children are very particular. You can’t coax them into anything they don’t like. Sometimes with women you can say to a customer that looks great on you and try and get them to wear it but with children you can’t convince them, they’ve got a very strong opinion of what they want. I have that too with my children, Hunter is very particular as well.

Do you have a style rule you always obey? And how does your personal style influence your designs when you’re considering aesthetics?
I think in fashion and with the glasses it is all about proportions and colour, so for me making the children’s glasses, nothing for me is ever half/half. I hate to be cut off in the middle so it’s always two-thirds, one-third or three-quarters, one-quarter. It’s a thing and I think even when you see the collection it’s in the changing of colours that it’s never half way through, it’s always something that’s gradual and I think it’s important to try and get proportions right and even colour tones. Like orange tones are really hard on skin whereas pale pink is easy to work with.

There’s only seven frames in this collection so I’ve got to be very specific and try and cover round faces, slim faces, dark skin, pale skin, yellow tones and I know for girls, my daughter anyway, they want pink or pretty patterns. They’re not interested in very fine, rimless glasses so the whole idea was to choose patterns that they would like and there is decoration on the sides. And different frames so that there is a choice but it’s interesting because even though it’s only been on sale for a short time this (cat eye) style is the second best seller and for me I think it’s a bit more adventurous but ultimately kids will choose their own and it’s surprising because I think this was the style that had the most resistance at an adult level yet children love it because it’s kind of fun.

How do you define success, what does that look like for you?
I feel it’s a lot of different things for me because sometimes I can do a collection that I love and I feel very passionate about and it doesn’t retail very well which is disappointing because to me it’s about commercialising art. But as long as I feel very comfortable with it and then there are other collections that perhaps I don’t like as much that retail very well, so I guess that collection is a success because most people see it as a commodity or commercial trade. But I think for me ultimately success is about controlling time for yourself and that’s so precious and I never had that before because I was always on a schedule. Paris Fashion Week and doing Audi Hamilton Island resort collections, being in New York. Everything was about the industry timeline whereas now I can say OK school holidays are coming up, I’m with the family and what will we do together? And then I’ll work intensely when they’re at school and so I think it’s about being able to control that and make decisions based on time rather than the commercial cycle.

How do you balance all your different projects now?
I think it’s just calendar management really and just being realistic and sometimes things happen that you can’t control and you do work crazily hard. I was invited to guest edit Vogue Living so I’ve just been on a trip to Italy for ten days and then I got back and knew I had to be in New Zealand and it’s crazy, and in the real world you would say ‘No, I can’t do it’ but it’s just the way it is, especially with summer everyone pushes everything in before Christmas and then we get to January/February and we have a much more relaxed approach and don’t worry we can do it later on. So that’s what I feel is happening already and before you know it’s Christmas.

Collette Dinnigan

Children’s eyewear from Collette Dinnigan and Specsavers new Spirited eyewear collection.

You recently took a year away from Australia and lived in Italy, what was that like?
We lived there last year for the year and I guess that’s what opened me up to doing the Italian issue of Vogue Living and it was fantastic actually. I met some great artisans, it was a really incredible year and quite a brave decision to just take the whole family and I guess it was a way of to not say no but if I was here I would be working twice as hard on the same things because it’s my nature. So it was a way of me having time. I still worked, I wasn’t there sipping cappuccinos and caffè lattes. I loved the culture. The emphasis on family, food and afternoon siestas. I guess because the country is so old and there’s so much history, we feel like we’re making our history here but theirs is already there.

Fashion moves very quickly these days and social media has changed things too, how do you feel about it being a step removed now?
I guess it depends on who you follow and who you don’t follow and I’m not so interested in following myself and what happens about my brand. I guess because I’m not a PR, to me it’s more interesting to follow other creative people who have a different point of view but still in the same industry but it’s just so quick now. I think fashion isn’t appreciated as much and there isn’t the same excitement. When I first started you looked forward to everything, even the shows you’d wait three months to see how they were printed in Vogue or Harpers etc. and now you’re almost seeing the show backstage before it even gets out there and so it’s changed and I think that’s the difference now.

I much prefer the excitement of delivering a surprising show and then the customer waiting until it comes out because you also have more moments. Like in retail we could do a customer preview because they wouldn’t have seen it on social media or anything and it would be a very special night. So they would come into the store and touch and feel the clothes. I think sometimes people just buy online and it’s all flat lays and it has no personality, it’s very quick. Everyone talks about everything in digital but I love books and I love print outs, I like to look at things and have time. I get so sick of looking at the screen.

What would your advice be for people looking to get into design as a career? 
Ultimately, you’ve got to follow your heart and you’ve got to be passionate about it because it’s a lot of hard work. A lot of work experience people that come through want to be famous and they want to be a designer so it’s like get real, be prepared to work seven days a week and do absolutely anything whether it’s cleaning up afterwards and don’t just stand around waiting to be asked. So I think you’ve got to have the right attitude and the right energy. You’ve got to see it as a passion and you’ve got to want to learn because ultimately to be able to execute good design you might be a great designer and have a great eye but you need to learn how to execute it and have the patience to go through the right process, and there is always a lot of attention to detail so you need to be mindful of that.

Collette Dinnigan

Children’s eyewear from Collette Dinnigan and Specsavers new Spirited eyewear collection.

Collette Dinnigan’s new Spirited eyewear collection for girls is now available exclusively at Specsavers and is priced from $299 for two pairs.

Images supplied.

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