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For Colette Dinnigan, forging a successful career in design is about craft and romance-like wonder

For Colette Dinnigan, forging a successful career in design is about craft and romance-like wonder


Australian fashion designer Collette Dinnigan swapped showing at Paris Fashion Week for 10 consecutive years, for a life of interior and homeware design just over a decade ago; a world where her love of colour and proportion has found a new residential purpose. The 58-year-old splits her time between a regional home in Bowral, NSW, and recently purchased a property in Darling Point, Sydney with her property developer husband Bradley Cocks. ADR talks to Dinnigan about her career journey and how fashion led her into interior styling.

Dinnigan’s approach to interiors is instinctual, heartfelt and where feminine meets practical. The distinct romance-like wonder that catapulted her ready-to-wear fashion brand onto the international stage now finds a comfy corner in the home. 

Where Dinnigan’s country property in Bowral is rustic in its quest to be a convergence of her loves of Euro-chic and Australian laidback, when it comes to her interior style, it’s Darling Point where she can explore an Upstate New York sophistication. In styling this home, Dinnigan leaned into the grandeur of the Big Apple’s countryside playfulness.    

When it comes to the the design approach, each of the properties she has worked on are reflections of all her cornerstone loves. For Dinnigan, design is all about artisanal accents throughout,  fussing vintage with modern furniture, and tactile textures that layer without overstating their purpose. From signature rugs to artwork, vases and other objet d’arte she has scooped up on her global travels, each piece is an intentional reflection of her unique style.

In Australia, she designed the Penthouse at Bannisters by the Sea in Mollymook. Here, a tickled blush pink velvet chair from France gets the best ocean view in the main bedroom, oak floorboards add relaxed welcoming warmth, and marble vanities allude to her love of elevated luxury that is designed to be easy to live in. Her interior touch is effortless yet sophisticated, grounded yet adventurous too. 

Shape and proportion — where the fundamentals of fashion design and interior styling meet

Dinnigan’s expansion into interior work —whether it’s refitting a regional property in Rosedale or working with a hotel chain — brings a fashionable touch to her bigger picture. She likes to mix mid-century design furniture with vintage heritage pieces from Italy and France and combine Italian ceramics and market finds for her personal touches.  Collectively, each piece is an expression of  her love affair with travel and Europe.  

She never thought she’d segue into interiors from high-end fashion, but the evolutionary path made sense.

“I always say you can never be an interior designer and then become a fashion designer, but you can do it the other way around,” Dinnigan says.

“Fashion is so particular, it’s about colour and proportion – it has to be a blend of sharp and modern and old world. I work with a lot of artisans as I have done with my interior work, which I think has been important in my evolution in this space.

“But essentially you need to understand those fundamentals and their importance in the home, just as you would understand the importance of a dress in a woman’s wardrobe.”

It took Dinnigan five years to design the Bowral country residence, a project she laboured over between stints living between Australia, Rome and Puglia. She says the key to figuring out what works with interior design is taking the plunge to live in the home before you start working on it.

“A lot of pieces in the Bowral home are sourced from Italy, other things like Danish cheese boards are there too which give it character, as well as objects Belgium too,” Dinnigan says. 

“I have carved marble seats from a factory in Italy – leftover stock from hotels who didn’t take their orders back in the 1930s. It’s wonderful what you can find when you start trawling.

“A lot of my time in Italy definitely inspired Bowral – it’s all about the quality of materials – that’s the essence for me. So yes, the home is rustic, but it’s done elegantly.”

Dinnigan has a new interior and architecture book coming in October, working closely with architecture photographer Earl Carter on the project.  It maps her interior journey from home design, to artisanal collaborations, artworks she treasures, and recipes she loves to cook. It’s not so much a how-to guide, instead, a coffee table book that dives deep into the colourful world of Dinnigan’s obsession with home and decor.

Reflecting on where it all began: From Australia to Paris to New York and back again

Dinnigan was the first Australian fashion designer to show ready-to-wear in Paris in 1995 – a coup she still considers a life-changing opportunity. A decade later she was featured on an Australia Post stamp honouring her fashion success.  

By 2013, Dinnigan scaled back the business, eventually closing its doors, leaning into her love of interior styling and collaborating with others including Marks & Spencer, Target, Cotton On, and residential projects with architect Peter Israel. 

When she reflects on her fashion career, Dinnigan says it was fun, but a pace like no other. 

“It was impossible for me to get a bank loan in the early days as a woman,” she recalls. 

“Westpac Bank said no, you’re a woman and you could have a family – then what would happen.”

Dinnigan didn’t let that stop her from pursuing her dream, but says the nature of the fashion calendar and showing on schedule added to the motherload of all pressures.  

“It was also the long late hours and constant travel and grind of the fashion world that really took its toll,” she says. 

“The industry is a treadmill you never get off – you’re always working and designing. The artistic life means you’re always working alone unless you have a partner in the same business.” 

It was an order from the now defunct department store Barney’s New York that stands as a career highlight, as was making the cover of the iconic Women’s Wear Daily magazine.

“That’s when I felt people really started to pay attention to what I was designing and the commercial reality of that success was suddenly apparent,” Dinnigan says. 

“I knew I had gained momentum when it wasn’t Ralph Lauren or Donna Karan on the cover, they put me there. I had warranted enough career clout and changed the way women dressed that it was recognised. That was a big moment for me.”

If Dinnigan could rewind the clock and give her younger self advice in business, she says it’s believing in your value and knowing your worth. 

“Don’t try and please everyone,” she says. 

“You need a strong voice, and in business, you’re not trying to make friends, you’re trying to forge relationships with work colleagues and friendships develop out of that.

“Trying to please everyone weakens your brand and weakens the decision making and sometimes people don’t like it. But I am very honest, have a lot of integrity and sometimes that scares people but you have to stand your ground.”

For the month of March, in recognition of International Women’s Day, Australian Design Review will be shining a spotlight on women of influence in architecture and interior design. While we pride ourselves on championing women and people from underrepresented groups at all times, we believe it’s necessary to recognise the achievements of individuals who have risen to the top, despite social- or industry-related imbalances. As well as bringing you profiles and project features that celebrate the work of game-changing, innovative women, we’ll also lean into the very real, yet rarely discussed realities of working in an industry that still holds onto traditional modes of working that aren’t always inclusive or supportive. It’s our privilege this month to bring you profiles and features that celebrate the unique perspectives and talents that women bring to the architecture and interior design industry.


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