They are some of the biggest names in Australian fashion – their careers have taken them across the globe, but Martin Grant, Collette Dinnigan, Akira Isogawa, and Aurelio Costarella, have now turned their attention back home. This month, the four designers are joining forces, presenting together for the inaugural Royal Botanic Runway.

For those unacquainted with Grant’s work, the Melbourne-born designer has been based in Paris for more than 20 years and has shown there throughout his career. An internationally renowned designer, Grant gained the attention of Australians when, in 2012, Qantas invited him to design its new uniform. Likewise, Dinnigan and Isogawa have been successfully showing in Paris for several years, while red-carpet favourite Costeralla is a regular at New York Fashion Week. We caught up with the busy fashion veterans to talk about The Royal Botanic Runway and why they were excited to be involved in the event’s debut.


Jean Kemshal-Bell: Your spring/summer ’14 collection, which you showed in Paris in September, is your last. Will this be your final presentation and if so, is it nice to be doing it in Australia?

CD: Yes, this will be the final time this collection is seen on the runway. I always love showing in Australia.

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JKB: Why did you decide to take on this project?

CD: I’m an advocate for water resource awareness … but I also feel very privileged to be involved in such a high-quality production with fellow Australian designers and stars such as Shannon Bennett.

JKB: What do the Royal Botanic Gardens mean to you?

CD: The times I have been to the Botanic Gardens, I have always left thinking about how beautiful they are. The gardens are not only a great tourist destination for Melbourne but also educational, which is vital for the next generation.

JKB: Is it nice to be showing with Aurelio, Akira and Martin?

CD: Yes, I have enormous respect for these designers.

JKB: What are your plans for the future? Will designing still be on the cards?

CD: Creativity is part of my life and I am looking forward to being surprised by what the future holds.


JKB: I hear you are making pieces especially for the Royal Botanic Runway – can you give us a little bit of insight into them?

AC: I’m creating some new demi-couture pieces specific to this show. They’re an extension of the pieces that have been shot as campaign images for the Royal Botanic Runway. I hand drape and assemble these pieces on the stand using lengths of silk, beadwork and vintage elements – the pieces are then entirely hand-stitched together. What better way to celebrate nature than with beautiful, delicate, organic pieces of clothing? I am also collaborating with milliner Reny Kestel on some elaborate, feathered headpieces to complete the looks.

JKB: Why were you keen to be involved with this project?

AC: I immediately loved the concept of showing my collection in this setting. Beyond this, it is such a magnificent cause. How often does one get to show a collection in the Botanic Gardens alongside some of Australia’s most talented designers and for a real purpose?

JKB: Being from Perth, have you spent much time at the Botanic Gardens in Melbourne?

AC: I have walked through the Botanic Gardens; it’s such a beautiful and tranquil setting. That connection with nature is so important to the creative process.

JKB: Is nature a source of inspiration when designing?

AC: Nature has always played a very important role in my work. Past collections have been inspired by botanical elements – flowers, leaves, the ocean and light … I work predominantly with natural fibres; silk makes up 60 per cent of my collections, with wool, linen and cotton blends making up the balance.

JKB: Is it nice to be showing with Collette, Akira and Martin?

It’s an absolute honour to show alongside designers that I have the ultimate respect for. We’ve all been in this industry for a long time now. Our paths have crossed in varying capacities over the last 20 or so years so I’m delighted to be presenting my collection on the same runway.


JKB: You serve on Geraldine Frater-Wyeth’s (Event Gallery) advisory board and have been involved with this project from the beginning – why were you so interested in seeing it come to life?

AI: It’s an opportunity, within the Australian fashion industry, to showcase more couture collections. It’s a great cause to be involved in because it helps to raise funds for the final stage of the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne Water Strategy Project.

JKB: And you suggested that Collette, Aurelio and Martin also take part. Why did you think you would work well together for this particular runway event?

AI: All designers suggested have shown internationally and we have seen beautiful collections from them in the past.

JKB: You are showing pieces from your entire archive – can you give us some insight into some of the pieces that we will get to see?

AI: We are showing [our] archive collection, which is going back to 2000 and styled with our more recent collections. It is extensive examples of my work.

JKB: Have you spent time at the Botanic Gardens? What do they mean to you?

AI: When I visit Government House in Melbourne, I get a glimpse of the Royal Botanic Garden views. It is a sea of green and soothing on the eyes.

JKB: Is nature a source of inspiration when designing?

AI: Nature inspires creativity, not only as a source for inspiration but it is also grounding.


JKB: You were born in Melbourne and studied at the Victorian College of the Arts but have been based in Paris for the past 20-plus years. You’ve dressed Cate Blanchett and Kate Hudson. Tell us a little about your incredible journey.

MG: I started designing very young and at the age of 16 I opened my first atelier in Melbourne. I am self-taught and had always approached my work in a three dimensional or sculptural fashion. After four or five years, I enrolled at the Victorian College of the Arts studying sculpture. At the end of my studies I left Australia to travel in Europe … In 1996, I opened a shop in the Marais [Paris] where I held my first ‘salon’ shows, in one of which Naomi Campbell famously modelled. In 2004, I became a member of the Fédération de la Couture et du Prêt-à-Porter and began showing on the official calendar. Over the past 10 years I have also worked for Barneys New York, creating its in-house collection.

JKB: You’ve recently become the 10th designer invited to create the new Qantas uniform, which was unveiled in November 2013. David Jones also recently announced it will stock your new season collection in its Australian department stores. What’s it like reconnecting to Australia after all this time in Paris?

MG: I’ve loved being reconnected to Australia. It was a great honour to be given the chance to design uniforms for an Australian icon like Qantas and now to be connected to another great Australian icon – David Jones – is wonderful.

JKB: We’re thrilled that your collection will be shown along with three other iconic fashion designers at Royal Botanic Runway. What inspired you to participate and what can we expect to see from you?

MG: My second passion has always been gardens. So when I heard about this project it was an easy decision to make. Australia has some of the finest botanic gardens in the world, well worth conserving.

JKB: What’s your favourite thing to do when you’re back in Melbourne?

MG: I spent a lot of time at my mother’s house, the house I was born in. The garden is predominantly native. My favourite thing to do in Melbourne is gardening.

JKB: How would you describe Melbourne’s fashion sense? What makes it different to other world cities?

MG: Melbourne has always had quite a chic, European style and given the famous Melbourne weather, it’s even possible to wear jackets and coats.

JKB: Where do you shop when in Melbourne when you are here?

MG: Christine on Flinders Lane.

The Royal Botanic Runway takes place 30 January. Gates open at 4pm for a 5:30pm start. Tickets vary from general admission, to reserved runway seating with dinner packages available.