Interview with Collette Dinnigan

Now, Collette has teamed up with Farmers to launch the ‘Collette by Collette Dinnigan’ lingerie range, a collection featuring feminine and flirty pieces in a selection of gorgeous floral, polka-dot and animal prints. The collection is luxurious, with much attention to detail, featuring hand-stitched rosettes, bows, French lace and beautiful silk chiffon. But beauty is not at the sake of comfort, with each item being designed for everyday use. And best of all, fashionistas expecting to pay top dollar for this designer lingerie will be pleasantly suprised at the affordable pricepoint, with bras retailing between $49-$59, and briefs from $19-$29.

Collette drew on a range of inspirations for the collection, with many influences combining to create the nostalgic, vintage inspired looks. The sexy, feminine pieces are oh-so-perfect for lounging around the boudoir…

Lingerie is familiar territory for you, with your lingerie collections being popular since the Collette Dinnigan label started – what is it about designing lingerie that you like?
I also did the Collette Dinnigan ‘Enfant’ range, and what I love is that it’s all so tiny and small, it’s almost like you want to frame pieces! Whereas when you tend to get big gowns, with a lot of fabric, there isn’t the same ‘smallness’ of it, you know, the attention to detail? And I think you can use some really beautiful print, and not necessarily have to be so traditional. And it’s just the femininity of it all, really, and the trimmings, those are the bits that I love.

Can you tell us a bit about the process of designing a lingerie collection, how does it differ from designing, say, evening wear?
A lot less fabric! And actually, a lot more fitting times sometimes – even though lingerie is small, there’s so much attention to detail that goes into it. You don’t want bits hanging over the side, or the back to be uncomfortable, and the straps have to be the right length. And each type of fabric can change so dramatically with fit – so sometimes you will have to take something a tiny bit, and make minuscule changes.

But in essence, for me it’s the same, because I always have a little story I like to tell with my collections. With this collection it was the inspiration of the English country garden, and the Varga pin-up girl. And so you kind of go to that place, thinking of what they would wear, and what would they do, what would their makeup be like. The English country garden is very much the sense of peaches and cream, and strawberries, and has a vintage, eclectic feel to it. Whereas, the pinup girl story is much more cheeky, and much more obvious. So when I design my collections, I design with this story in mind, and I try and go to that place and use the inspiration to make the clothes. Of course, when you get to the design process, everyone’s a different size, different shape, and a different complexion, so I try and make something for each one of the ‘characters’ I see from these stories.

Tell me a little bit about the lingerie collaboration you have done with Farmers. How did it come about?
I did the collection for Marks & Spencer in the UK in 2001 and we’d been selling there for a while, and then David Jones wanted a collection in Sydney, which was great, because, as you know, Australia’s my home territory now. So I had the idea that we should do a collection in New Zealand too. My mainline is much more niche, and more limited, and a lot of our New Zealand customers actually fly to Sydney to buy from my range, whether it was wedding gowns, or evening gowns or whatever. So I thought making an accessible lingerie collection would be perfect for New Zealand, as I knew the interest was there, and the price point was great.

And then you’ve got Farmers, which is ideal as it has a national distribution. They haven’t been able to take things from my mainline before, so I saw this as a way to open up the market, to be able to sell to people all over New Zealand. And Farmers has changed so much too – it’s a department store now that has a fashion attitude. You can see that, just in the way things are merchandised – the displays aren’t cluttered. For me, I would feel more confident going there to buy my underwear than I would going to a little boutique. It’s still intimate, but you don’t feel like you’re being watched. And they have all the major brands, so there’s a great selection.

The collection reflects your feminine, pretty design sensibility, featuring florals, silks and lace. What other inspirations did you draw on when creating this collection? Do you have any favourite pieces from the collection?
It’s very much about the fabric and prints, about very delicate pieces that are still quite practical. Even though there’s a lot of silk in the collection, it’s silk that can be washed. I have also tried to use natural fibres where I can, as they breathe properly. I just wanted this to be a luxury lingerie collection at a very good price, and that’s what it is. It’s not about cutting corners to bring the price down either – if I was to produce this collection myself, it would be ten times the price. My favourites are the pieces with little silk ruffles – it’s maybe not what I’d wear every day, but I like the idea I’d want to wear it. There are things you almost want to frame, because they are so delicious! And the silk print is another favourite, it’s really pretty, and quite summery.

What else inspires you?
I love being with my family, and at the beach, all the things I used to do in New Zealand actually, like cooking, and having a vege garden and watching it grow. I also love to travel, I’ve never been tired of travel and meeting people, going to the markets and picking up vintage pieces, and just being in different cities. With Australia and New Zealand, even though they are very old countries geographically, they are relatively new –we don’t have the traditions, or the libraries or the crafts and arts of older countries. I’m always fascinated by ‘old things’ and how they were made. My passions are very simple actually, very homely and very basic. It’s not about partying and getting dressed up – because I feel like that’s my job! Well, at least a lot of my job involves that.

You have lived and studied in New Zealand. How do New Zealanders’ and Australians’ style differ?
New Zealand style most definitely is much more distinct. It’s such a small country that there’s much less plagiarism, compared with Australia. I think style is much less disposable – it’s about craft and individuality. And there’s a really great appreciation for fabrics and textures in NZ, it’s not necessarily focussed on the ‘look’ of the moment. I feel Australia is very body-conscious, and a lot of the fashion is about the lifestyle and beach, and the climate makes the fashion much more summery. Whereas in NZ, it’s much more seasonal – there’s definitely winter fashion and summer fashion.

Do you have a favourite New Zealand designer?
I can remember always thinking how amazing Zambesi was when I was growing up, and they are still here, which is great. The fabrics they use and their detail is amazing. And I think Karen Walker has done an incredible job – her style is modern, but still eclectic with a retro feel, and it’s put together very well. I think she’s very clever. I also love Scotties, they have a really good selection of clothing. And is Workshop still going? They always did great jeans and men’s shirts, I always liked them.

You have had an amazing career, winning numerous awards for your achievements in fashion, and also in business. What has been your career highlight, or highlights?

I think everything is amazing, but then when you can be retrospective, there are things – especially the more I hear people talking about certain accolades – that I think maybe are very special! And it’s not that I’m blasé, it’s just that I’m so busy working I don’t think about it. I devote myself to the craft and the realisation of my ideas, it’s not about seeing if I can win an award or be recognised. The person you want to recognise it the most is the customer – you want them to love the clothes. From talking to people though, I think being on a stamp was quite an amazing thing! I remember my staff going out and buying a whole lot of stamps and all these envelopes going out with my face on them! It was kind of funny for a while.

Also, business awards are also a testament to the success of the product. It’s a lot easier to build a brand and be on the way up than it is to sustain and maintain something that’s different and that keeps being invigorated. That’s what I find quite hard. So all the business awards I’ve received I think have been a credit to the people who work with me as well, and they need that recognition, because they work so hard. Also being appointed as part of the committee for the ‘Cham…’ in Paris was amazing – the peers in my industry of the greatest companies in the world are on the board – Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior. It’s the cream of the industry, so I feel quite honoured to be part of that.

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'Flirt'

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'Parterre Jardin'

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'Pink Belle'

By Natalie Cosgrove

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