Di Cant is a Brisbane stylist who has been working in the industry for more than five decades. Di grew up in Nambour in South East Queensland, where her parents ran the local swimming pool. She cites Hollywood swimming star Esther Williams as an early influence on her desire to work in fashion, along with her mother’s effortless style. After high school she went to Brisbane, taking deportment classes with the famous June Dally-Watkins. Eventually Di would teach those very classes to other young women, and she continues to do so today.
She worked as a model in the late 1950s and 1960s, a time of great change for fashion, particularly for young women. Di remembers modelling sportswear, jeans, and swimsuits in particular. In tandem with these changes also came the rise of the boutique, a shift away from the more traditional department store; young women flocked to these independent stores that stocked exciting new brands and styles. Dawn and Ray Petersen’s Queen Street boutique Fifi’s was a pioneer of high street fashion, while Splendiferous and Bozarts introduced more up-market brands to Brisbane shoppers in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Milliner Patrick Ogilvie and couturier Gwen Gillam remained popular for younger and older women at this time.
In the 1970s, Di began to work in a role that we would now call a stylist, although that term was not in use at the time. She was invited to compere fashion parades in the young women’s department, called ‘Miss Jones’, of David Jones. This led to further work styling and compering fashion parades for David Jones, and Myer, both of whom staged grand, regular fashion parades in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. At this time Di was approached by shopping centre manager Graham Campbell-Ryder to instigate what would be the first Australian example of large-scale fashion parades bringing together retailers across a vast shopping centre. Di also had a regular spot on Channel 9 sponsored by Mathers Shoes, showcasing current footwear trends.
In 1980, Mathers director Sir Robert Mathers invited Di Cant to attend a Retailers Association of Queensland board meeting. The meeting led to the birth of a televised awards night for the fashion retail sector and emerging designers, the RAQ Fashion Design Awards, which ran annually until 2009 with Di holding the position of Fashion Manager. In 1985 Di was invited to be part of a trade mission to Japan, showcasing Queensland fashion on an international stage. She also took part in hosting Concours d’Elegance events for many years.
More recently, Di has presented fashion parades for charity. In the year 2000, she worked with her daughter, Danielle Harris, a fashion buyer, to organise a fashion parade called 50 Years of the Catwalk. The ticketed event was held at the Hilton Hotel, with funds going towards the Queensland Blood Cord Bank at the Mater Hospital. The event featured models from across the decades, including June Dally-Watkins and Miranda Kerr.
Di has consistently worked one on one with clients on personal styling consultations, running her own business and consulting to various department stores and shopping centres. She mentions meeting Valentino as a personal highlight of her fashion career. Her favourite local designers include Paul Hunt, Gail Sorronda, and Lisa Brown.
Published in Issue 10, on March 11, 2014.