Fashion Icon Collette Dinnigan On Her Biggest Source Of Style Inspiration

Plus, the celebrated designer spills everything you need to know about her new collection inspired by the Italian Riviera…

Celebrated fashion and interior designer Collette Dinnigan is often inspired by her travels. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering the many places she’s called home.

Born in South Africa, Collette and her family emigrated to New Zealand in the 1970s, before moving to Australia in 1985. Since then, she has launched and shuttered her eponymous label (which saw her become the first Australian designer to show a ready-to-wear collection in Paris, no less) and swapped high fashion for luxury interiors.  

Most recently, the creative nomad and her young family flew across the globe to live in—and be inspired by—Italy, arguably the most fashionable country in the world. There, she quickly became enamoured with the Italian way of life: la dolce vita.     

“Everyone talks about the sweet life—family, friends, food, and wine—but the Italians actually live it. For them it’s not a dream, and I think we need to take a leaf out of their book,” she muses.

Here, Collette sits down with marie claire Australia to discuss her life in Italy, her approach to fashion, and her biggest source of style inspiration.

Collette Dinnigan Bowral
Collette at her current home in Bowral, NSW. (Credit: Instagram: @collettedinnigan)

Bringing La Dolce Vita To Australia   

Over four years in Italy, Collette split her time between an 18th century apartment in Rome and an idyllic 500-year-old farmhouse in Puglia, called Casa Olivetta. If it sounds like a dream, that’s because it was.  

The topic of bellissima Italian life comes up often, from battered Fiats trundling down cobblestone streets to morning markets and her favourite ritual, the traditional passeggiata (gentle stroll) that follows a long lunch. She loved it not so much for the walk itself, but rather, for the people watching.

“Everybody would be dressed in Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, or Armani. They’d be pushing fancy prams and wearing bold sunglasses, and it was all about being seen,” Collette recalls.

Collette Dinnigan X Specsavers
I love the big, bold sunglasses,” the designer says of her Collette Dinnigan X Specsavers collection. (Credit: Photo: Hugh Stewart)

“The whole anniversary collection was about that,” she adds, referring to the limited-edition trio of eyewear she designed for Specsavers to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their original collaboration. The glasses (one optical and two sunglass styles) feature bold, oversized frames and embellished details, including the designer’s recognisable bee motif on the temple tips.  

“The collection is about dreaming of the Italian Riviera, Sofia Loren, femininity, glamour and confidence,” she says. But above all, it’s about “bringing Italy back to Australia.”  

The Power Of Travel And Fashion

Collette might have been inspired by her Italian sojourn for her eyewear collection, but it’s not the first destination that’s influenced her work or personal style. The designer swaps black ensembles for vibrant sunset hues when she visits bustling India, while the quaint streets of Paris inspire a more discreet, feminine look. 

Similarly, Collette’s style evolves across eras as well as places. In the past, she was fascinated with classic vintage styles, and the aesthetics and trends emerging from New York: “I loved the androgynous [look] and the Calvin Klein days with Kate Moss in the ‘90s, when there was a neutral palette, a rock ‘n’ roll glamour, and everything was very minimalist.”

Collette Dinnigan style
The designer at the launch of her Italian-inspired candle collection. (Credit: Instagram: @collettedinnigan)

Now, the fashion icon believes in wearing outfits that make you feel comfortable and confident. Sustainability is also a major consideration in her wardrobe, as the environmental activist opts for pieces that are ethically made with low-impact materials. Her Specsavers collection features renewed acetate, which contains certified recycled and bio-based content and has a lower carbon footprint than conventionally produced acetate.

“To me, that’s number one. It’s great that people have the choice of getting their eyes under control with prescription glasses, can make it a fashion statement, and know that it’s becoming a lot more sustainable than it used to be,” Collette enthuses.     

Her life’s work encompasses everything from helming a fashion empire to designing luxury interiors, releasing accessories ranges, and penning children’s books about the climate crisis. But with every endeavour she hopes to embolden people, “whether it’s to see properly, to travel, or to try something new; you can never fail,” she says.

“When you step outside of your comfort zone, you’ll always be pleasantly surprised. If you bring the right attitude to anything in life—travel, people, sunglasses, clothes—then there’s always a silver lining.”

Collette Dinnigan X Specsavers collection
With two-toned frames and a subtle gold rim, these optical glasses double as a fashion accessory. (Credit: Photography: Alex Wall / Stylist: Monica Russell)

The Collette Dinnigan Limited Edition collection will launch in Specsavers stores nationally on September 28 and is priced at $199 for two pairs, single vision.

Brought to you by Specsavers.   

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