Nineteen years ago I interviewed a very winning and talented emerging fashion designer for one of my first pieces for the Sydney Morning Herald.
Her name was Collette Dinnigan.
Over the years that followed she became the only Australian fashion designer ever to gain a place on the highest of all fashion stages – the official schedule of Chambre Syndicale in Paris.
She also became an adored friend.
In my role as fashion reporter for the Herald I would go to her Paris show every season and one time I spent a very memorable week ‘backstage’ before, as they put the show together, watching everything from model go sees, to fittings, styling and music choices.
Watching Laetitia Casta, then about 19, walk across the studio wearing a very sheer dress – and nothing else – was a sight I will never forget. The room went silent.
Because of Collette’s legendary hospitality, generosity and loyalty, I have also been treated to some amazing dinners and parties. One I particularly remember was at the legendary Prunier restaurant.
As we made our way over to the stairs up to the glorious first floor space where Collette’s dinner was being held, we walked past Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Berge and Catherine Deneuve having dinner together.
That was a moment.
But it hasn’t all been glamour. Collette and I also share a love of grounding experiences. One of the most fun times we’ve had was when she and her then partner came up to stay with me and my husband, when we were housesitting for friends on a large country property in northern New South Wales.
They arrived with a crate of wine and half of Simon Johnson’s cheese counter and we stayed up all night sitting at a table in the garden, playing crazy drawing games by the light of the full moon.
The next day, I watched with some trepidation as Collette and Pop galloped off across the bush, on horses they’d only just met, but back they came an hour or so later, sweaty and beaming.
With all this shared history, when I heard the news in late 2013 that Collette had decided to radically downsize her business and stop showing in Paris, I was quite shocked. I felt like I’d shared that magic carpet ride with her and it seemed very poignant that I would never again get to sit in the audience in one of those magical shows.
But that feeling was very soon taken over by a surge of deep respect. Putting those shows on twice a year – on the other side of the world – along with all the work Collette puts into developing fabrics and designing the ranges, added up to a crazy life and I knew how it tore her apart to have to spend time away from her family to keep it up.
The decision to stop was as bold and fearless as everything she does and I salute her for it.
My wistfulness was also allayed by shortly after receiving a copy of her wonderful book Obsessive Creative.
It’s simply magnificent. And I’m not just saying that because there are a couple of photos of me in it ha ha.
It’s sumptuous to behold – as are all books from Lantern Press – full of glorious illustrations and photographs, but it’s also really good to read. The morning it arrived, I leafed through it looking at all the pictures, then went back to the beginning and read every word.
Last month Collette was in London with her lovely husband Brad Cocks, to launch the UK edition and invited us to yet another of her wonderful parties at the Ham Yard hotel in Soho. So that was two of my favourite people in one of my favourite places …
It was half term so all three of us went up. What a super duper time we had. As well as Collette and Brad, and my very good friend Craig Markham, another brilliant Aussie who is Marketing Director of Firmdale, which owns Ham Yard (along with several other of London’s best hotels), the downstairs bar was full of people I love.
Jane de Teliga, with her fiancé Sebastian. Caroline Burstein of Browns. Stylist Karl Pluker. Marion Hume and her husband Peter Hunt. Trend forecaster Tony Bannister. Andy Harris, who is now editor of Jamie Oliver’s magazine.
It was one of those rare nights where everywhere your eye falls there is someone you really want to talk to. Heaven.
Obsessive Creative will be published by Harper Collins in the UK in April. In Australia it’s already out.
(Apologies if you have received this post for the second time. In some weird blip, it disappeared off the site earlier today, so I had to re-post it.)