The Fashion Folk S02 ep11 : Dhini Pararajasingham, Dhini Fashion, [Sydney]

Interview with Dhini Pararajasingham

Dhini learned to sew as a girl in Sri Lanka. Now Dhini Pararajasingham, 32, has her own couture label. Growing up in Sri Lanka, Dhini Pararajasingham remembers her grandmother teaching her and identical twin Shini to hand-stitch cotton dolls' clothes. She also remembers being smitten by a video of catwalk models parading Yves St Laurent designs. "I loved the whole feeling of the show; the music, the colour, the gorgeous girls, one after another. I was awestruck." Today, Pararajasingham, 32, has her own label, Dhini Couture, and is attracting tags such as "a genius in complicated tailoring" and "cult designer". But if her parents had had their way, she would have had a career in marketing. "We come from a family that's quite strict and (they believe) you have to have an academic career,'' says the diminutive designer, who left war-torn Sri Lanka aged eight and travelled with her family to India, Europe and the United States before settling in Melbourne in 1990. "My sister wanted to do art and I liked fashion but we didn't have the guts to do it. My parents said, 'Look, do something academic and after you graduate you can do whatever you want to do'." In Pararajasingham's sunny studio - the sitting room of her family's North Balwyn home - three RMIT students on work placement have heads bowed over work tables. It's not always so quiet but with several big projects under way, Pararajasingham has banned banter. Having come late to fashion, it's as if she is making up for lost time - within weeks, the team must finish a range of demi-couture garments for stores around Australia, conceptual pieces for a futuristic installation at a Melbourne boutique, and her new spring/summer collection, which will be unveiled during Australian Fashion Week in Sydney in April. "I was supposed to do a show in India, too, but there was no time so I had to say no,'' she says. "Opportunities like that will come again."


Dhini: Dhini’s trying to do something different and offer something totally unique and a bit avant-

Dhini: I was born in Sri Lanka, lived there until I was seven. My dad travelled for work on his
business quite a lot and when he came back from overseas he always bought amazing clothes from
England or Germany or somewhere and I was really interested in clothing and dresses rather than

Dhini: My grandma started to teach me sewing when I was six. She was really into fashion. The
way she dressed and her interest kind of rubbed off on me.

Dhini: I was drawn to beauty in people, you know aesthetics was something that you know got me
and I loved airhostesses and their uniforms.

Dhini: I was seven years old when I saw an Yves St Laurent show on TV, no one really talked
about labels, especially in Sri Lanka, it wasn’t a fashion sort of country.

Jewellery Theatre Carravaggio

Dhini: Like we had no idea about the avant-garde example … or Montana, it was more Armani or
Yves St Laurent, Chanel, so it was a bit behind I guess, about a decade before that Sri Lanka was
still under English rule so fashion was still quite old fashioned English at that time.

Dhini: I lived there until I was seven and then you know there was a war and that broke out in Sri
Lanka so we left and moved and lived in India for two years up in the mountains which was
beautiful, from there we moved to Europe for about six to eight months, and then finally settled in
the US.

Dhini: Just after high school, to be honest I wasn’t really confident to get into fashion, so I let my
dad brainwash me and got into a business course for about four years, so we came to Australia in
1990 and when I graduated I kind of felt a bit more confident, but I wanted to travel and kind of
get a worldly experience before I settled down again. So I did Japan ’98 and ’99 and I was teaching
English there, and then studying fashion on the side.

Dhini: As a child I wasn’t rebellious in the way I dressed, it was different, I felt I kind of embraced
the different and I knew Tokyo Japan is quite avant-garde and it’s close to Australia. I went over
there, there was an opportunity at the same time to teach English which gave me money to study
fashion on the side.

Jewellery Theatre Carravaggio

Dhini: I did … school before leaving, I just landed on soil over there and went from school to
school asking if they taught fashion in English, the fashion teacher there taught English as well as
fashion so she was happy to do one on one classes with me.

Dhini: With the Japanese it was more artistic the approach. Whenever I was given a project in my
class, it was very conceptual so it was an artistic exploration of that concept and translation into

Dhini: Because when you go so schools like S… and Martins in London and RMIT in Melbourne
city where I studied, it’s actually very experimental and conceptual and they actually teach you to
be artistic and to let go and not worry so much about commerce in the beginning stages you just
design purely. Probably towards the end they start to teach you the commerce side of fashion so
they start to ground you again.

Dhini: Towards the end of the course I was just one of the top students so I gained a lot of
confidence from that you know a bit of cockiness as well and I think it was a naivety really that got
me thinking I can do this on my own, it was pure ignorance is bliss kind of thing.

Jewellery Theatre Elements

Dhini: In 2005 was when I launched the label on a really small scale in London, so I did that for a
year, London’s really tough, you really need a lot of finance behind a label a support network,
family, anyone close to you to help you through the journey so I was there by myself, it was
getting difficult financially so I left to come back here and be surrounded by family who could
help me financially as well and emotionally. The brand got relaunched in 2006 in Melbourne.

Dhini: When it’s something really close to you, you know what right for the label, you’ve got to be
a bit grounded as well and just smart about what opportunities to take and what to leave for the
time being because it’s a timing thing.

Dhini: I always start with a concept so you know I do this for myself as well because I love
learning, learning new concepts and ideas that I’ve never been taught or been exposed to before, so
for example you know this season the collection was inspired from marching band uniforms and it
was that marching band uniform, an original 1970’s high school American marching band uniform
so I looked at that as the inspiration or the muse to the whole collection and basically was
studying, looking at the history of the uniform, where, how it originated, where did it get its
influences from, it was a learning experience for me.

Dhini: Marching band uniforms derived its early inspiration from military uniform and as a result
they got their you know styling and their trims and stuff inspired from military uniforms.

Dhini: I deconstruct not only form but key characteristics and elements of a marching band
uniform so we look at for example braiding and piping which were key characteristics. Military
buttons, metal or brass buttons, so they’re going to appear in part of the garments throughout the
collection. I’ll do something totally non-marching band, like a dress a draped dress for example,
but bringing those elements into parts of it so I brought in the structured rigidity of uniforms into
this beautiful draped dress so you see braiding on the top of the dress and then there’s just beautiful
flowing fabric which forms the skirt.

Jewellery Theatre Fairytales

Dhini: Epaulets play a big role in uniforms and I … epaulets so you’ll see a top for example with
ruffles around the shoulder line and that symbolised epaulets. I start the collection with neutral
interpretations and then it gets more and more abstract.

Dhini: I’m known for really complex panelling and draping, contrast in the rigid firm structure and
that comes throughout every season.

Dhini: And you’ve got to really be technically knowledgeable in this time especially when you
know it’s harder to be able to employ heaps of artists and to realise your vision.

Dhini: At the moment everything’s about new and new technology as well. And Chanel for
example, Karl Lagerfeld is inspired by all his muses are young you know, … and stuff like that,
even his collections are getting younger and younger if you notice. So

And so is Karl, Karl’s getting younger and younger.

Dhini: Exactly.

Dhini: Kelly Osborne. She come down to Australia for the Grand Prix last year and she’d gone
shopping to all the high end boutiques and apparently one of my stockists, she’d gone in there and
there was like Valence Yaga and Armani and Victor Neurov and things and she was just picking
Dhini stuff, so she left the store with five Dhini pieces, maybe one other designer so that was kind
of cool.

OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Dhini Pararajasingham, Dhini Fashion, Sydney