When designing the 30th collection for Dinosaur Designs, Louise Olsen decided to do things a little differently. Each collection for the iconic fashion and homewares brand usually starts with a nature-inspired subject or form. For the Rainforest collection, Louise started with a colour. “Dinosaur Designs has always been known for its colour so it seemed natural in our 30th year to start a collection with a colour,” she says. “I was looking at the relationships between colours that create a sense of lushness.”

Dinosaur Designs has become to Australian design what brands such as Marimekko have become to countries such as Finland. It is synonymous with that country's design history and has managed to remain highly respected within the industry as well as popular amongst the general public.

The story is somewhat familiar now. Dinosaur Designs formed in 1985 when art students and friends Louise Olsen, Stephen Ormandy [DI interview] and Liane Rossler started selling their wares at Paddington Markets in Sydney. They used to paint and screen fabrics but after two years it was apparent that their resin jewellery was the most popular line. In recent years Louise and Stephen, a husband and wife team, have continued on the business and seen it grow to open a store in New York. Yet they have continued to design out of a sunlit studio in Strawberry Hills.

“Creating a collection is a joy from beginning to the end,” Louise says. “Starting with a form always takes you on an interesting design adventure.” Art and design have been constant companions in her life. She was born in Watsons Bay to revered artist John Olsen and his wife Valerie, also an artist. It was when she went to art school that she met Stephen and almost ever since they have been partners in work and life.

Now the duo are focussed on their next collection, scheduled to launch in May. They also have their first book underway with Penguin and an exhibition, which they will show at Bega Regional Gallery in October. They have plans for the London Design Festival too. “We’re excited to be working on some new concepts for Dinosaur Designs that we’ve not done before,” Louise says. 

Which five words best describe you? Inquisitive, considered, passionate, fair, happy. 

How did you get your career start and what path have you taken since? My career started on the kitchen table. The path that it has taken from that point onwards I would have never imaged at that stage. 

What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt along the way? Be true to your vision and trust your own instinct.

What’s your proudest career achievement? Celebrating our 30th year in business in 2015 and still having a growing, vibrant company. It feels like we’ve started on a whole new chapter.

What’s been your best decision? Change is inevitable in any business if you want it to grow. Having the courage to make tough choices and follow through on them can be hard. But you can’t live in fear, life is about moving forward and that’s how you discover new oceans. 

Who inspires you? Mother Nature and my mother. She always encouraged us to look at the bigger picture.

What are you passionate about? Love – in all its shapes and forms.

Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet? I’d love to have dinner with Louise Bourgeois, Matisse, David Bowie and Miles Davies. I think it would be the most amazing conversation.

What dream do you still want to fulfil? To have more time for my own painting.

What are you reading? Portraits - John Berger on Artists.

images courtesy of dinosaur designs; portrait photography rachel kara

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