Collette Dinnigan


SYDNEY-BASED designer Collette Dinnigan has embarked upon a new creative life, one that is possibly even busier than before – count her new exhibition, a children's line and a hotel takeover in the mix. Yet, the mother of two has made a point of dramatically shifting the balance – and family comes first 

I'll Be Seeing You: Pictured with Louis, at her country retreat in Milton, located on the picturesque south coast of New South Wales, COLLETTE DINNIGAN has a fresh new work ethos, one that revolves around her family. Photographs by FELIX FOREST.  

  1. Collette Dinnigan has always been very clear about her aesthetic, her likes and dislikes: yes, no, yes, no. From the beginning, that clarity and focus earned her a rare invitation from the Chambre Syndicale to show on the Paris Fashion Week schedule, a move that spearheaded a shift towards an even more sophisticated viewpoint, and one that attracted star clients the likes of Beyonce, Cate Blanchett, a host of supermodels, even princesses. Then in 2013, the designer suddenly announced her retirement from fashion's maddening circuit, choosing to downsize her retail operations while at the same time alluding to the fact there might one day be more … 
  2. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR CREATIVE PHILOSOPHY TODAY? For me now, it is about working on projects that I can incorporate into my family’s life rather than fueling a very demanding career in which schedules are largely out of my control – staging Paris shows was such an enormous commitment, a different league. To keep up, you had to negotiate fashion’s treadmill and you couldn't always call the shots. Today, I’m much more focused on lifestyle, factoring in time for interior assignments, for cooking and escaping with my family to the country.

YOUR RECENT CHILDREN'S LINE FOR ALDI WAS A HUGE SUCCESS, THE LAUNCH WAS A FRENZY. CLEARLY, CONSUMERS ARE VERY INVESTED IN YOUR BRAND AND THE FACT THAT YOUR HAND WRITING CONTINUES TO CARRY ACROSS EVERYTHING YOU DO – HOW HAS YOUR STYLE EVOLVED OVER THE YEARS? I think most recently I’ve taken away an element of formality. In my mainline, it was all about cocktail dresses and structure, whereas now I still love the romance but it has to be informal and comfortable. I think there is a real art to getting that right; when someone feels at ease, they feel confident. You tend to present yourself in a different way when you feel good about yourself, your look or your environment.



  1. WHAT MAKES YOUR COUNTRY HOME IN MILTON SO SPECIAL? We stayed there last weekend, and it’s instantly relaxing, not precious, more like being in another world – I love its space, the privacy of having your own property surrounded by trees and an orchard. I’m a romantic really, not just with clothes but everything I do, and so the farm has that intimate feeling of a small cottage. I think the children will grow up with wonderful memories of it. I moved so much as a child and, except for the experience of sailing on a yacht, I don't have any nostalgia of one particularly special place.
  3. DESCRIBE YOUR TYPICAL SUNDAY ROUTINE? Usually Estella is with the horses in the morning, we feed the chickens scraps from the night before, collect the eggs and make breakfast. Then I’ll spend the day in the garden, Bradley will go for a surf, we just potter around really. We might go out for lunch or stay at home and spend the afternoon making pizzas for an early dinner – we roast pumpkins from the veggie patch, caramelise onions, pick the chillies, make the jam and dough, and nothing tastes quite like it.
  5. WHAT IS YOUR VIEWPOINT ON MOTHERHOOD AND WORK BALANCE? I don't think there is such as thing as work-life-balance, I really don't; I have always been very all-or-nothing. One thing I have discovered is how you can control your time better – when I’m with the children I try to be really present, no phone calls, no checking emails. Then when I’m at work, I work hard, I don't look for a social aspect to my job during the day, I delineate between family life and office.
  7. HOW DO YOU ENCOURAGE YOUR CHILDREN TO HAVE AN APPRECIATION OF THE ARTS AND CREATIVITY? I think when you surround yourself with people that have an eye, then creativity becomes something your children grow up with. It’s the same with music, film and food – I’ve discovered my children are very fussy with what they eat, and it’s because as parents we are, too. Its not that they’re ungrateful, it’s just that when I make a bolognese for them, the herbs come from the garden, the sauce is slow-cooked, they get this amazing ragout made with love and passion. At the same time, influences can be a funny thing – Estella has had so many people commenting over the years that her mother makes beautiful dresses, that she in turn has become very anti-dresses and is now very much a jodhpur-and-shirt girl.
  9. AND YOUR ULTIMATE INDULGENCE – HOW DO YOU PAMPER YOURSELF IN THOSE RARE OFF-DUTY MOMENTS? I love walking the dogs and just doing things at home, I’m constantly reimagining a living space. Having the time to do everyday tasks such as framing pictures or cooking is my idea of heaven.

