Collette Dinnigan: Unlaced

Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences

Explore the romantic and feminine designs of Australia's most cherished fashion designer

Collette Dinnigan: Unlaced
Exclusive to the Museum of Applied Arts and Scienes, Sydney, 'Collette Dinnigan: Unlaced' was presented at the Powerhouse Museum from 5 September 2015 to 29 January 2017. This was the first exhibition to explore the work of the internationally acclaimed Australian fashion designer. Featuring ensembles, accessories and archival material from the Museum’s collection and Dinnigan’s personal archive, this exhibition presents her signature lace and embellished designs in a series of striking themed sets. Realised by Anna Tregloan, an award-winning stage designer and artist, the scenes bring into focus Dinnigan’s unique creative perspective. They highlight the romantic, feminine designs that have seen her work sought after by a star-studded clientele including Taylor Swift, Dita Von Teese and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.

Join legendary fashion critic Suzy Menkes on her visit to Australia for an intimate on-stage conversation with Collette Dinnigan, discussing the designer’s career and fashion philosophy.
Powerhouse Museum, 22 October 2015

Nothing to hide
Collette Dinnigan established her label with a range of luxurious handmade silk lingerie. Created from French silk and vintage lace, her sensual, dry-clean-only pieces were the antithesis of functional, everyday underwear. Emerging in 1990, at the height of grunge but defying the dressed-down mood, Dinnigan’s custom-made pieces were snapped up by Barneys in New York and Harvey Nichols in London.
25 Years
Collette Dinnigan’s garments have been stocked by some of the world’s most prestigious stores and worn by an international cast of celebrities. Central to this success are her feminine, sexy and evocative designs which make women feel comfortable, beautiful and sensual. Born in South Africa, Dinnigan studied fashion design and textiles in New Zealand, before moving to Australia, where she worked in the costume department of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Underwear as outerwear

After establishing her label with a range of vintage-infused underwear, Dinnigan translated these designs into outerwear, developing her signature style of lingerie dressing. A pioneer of the Australian fashion industry, she was the first Australian designer invited by the Chambre syndicale du prêt-à-porter des couturiers et des créateurs de mode to show on the prestigious Paris ready-to-wear schedule and the first Australian featured on the cover of American fashion bible Women’s Wear Daily.

The garments in this space were produced for Dinnigan’s ready-to-wear collections spanning her career.

I was always very impatient to succeed. It used to annoy me to hear people talk about doing things, instead of just doing them. I always thought you don’t need to tell the world. Just go out and do it. If you fail, you fail, but at least you will have learnt something.

Collette Dinnigan

Backstage to runway
Runway shows are an essential part of Collette Dinnigan’s communication and marketing, providing an alluring platform to present the designer’s latest ready-to-wear and resort collections to influential buyers and media. These carefully crafted shows concisely express the designer’s vision for the collection and their genesis brings together a hand-picked team of creatives from models and stylists to hair and makeup artists.This ‘runway’ show was filmed with Dinnigan and her team, especially for this exhibition, and features over 100 signature looks from the past 25 years. Alongside it, behind-the-scenes photos provide a glimpse backstage.

‘It is really important to me to work with people like myself, who are absolutely passionate about what they do; usually it is an obsession. If you are creative, every experience in life is important… I am at my best professionally when I work with people who are at the top of their fields, and whom I trust absolutely.’

Collette Dinnigan

Star Power
Dinnigan’s bead and sequin-encrusted dresses capture the essence of the perfect red carpet outfit. The simple forms of the sheath and shift dress provide a canvas for her glittering jewel-like surface treatments. ‘Wow factor’ combines with classic design so the wearer doesn’t have to sacrifice comfort to be the dazzling centre of attention. The incredible tactile finishes of her dresses are a testament to the painstaking work and specialist skills of the Indian artisans who create her embellished textiles.

‘Once it leaves us each dress goes on its own journey – it might end up anywhere from the red carpet to a palace. The red carpet is a big part of my business … There is always a great buzz in the studio when someone interesting wears our clothes.’

Collette Dinnigan

Obssesive creative
Sources of inspiration play an important part in a designer’s creative process, from defining the key theme or mood of a collection, to the design elements of individual garments. Designers are frequently asked where their inspiration comes from and how it translates into their designs. They take inspiration from the world around them, so articulating the often complex mix of conscious and unconscious influences, sources, links and references is difficult. Fashion designers prefer to compile their research, conceptualise, communicate and develop their ideas using mood boards, sketches, draping and toiles. Imagined and installed by Collette Dinnigan, this room is a journey through Dinnigan’s creative landscape.

‘I am inspired by colour, art, flowers, landscapes and details from vintage clothes or antique bric-a-brac. Travelling has always been a great influence too. I sketch with fabrics in mind and develop inspiration boards alongside my draping.’

Collette Dinnigan

Inspired by the birth of her daughter, Estella, Collette Dinnigan launched her children's wear collection in 2004. Seeking to fill a gap in the market between fussy formal dresses and mass-market prints and fleecy fabrics, Dinnigan’s enfant collections feature vintage-infused, embroidered, printed-cotton and lace dresses.The artwork for this setting was created by visual artist and illustrator Nina Fuga.
Lace is Collette Dinnigan’s signature material – one she has used throughout her career. She worked initially with applied antique lace but soon discovered the creative possibilities of working directly with contemporary French lace manufacturers. This collaboration has resulted in a range of fresh, modern and unique lace designs and finishes for her collections.
That's Amore
The entrance of the bride is the most anticipated moment of a wedding, and the wedding gown is the most significant dress many women will ever wear. Long hours, lots of emotional energy and a generous budget are invested in selecting the perfect gown. Bridal wear is an important segment in the fashion market, one that appears to be relatively unaffected by economic downturns. 

‘The idea of doing a bridal collection evolved over the years, as people started asking if we could make up particular evening dresses in ivory so they could wear them as wedding gowns.’

Collette Dinnigan


Collette Dinnigan launched her bridal range in 2007, with gowns featuring romantic, often understated styles and hand-embellished textiles. The designs are more traditional than Dinnigan’s ready-to-wear collections, reflecting the more conservative market for wedding dresses. Celebrities who have worn Dinnigan’s wedding gowns include Sarah Murdoch, Miranda Kerr and Toni Collette.

As Paula Yates, the late English television presenter and writer, commented ‘The minute I put on her clothes. I feel better. They’re just f...... beautiful’

Credits: Story

Curators: Glynis Jones and Melanie Pitkin
Senior Curator: Roger Leong
Exhibition designer: Anna Tregloan
Digital Producer: Ryan Hernandez
Exhibition photographer: Marinco Kojdanovski
With thanks to Collette Dinnigan and Team

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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