At the helm of his own label, Peter Dundas is shaking up the rules of fashion with the launch a modest capsule.
Peter Dundas is shattered. Scrolling through his phone, tucking his distinctive golden locks behind his ears, he reads his never-ending stream of messages. He is catching up with business after finishing work on this shoot. Earlier, he was hosting a client lunch and before that, he was the special guest at a press conference announcing his new capsule. In a few hours, he will leave Dubai for Milan and go straight into model fittings. He has the star power to be a diva if he felt so inclined, and after that schedule, none could blame him. However, that’s just not his style.
Wearing his signature tight, white jeans, paired with snakeskin boots and a black shirt unbuttoned almost to the navel, he puts down his phone, looks up, and offers, “If I didn’t enjoy my job, I’d be the laziest person in the world.” His words are punctuated by a charming smile, but it’s hard to believe him – this is a man with countless projects and a mission to empower women through his collections.
Usually associated with a provocative aesthetic – he once said, “The idea is to make clothes you want to take off” – Dundas is the rock’n’roll luxury line consisting of panther-print dresses, leather bustiers, lamé miniskirts, and plunging V-neck jumpsuits. It’s lauded by an A-list army of glamazons like Beyoncé, Zendaya and, most recently, Michelle Obama. Its designer is in Dubai to promote the Net-a-Porter Ramadan capsule collection for which he curated seven exclusive pieces. “I didn’t find designing for the modest woman difficult,” he says, aware that the Dundas woman is known for her sultry silhouettes. “I already had modest pieces in my collections; it didn’t feel like a leap. It was more about maybe removing the slit, but the fundamental part of the design was already there. I think sensuality is obtained by revealing but it can also be expressed by covering up.”
True to his signature, the Ramadan pieces still offer partyready pizaazz with flowing fabrics, vibrant embellishments, and vivid colors. The Norwegian designer reveals that moving forward, more modest pieces will be added to his collections, thanks in part to a chance encounter with The Modist CEO and founder, Ghizlan Guenez. “She just ticked so many boxes of what I love seeing on a woman – and she was dressed modestly,” explains Dundas of their meeting. “She looked phenomenal and talking with her gave me a different perspective of what I associated with modest fashion. Not that it was an issue for me as I have always dressed women of all different shapes and ages and so why shouldn’t I love doing modest fashion as well? It’s just a new way of expressing love of women. I consider myself a designer who takes inspiration from all different cultures.”
Dundas is renowned for understanding and complementing the female form through his pieces, and played an influential part in shaping women’s fashion, whether as creative director at Emanuel Ungaro (2005-2007) and Emilio Pucci (2008-2015), or as chief designer at Roberto Cavalli (2002-2005 and 2015- 2016). When Dundas parted ways with Roberto Cavalli for the second time, he decided to finally launch his own brand with Evangelo Bousis. Their debut was both intimate and spectacular, with Beyoncé choosing to wear a dazzling gold ensemble from his first eponymous collection to the 2017 Grammys – an event viewed by 26 million people.
Under his own label and esteem, Dundas can change the rules slightly and be more rebellious in his projects. “New brands today are completely different than five years ago,” he explains in his hybrid Scandi-American accent. While born in Oslo, he moved to Indiana in the US as a teen and later studied at Parsons School of Design in New York. “We have a curiosity today to see new brands, more so than seeing the revival of an established one. Today, there is a freshness to a new label. The new brand is the new, new.”
Originally published in the May 2019 issue of Vogue Arabia
While Dundas is the man behind the design, Bousis, the label’s co-founder, conceives strategy and oversees operations. “Evangelo is a great partner. He is a brilliant man,” Dundas says when discussing the company dynamic. “He is someone who will throw out an idea and I’m like, ‘Are you sure?’ But it always works. I trust him.” Their mutual conviction invites them to take risks to achieve the Dundas strategy, which is to reach the customer directly.
“For sure there’s a lot more at stake when it’s your own brand,” shares the designer. “It’s a big enterprise and I think there has to be an element of bravery, but it’s the time in my life for me to do it and I think that the world wants to see it.” As a “new brand,” Dundas has decided against seasonal drops. Instead, he launches six smaller collections throughout the year. He has also removed the seasonal tags. His collections are dubbed D1, D2, and so on, as opposed to SS19 or FW19. “We drop at the moment that you need the clothes rather than six months in advance,” he explains. While in summer months, the clothes might be more colorful, the designer says he designs his pieces to be worn year-round, consequently making them more sustainable in the process. He adds, “Making the clothes non-seasonal gives more value to the garments. People are more likely to wear it more than once, which makes it more sustainable.”
Another business strategy currently includes not doing any advertising. Instead, the label’s work is promoted through social media campaigns. The aim is to eventually branch into artificial intelligence, further expanding on the current unique services – Dundas already creates bespoke pieces for clients including celebrities and royals. It also has a fast-track service so clients can pre-order ready-to-wear collections and even tweak the color or fabric to their liking.
What has remained a constant in Dundas’s career is that the “Dundas woman” has followed him from brand to brand. Now, with the focus on his own aesthetic, he feels the relationship is stronger than ever. “I talk more with my girlfriends than I did before,” he offers. “I have them try things on and I exchange with them freely about it. Before, I used to be very guarded with what I was doing; now, I’ve found a dialogue with the woman. It helps me understand what she wants.”
His dialogue is set to get broader with Dundas revealing plans to launch a men’s collection by 2020. “I started working on men’s bespoke for about six months. I’ve also been experimenting with styles on Evangelo and myself – we’re the guinea pigs,” he reveals, flashing his pearly whites, which offset his tanned, beachy glow. “We’re looking at what’s available in the market and what’s missing. It’s a different approach to women, but the answers come quite naturally to me. I found listening to my instinct has always brought me the most success.”
Instinct, a lauded reputation, and deft skill, too. Despite being on the fashion radar for over a decade, Dundas is refreshingly down-to-earth and at times vulnerable. He constantly references his behind-the-scenes team, refusing to take all the credit. Such honesty is rare in a designer of his caliber. He is equally positive toward rising fashion stars, too. “I think influencers are great,” he says. “They are celebrities in their own right. I haven’t worked actively with any in a collaboration yet but I’m not against it.” What of fashion influencers who become designers? “I think fluidity is part of today’s society, so we have to keep an open mind about it. Fashion designers have always come from different backgrounds. There are so many huge designers who never went to school or who were photographers or architects – why not have an influencer become a designer?”
Dundas’ foray into fashion started when he was six. His mother passed away when he was four and he was looked after by his aunts while his father, a cardiovascular surgeon, worked long hours. “They were old aunts who weren’t going to play catch with me, so they taught me how to sew and how to bake,” he shares. “I had my own sewing machine when I was seven. I made clothes for my sister and started customizing outfits for myself from my dad’s old clothes.” While his passion for design and fashion came early, he set off to pursue a career in medicine “like my father, my uncle, my grandfather, and my great grandfather.” However, a distaste for physics saw him ditch the idea for good. “I was 17 when I had this realization and thought, OK, I need to do something that I enjoy. And what I enjoyed was sketching and creating fashion pieces. That has to be my greatest life lesson,” he says, pausing to recall the moment he chose to follow his own path. “You have to listen to your inner voice – and do it with excellence.” While his label is burgeoning, he relishes in the freedom to try new things and find his own language. “The business today is changing. People look at it with fear, but change is never bad and you are fooling yourself if you think it’s not going to evolve. Nothing is forever, so embrace it and enjoy the ride.”