Working with Rick Stein's Bannisters by the Sea, a boutique check-in on the New South Wales South Coast, Dinnigan spent the last few months conjuring two divine penthouse suites with meticulous details – everything from handprinted cushions by textile designers such as Kathryn Ireland, Penny Morrison and Carolina Irving to an art collection which comprises works by the Australian photographers and artists, Hugh Stewart, Murray Hilton and John Witizg. Both suites also house a collection of botanical and coral sea life sourced from French markets, along with the marine charts used by Dinnigan's family during an epic sailing journey across the Indian Ocean. Photographs by HUGH STEWART. 


  1. TELL US ABOUT BANNISTERS HOTEL, AND THE PROCESS OF PULLING YOUR VISION TOGETHER FOR ITS TWO PENTHOUSES? It was a big challenge – normally when you work on a hotel it gets replicated over 30 or 40 suites, but these two suites felt more like we were designing a home from scratch. It was about making the most of the incredible location and capturing a very elegant yet relaxed feeling. I tend to complain a lot about hotels, I think a lot of them are designed by men and perhaps they lack that sense of cosy indulgence – I wanted the suites to have two separate bathrooms, one in which you and your partner have your own marble basins, a space where you feel as though you can bathe and relax. The mix of prints and textiles is an ode to my design background, and I also really wanted to celebrate other designers and artists – so many Australians have this romantic sense of ownership of the sea, an emotional attachment to the coastline, and I don't think that is celebrated enough. 
  3. CREATIVELY, WHAT IS THE ONE THEME YOU KEEP COMING BACK TO? Travel and the instinct to visit a far away place or have an adventure. It’s also about turning a corner and giving ideas a structure and edge. I think modernity is so important, we all love femininity but we also want to feel in the moment.
  5. AS YOU LOOK BACK ON YOUR CAREER, WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF? The Powerhouse exhibition [Collette Dinnigan: Unlaced] was the biggest milestone of my life. Having worked with the museum for nine months intensely, I feel we were really able to produce something special, fresh and modern and yet still with a lot of room for reminiscing. In Australia, we need to embrace more creativity in design and create legacies for next generations, I feel very strongly about it. So this was not a self indulgent exercise, but rather an opportunity to build an archive for other designers to embrace the creative culture that we have in Australia. 
  7. AND HOW ARE YOU FEELING ABOUT THIS NEW STAGE OF YOUR LIFE? I worked so intensely on the exhibition these past few months, it was actually more full-on than staging a Paris runway show. Add to that the childrenswear collection, a new lingerie line, the hotel, the book launch in London, and it has been one hell of a year. Now I feel as though I can do a bit of meandering and wandering for a while with no agenda, and that's something I'm really looking forward to.

    Nice And Breezy Does It: Turkish towels and oak floorboards provide a tactile touch, while the bedrooms feature Schumacher fabrics, custom lamps by Aerin Lauder and a velvet chair Dinnigan sourced from the South of France. 

    1. known for his poignant and free-spirited images of sun-bleached surfers, photographer john witzig gained attention in the 6os and 70s while documenting Australia’s beach culture for local and international magazines, including the title he co-founded, Tracks. witzig, who still resides on the north coast of New South Wales, is surprised and delighted that his work is being championed by collette dinnigan in a new light. here, he recalls the nostalgia of the halcyon days of surfing


    3. You have such a distinct eye – what was your vision BACK THEN, and how did you go about capturing those wonderful moments? 

    4. I was working for surfing magazines from the mid-1960s until the end of the 70s, but I never saw myself as a photographer, more a photojournalist I suppose. I always liked the combination of pictures and words. I edited several publications in that period, and you need more than just surfing action shots to tell a story. That happened to coincide with a natural inclination to document the life I saw around me. It was also pretty boring standing on the beach for hours with a camera and a telephoto lens. I obviously carried my camera a lot through those years, and many of the pictures are simply a result of that practice. Luck, as in a combination of preparation and opportunity, had more than a little to do with it, too.
    6. LOOKING BACK, what DID you love most about the CAMERADERIE AND culture of surfing in Australia?

    7. The fifteen-or-so years that I was actively involved were a time of great change in surfing, and some of my friends were leading what would later be known as the shortboard revolution. It was exciting and it was fun … a pretty useful combination. Surfing in Australia was also a tiny world then – we had our own magazines and films; our own culture in a way, and one that didn’t meet with a great deal of approval. That it’s now seen to have some interest in a social documentary sense is pretty funny.
  9. COLLETTE DINNIGAN Tel: +61 (2) 9361 0110.  
  10. COLLETTE DINNIGAN: UNLACED The exhibition runs until August 28th 2016 at the Powerhouse Museum, 500 Harris Street, Ultimo NSW. Look up:  
  11. JOHN WITZIG To purchase prints, go to:  
  12. BANNISTERS BY THE SEA Accomodation bookings can be made via​ or Tel: +61 (2) 4455 3044.