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The designer from down under

After a two-season break from showing on the Paris catwalks, Australian-based New Zealand designer Collette Dinnigan returned for autumn 07. Her feminine dresses have been worn by actresses Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett and Kate Bosworth. Since her debut collection in 1990, she has won a number of accolades, including the 1997 Louis Vuitton Business Award, and was honoured with her own stamp by Australia Post in 2005. A kids' range hit stores last year and there are plans for a lingerie line. The label has a boutique in Chelsea Green, west London.

How does it feel being the only Australian designer showing in Paris?

I met Didier Grumbach, president of Paris fashion's governing body the Chambre Syndicale, after the show and he summed it up by saying that the Paris schedule doesn't need an Australian designer, but he's very pleased it has one. It's such an accolade to show in Paris - I showed there for 10 years before taking a break last year. I have to hit new highs every season. It's a real benchmark that means I am always pushing myself.

What can the Australian fashion industry learn from the UK?

There's a lot more support for designers in the UK thanks to the licensing opportunities offered by key industry retailers. We don't have that kind of infrastructure in Australia.

What advice would you give to fledgling designers hoping to set up their own label?

Make sure you are passionate about what you do. Owning your own business is 99% hard work and 1% pleasure - anything else is a bonus. I didn't realise how difficult owning your own business could be when I launched the Collette Dinnigan brand, so it's lucky I love what I do.

How important is the celebrity aspect of your brand?

From a public point of view it increases awareness, and as a result from a business perspective it ensures you never lose sight of delivering quality. Dressing celebrities is important in today's world. Actress Nicole Kidman has just asked me to design a dress for her to wear for a magazine cover shoot.

Last year you launched a kidswear line. How has this influenced your business?

I decided to design a kidswear range because I couldn't find anything I liked for my daughter, Stella. I think a lot of my feminine design instinct has gone into this collection instead of my womenswear designs, which have become more controlled with tailoring and structure.

Which of your pieces are driving sales for autumn 07?

There's a US$7,000 (£3,600) lame brocade dress embellished with a layer of transparent sequins and an aged crystal square neckline, which is selling amazingly well. And my signature printed stretch-silk jersey dresses and embroidered velvet eveningwear coats are still popular.

There weren't many of these signature styles on the runway this season. Why not?

I decided not to show some of these pieces because I thought it was time to show something new. They always feel very summery for an autumn show but are still very much part of the brand.

What's the story behind the Wild Hearts lingerie line for Marks & Spencer?

I was approached by M&S in 2001 to design Wild Hearts, which I did for five years. It was great because I had complete creative control, and as the first designer ever to be approached it was amazing to have been asked. It was a real success but after all the restructuring they decided to cut the collections that weren't directly designed by an M&S design team.

Did this inspire you to launch your own line?

Yes. I designed a small range for my own stores last Christmas and I'm looking for a partner to help launch a full collection. Lingerie is a whole new world - I don't have the manufacturing set-up to launch the brand on my own. And there's no point creating 10 bras when with help I could make 10,000, which are the same good quality.

THIS FASHION LIFE

What is your biggest fashion weakness?

Shoes. I love Pierre Hardy, Azzedine Alaia and Christian Louboutin. There's a pair of flat strappy sandals in Gucci that I'm hoping to pick up while I'm in London.

What was your best fashion moment?

Either my first ever catwalk in Paris or my most recent one. I took two seasons off and on my return the president of the Chambre Syndicale complimented me on my coming of age.

And your worst?

I tried to shoot last season's look book while I was in London and it went horribly wrong. It all had to be re-shot.

Who is your industry icon?

Jean-Marc Loubier - ex-number two at Louis Vuitton and now head of Celine - has been a constant support.

What would you be doing if not fashion?

Still something creative in the lifestyle industry - perhaps working with interiors or hotels.

Where do you shop?

The flea markets in Clignancourt in Paris, and a shop in Sydney called Cornerstone.

Who is the best dressed person of all time?

It's so easy to say Audrey Hepburn but Cate Blanchett is so adventurous.

Who is on your iPod?

The Killers, Gorillaz, the Rolling Stones and an Australian band called Augie March.

Who is on your mobile's speed dial?

Nobody. I'm great at remembering numbers.

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