BY ALICE MERCER YORK
The Langham Hotel, one of Chicago’s most fashionable landing places, will become an even more in-demand destination next month when the Chicago History Museum’s Costume Council welcome’s the city’s most well-turned-out denizens for its Designer of Excellence Awards.
This year’s recipient, Peter Dundas, with a lengthy history at some of fashion’s most storied houses and his own eponymous label, DUNDAS, now celebrating its five-year anniversary, is well-deserving of this recognition. Dundas is a favorite of performers like Beyoncé, who debuted the label (co-created by Evangelo Bousis) at the 2017 Grammy Awards; Ciara; Shakira; and Mary J. Blige, who hit this year’s Super Bowl stage in his designs. And now Chicago looks forward to inviting Dundas himself to take the stage as its honoree.
Dundas is in good company accepting this accolade: previous honorees include Sonia Rykiel, Hubert de Givenchy, Bill Blass, Bob Mackie, and Carolina Herrera. Fellow designer Brian Atwood, Bousis, and musician Nick Cave are this year’s honorary co-chairs for the evening, which benefits the museum’s exhibition and curatorial needs to preserve its vast costume collection. With more than 50,000 pieces in its archives (one of the largest in the world), the collection serves as an important pillar of fashion history in Chicago and beyond.
While Dundas feels extremely flattered and honored to be receiving this recognition, he admits to always thinking, “Oh, isn’t this a little too soon?” when receiving these types of awards. But, he says, “This one feels special because it’s Chicago.” It turns out the Norwegian-born designer has a “deep connection” to the Midwest. Though his father comes from Norway, the designer’s mother is an Indiana native—Dundas attended high school there before studying at Parsons School of Design in New York. Adding yet another layer: his husband and DUNDAS partner, Bousis, is from Chicago, where his family still resides. Both are looking forward to returning for this special event.
It doesn’t seem at all too soon—in fact, it seems like just the right time—to acknowledge the designer’s undeniable excellence and wildly impressive resume. Dundas got his start at Gaultier, working for eight years as head assistant, learning everything from tailoring to use of color: “This was really the base of my post-school education,” he says. In 2000 he joined Lacroix (“really an artist as much as a designer—he had a poetic way of thinking about clothes”), who taught him “so much about how to cut dresses for women.”
His next stop was Cavalli. “Cavalli set me free,” he recalls. “That is a house that is very close to my heart. It felt like a finishing school for me as an assistant.” In 2005 he was contacted by Ungaro, who hired him as the label’s creative director. Pucci brought him on three years later as artistic director: “a great continuation of my experience.” He breathed life back into the brand—during his tenure, Pucci’s shows in Milan became one of the city’s hottest tickets.
Upon Roberto Cavalli’s retirement in 2015, he named Dundas his successor (“a great, great honor”). While in his role as creative director, Dundas had starting his own label at the back of his mind, but he wanted to feel ready and have the right partner: “All the great histories in fashion were created by two people,” he shares. He found the perfect partner in Bousis, creative in his own right and powered by that innate ability to anticipate what’s next.
They launched DUNDAS in 2017 with a splash (that aforementioned Grammy appearance by the one and only Beyonce). “We started the brand with the idea that we wanted things to be different, to do it more our way: do collections that were seasonless, so that you were not locked into a certain period,” he explains. “There are so many things we wear throughout the year—we travel, we move. A modern wardrobe is worn all year round.” They were also careful not to date their collections, with this in mind. “We called our first launch D1, and now we’re on D20. From the front, wanted to have an open mind to how fashion should evolve.”
Nothing displays this evolution more than how they’ve embraced technology as a label, far beyond e-commerce. This, Dundas says, was part of the brand’s culture from the word go. From the start of the pandemic, they brought focus to online sales, part of any modern brand’s retail strategy. With that came NFTs, a market he feels is going to boom: “It’s super interesting for us—it’s another way people can access and experience the brand.” This included wearable NFTs of his designs from the Super Bowl halftime show. “It’s more important than ever for brands to be able to shift with the times,” he says. And most importantly, “We’re having fun doing so.” That feeling of fun is abundantly apparent, too, in the DUNDAS “Metaverse” fashion shows, which beyond being innovative are inclusive—you don’t have to be an editor or influencer to have a front row seat.
Online or IRL, the DUNDAS woman is “quite glamorous,” the designer says. “She’s not afraid of being seen. She’s someone that celebrates life and likes beautiful things—she likes color, shine, things that flatter her. She’s a mix of all my best girlfriends.” This might be a nod to clients Heidi Klum, Kim Kardashian, or models Emily Ratajkowski and Bella Hadid. “She looks beyond fashion—she likes what she likes. She enjoys life to the fullest.”
His bold designs lend themselves well to the stage—and to bold clients: “What I love about stage wear is that it’s a little more extroverted, a little more unafraid. You can communicate who you are through the clothes.” This connection to music and the musicians he dresses has deep roots. His mother is a violinist, his father a pianist, and both he and his sister grew up playing. He says, “Music has always been part of who I am. When I create collections, I always have music playing.” For this past collection, it was a blend of Diana Ross, 2000s pop like Britney Spears, and, of course, Mary J. Blige. Putting together music for his fashion shows is among his favorite things and his mood boards for every collection are always sprinkled with photos of musicians, most notably from the 1970s.
While Dundas pays tribute to past icons and eras in his designs, he is always looking towards the future. This year alone he plans to roll out a beauty line as an extension of his label and will be the focus of a permanent exhibit in Norway. “I’m beyond excited for this year,” he says. “We have so many things coming up—Chicago is a great one. We want to scale and to magnify what we’re doing. We want to boom! 2022 is our year!”
To purchase tickets to the May 4 Designer of Excellence Awards, click here. To learn more about Dundas and shop his designs, visit dundasworld.com.
Photos courtesy of DUNDAS.