Collette Dinnigan, the Epitome of Antipodean Chic

Nicole Kidman, Kate Winslet, Charlize Theron, Leighton Meester and Taylor Swift have all been seen wearing her eponymous label, launched in 1992 and popular on the red carpet ever since. And if that wasn’t impressive enough, Collette Dinnigan (45) also became the first Australian fashion designer to show a full-scale ready-to-wear collection in Paris in 1995 and to be part of an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in 2001. Despite being based in Sydney, she keeps many ties with London, where she owns a shop in South Kensington and collaborates with Marks and Spencer. Chic-Londres caught up with her in London to talk style and the launch of “Collette by Collette Dinnigan”, her new lovely -but affordable- lingerie collection for Marks & Spencer.

How would you describe your style? My main line is very feminine and fresh, with intricate fabrics and a clear inspiration from vintage pieces. I particularly love the 1940s, which I find very glamorous, so I often use looks from this era as an inspiration and give them a fresh and modern take. When it comes to lingerie, the most important elements for me are lovely details and a good fit.

How did you discover fashion? My mother was an artist and did lots of textile design while I was growing up, so I was surrounded by fashion from a young age. As a teenager, I used to create my own designs. According to my friends, I used to make a new dress every week.

What makes a person stand out when it comes to style? As an individual, it is really important to understand your body type and what suits you. I love a certain nonchalance and how some people can make their clothes work very well in a very understated way, which seems natural- even though in fact it takes some effort. As a designer, I think it is important to understand great cuts and quality, without taking yourself too seriously, in order to keep some fun and freshness in your creations.

What is the biggest faux pas when it comes to fashion? Trying too hard… It is great to be able to spend some money on a beautiful piece of clothing, but there is no need to be clad in designer’s pieces from head to toe. There should always be some balance in the way one wears clothes.

Who are your style icons? I admire a lot of women from the past, like Madame Vionnet, who could really understand fabrics, Diana Vreeland, who managed to have a classic look but always being ahead of her times, Audrey Hepburn, who had a timeless elegance, or Tabitha Getty, who could be extremely stylish but in a very free, fun and casual manner.

Which designers do you admire most? Oscar de la Renta in the 80s, as well as Yves Saint-Laurent, at all times. I also really like what Stella McCartney does: she was put under enormous pressure and has come a long way. I also admire Miuccia Prada, in that she has managed to create her own style and prints, and a trend that people follow.

Do you have some style tips you can share? It is important to always feel comfortable, as well as confident: I personally think that confidence is the sexiest thing on the planet.

Was it a big challenge to create a luxurious collection for the high street? Yes, in the sense that I didn’t want to compromise on fabrics and quality, but had to create pieces that could pass the rigorous Marks & Spencer testing program. So the collection reflects this love of delicate and feminine fabrics, with garments made out of silk or tulle, but is also practical, as the pieces are machine washable and dryer resistant, and incredibly good value, with briefs around £12 and bras around £30.

Is it difficult for an Australian to show her collections in Paris? There was a lot of excitement at first from the French because lots of people didn’t know anything about Australian fashion and thought that was quite exotic, even though my style is quite French in a way, with lots of fabrics like Chantilly lace. But the first collection was well received and sixteen years on, I am still there, so it is obviously working!

“Collette for Collette Dinnigan” launches at Marks & Spencer on 16 July 2011