Kate Middleton loves them – even Liz Jones agrees… Dannii Minogue"s dresses have the X Factor


LIZ JONESFASHION THERAPY Pippa and Kate love them – and even our hard-to-please columnist agrees… Dannii's dresses have the X Factor

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UPDATED:

12:05 GMT, 24 September 2012

There is a moment when a brand goes from an also-ran into a must-have. And a small London label called Project D, while simmering nicely since it was founded two years ago by Tabitha Somerset Webb and her best friend, Dannii Minogue, has in the past few weeks had more than its fair share of landmark breakthroughs.

In the summer, Pippa Middleton wore one of the label’s trademark printed tea dresses to watch Andy Murray play at Wimbledon.

A big success: Dannii Minogue (left) and Tabitha Somerset

A big success: Dannii Minogue (left) and Tabitha Somerset

The girls’ website went bananas. Then, on the eve of London Fashion Week, after presenting their Spring/Summer 2013 collection, Dannii, wearing a shimmering midnight blue ‘Ursula’ (gowns are named after breeds of butterfly), tripped and fell on the steps as she left the venue, to the delight of waiting paparazzi. Pre-orders are now in their hundreds.

But then something even bigger happened. Last week, for her flight home to the UK from the official tour of the Far East, the Duchess of Cambridge wore a demure, flower print ‘Penelope’ dress from the girls’ S/S 2012 collection.

She had bought it for the full price of 315 and it’s her first Project D dress. In it, the Duchess looked fresh, young and impeccably English. Suddenly, a small operation (total staff: 11) from a studio in Fulham has knocked every other designer off the front pages.

If Tabitha, 37, were not so posh, I’m sure she’d have shouted: ‘Bingo!’

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I meet the pair the morning after that coccyx-bruising tumble by Dannii.

They are still laughing about it, or maybe they’re still a bit drunk.

‘When the embarrassing happens, there is only one thing to do: accessorise with a smile!’ says Dannii, who is as tiny as Tabitha is statuesque.

‘I’m 5ft 10in, and a size 14, while Dannii is 5ft 2in,’ Tabitha says, twirling in a decolletage-revealing aubergine maxi. ‘But we can both wear our dresses.

This gives other women confidence to believe they can wear our dresses and look good, too.’

Dannii adds: ‘Tab’s mum, who’s 65, wore the same dress as Pippa, and looked really hot in it. My brother’s wife says she only ever gets compliments when she wears our dresses.

‘I’ve learnt a lot about what clothes work from my job. I hate dresses that crease or that you have to be careful in and think about.’

Both are annoyingly discreet about Pippa and Kate, other than to say Pippa has been a fan for ages and both pay full price.

They don’t court celebrities, although Dannii does joke about sitting next to sister Kylie, flipping through a look book and nudging her strongly in the ribs.

They insist the design process is pretty equal. Tabitha, whom I imagine can be quite bossy in a jolly-hockey-sticks kind of way, admits she has no formal training.

Her eponymous handbag label, launched in 2003, was how they met: Dannii tracked her down, desperate for a tote.

Model perfect: Pippa Middleton (left) wearing a trademark Project D printed tea dress when she watched Andy Murray play at Wimbledon, with her sister, the Duchess of Cambridge (right)

Model perfect: Pippa Middleton (left) wearing a trademark Project D printed tea dress when she watched Andy Murray play at Wimbledon, with her sister, the Duchess of Cambridge (right)

Getting a collection out involves lots of talking on Skype, as Dannii has spent most of the past year in her native Australia. And while most celebrity clothing lines rarely involve the star doing actual hard graft, Dannii insists she mucks in.

‘No one photographed me at 2am before the presentation, unpacking boxes, or panicking about the fact the swing tags were late.

‘Last year I had health issues. I
couldn’t move out of Australia, because I had my appendix out, I had a
thyroid not working and had to get that all under control.

Poor Tabs
was having to run the whole show on her own. From now on I will be in
and out of London every couple of months. This is my priority.’

Royal approval: Kate's 315 Penelope dress

The flower-print Penelope dress (315) worn by the Duchess of Cambridge.

Kate wearing Project D's floral-print Penelope dress, which retails at 315

Project D... fined The Duchess of Cambridge pictured leaving Brisbane airport in Australia last week. On her flight home from the far east, Kate wore a demure flower print 'Penelope' dress from the Project D S/S 2012 collection

Project D… fined The Duchess of Cambridge pictured leaving Brisbane airport in Australia last week. On her flight home from the far east, Kate wore a demure flower print 'Penelope' dress from the Project D S/S 2012 collection

RAGS TO RICHES
Sitcom stars Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen own the most successful celebrity faashion range of all time, with an estimated turnover of 614 million

The
label started ‘as a mix of passion and craziness’, says Dannii. ‘It was
2010 and everyone told me not to do it because of the financial
situation the world was in then. But when you feel it in here [she taps
her bony sternum], you have to give it a go. Then, to add to it, in the
first year of business I have a baby. In the second year, Tab has a
baby! On paper you’d never go near us!’

I ask how much money they make from it, and there is much laughter.

‘I’d love to know when we are going to make some!’ shouts Tabitha.

‘We just make stuff that, selfishly, we love,’ adds Dannii. ‘I design stuff I love, Tabs designs stuff she loves. Somewhere we meet in the middle, sometimes we argue or we both love something. It’s just what we would want in our wardrobe.’

Whoops! Dannii took a tumble - but orders for her designs soared

Whoops! Dannii took a tumble – but orders for her designs soared

Loyal fan: Pippa - in the Bluebird dress - has long backed the brand Project D

Loyal fan: Pippa – in the Bluebird dress – has long backed the brand Project D

Royal approval: Kate's 315 Penelope dress

Royal approval: Kate's 315 Penelope dress

Pippa Middleton finds her seat at Wimbledon wearing a pale blue Project D printed tea dress.

Project D's printed tea dress, as worn by the Duchess of Cambridge's younger sister, Pippa.

Pippa Middleton watching Andy Murray at Wimbledon wearing Project D's blue printed tea dress

Dannii’s involvement prejudices the
fashion press against them in a way, I think, as her print maxis are
easily as lovely as those by Erdem (another of Kate’s favourites but
double the price). Like another pop star turned seamstress, Victoria
Beckham, it may take a few years before she is fully accepted.

‘I’ve
worked with couture designers, and I’ve learned from them,’ Dannii
says. ‘Being petite, I’ve spent many years having to alter things to
make them fit. So you learn about cut.’

Tabitha butts in: ‘Forget she’s Dannii Minogue, it’s two best mates coming together to do something they really love.’

But they have big plans. With the help
of a new backer, they are taking next spring’s collection, based around
‘childhood memories, carousels, fairies, princes’, to the U.S. and the
Middle East. Plus, they are launching a range of watches.

Purple butterfly print dress, 425

Satyr cocktail dress, 249

Danni says: 'We're just women, normal girls, not the coolest on the planet,
who go into their wardrobes and think, “I love that dress. It makes me
feel good.” That's all.'

They want to
dress Michelle Obama and Jennifer Aniston — and hope Kate continues with
her patronage.

The prices
are really good value: 249 for my favourite felty cocktail dress (see
right), and for a strapless lace evening gown prices hover around 500.
This is on a par with the likes of Temperley for John Lewis, and
Whistles, but this brand sources very short run prints (you won’t see
the same fabric elsewhere).

The
finishing is also great, evening gowns often have three linings,
there’s boning on strapless dresses and everything is designed and cut
in the UK. Sizes for the bigger busted and curvier hipped (the brand
goes up to a size 16) are cut and constructed differently, not simply
scaled up like most High Street brands.

Says
Dannii: ‘We’re just women, normal girls, not the coolest on the planet,
who go into their wardrobes and think, “I love that dress. It makes me
feel good.” That’s all.’

LIZ JONES SPIES ON…
THE BEAUTY HALLS AT FENWICK AND JOHN LEWIS

I’m not a huge fan of beauty halls: too much walking, too many over made-up women trying to Taser me with perfume.

I have long preferred SpaceNK, which is bijou, with hard-to-find brands such as Revive. But I ventured into Fenwick on Bond Street, which, like me, has had a facelift (pictured right).

The woman at the Chanel counter told me the liquid eyeliner has been discontinued. Gah! Why does Chanel always do this! She did, though, say the Dior one was as good, and even blacker. Next, to Sisley, where rather than just giving me what I asked, the assistant tried to introduce me to new products, even though she could see I was in a rush.

I was then escorted through a maze to the Laura Mercier counter. ‘We have no more tinted moisturisers in Sand.’ I hate it when such a big store can’t get its ordering right. Chantecaille was out of Linen powder, too. So, leaving my purchases in a huff, I staggered instead to John Lewis on Oxford Street, which only revamped its beauty hall in May.

Unimpressed Liz Jones reflects on the beauty hall at Fenwick, which has had a facelift (pictured)

Unimpressed Liz Jones reflects on the beauty hall at Fenwick, which has had a facelift (pictured)

The Chanel assistant had no idea what shade of foundation would suit me: she tried to guess by looking at my face, which was hopeless as I had a full face of make-up.

No Chantecaille at all! Oh dear. Or Tom Ford. This is not going well. Worse was that at Chanel, where I spent more than 600, the assistant didn’t give me one free sample. Not even a postage stamp-sized envelope of goo.

When I challenged her, she said she had ‘run out’. Note to beauty sales assistants: if you don’t have any more samples, apologise, and go round other brands scooping up alternatives.

Always double check the contents of boxes, too, as it’s easy to give the wrong cream. Feed back to your bosses when you run out of a popular product. And check a foundation shade on the inside of my arm, not my hand, which might be too brown and weathered.

John Lewis should also get rid of all the outside employees (the Chanel woman is paid by Chanel, not John Lewis), and stick its own partners behind the counters. It would make the world of difference.