You came from a very artistic background. Did you ever doubt that you would do something in the creative world?
It was something I’d never really thought about much. I was surrounded by it, and it just seemed like a very natural thing to do, and it’s something that my whole family loved doing. My mother’s an artist, my father is, and my brother’s involved in the arts as well. He also draws and paints and he has an art gallery in Paddington, and my parents’ friends… I feel very lucky to have been immersed in that world, particularly that I have a love for it as well. It would have been a strange place if I hadn’t. But something else would have come out of it in a different way, because initially I feel that everything’s creative, whether you’re doing mathematics, or engineering, or anything. It’s just all about the way you apply yourself. People say, “I don’t have a creative bone in my body, I can’t draw”, but if you can’t draw and paint, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have a creative bone in your body. It’s just what interests you in the end.
Do you still draw and paint?
Yeah, I do, as much as I can. I still have all my sketchbooks and I do a lot of drawing, particularly when I’m travelling in notebooks – it’s a constant thing. I’d like if I had more time to paint, but Dinosaur has just become so all-consuming. We employ over 60 people now and we wholesale round the world. We have kids – I have a daughter, and Liane has two daughters, and Stephen and I are partners.
I didn’t realise that. It’s quite rare that partners in a romantic sense can work in a trade or business together. The three of you must have such an amazing relationship.
I think we’ve just really learned how to work with each other. Everyone has their moments, but we just somehow can always overcome anything and it remains a great friendship because that’s such an important thing, really, with anyone. Friendship is the most important thing, and I guess part of having friendship is sometimes understanding how people work with each other, particularly for us. We have our own separate creative space in our offices. We give each other lots of creative space, and we seem to have struck a really good balance.
Was there ever a point where you thought, this isn’t worth it, we’re risking our friendship trying to do this together?
Sometimes, definitely. We’ve hit some stages where you just think, “Oh God, how are we ever going to get through it?” But the best thing about it is that we have got through it, and we’re still here 20 years later. The fact that we did get through it has been the most rewarding thing in a way because we’ve been able to really nut things out, and we haven’t just thrown our hands in the air and walked away – that’s just too easy.
Are there any tough times that you often refer back to – “Oh, remember that time when…”?
Because we were at art school all day, we’d start designing jewellery in the afternoon after art school and be up all night, and then often we’d arrive at the market stall with, like, wet earrings and things that hadn’t been quite been finished off, things like that. Sometimes when we’re travelling it can be very intense. You just have to know how to give each other lots of space. I could tell you some funny – there’ve been some really funny stories. Just so much has happened in that time between now and when we had our first head office in Kings Cross – where I think Tropfest is now, on the corner of Bayswater Road. That was a great starting point. We actually had a studio with John Coburn, the artist. His wife had cancer and she died, and he felt that he needed someone else in the space seeing as there were separate rooms. So we started from this little tiny room in Kings Cross. And then John felt that he needed even more space, so he ended up saying, “Look, why don’t you guys have this space, and I’ll go find an even bigger studio.”
Was he a friend of your father’s?
He was. There used to be a little chocolate factory there. It was funny, you’d be working late and you’d hear all these striptease sounds through the wall, and just to get through to the front door sometimes you’d have to pick your way through all the prostitutes and the needles and the whole thing. From there we moved into Surry Hills and this area [Strawberry Hills], but you can’t believe that 20 years has flown. It has given us incredible opportunities to travel and do the things that we love doing, so it’s very rewarding.
So there’s no regret that you didn’t follow a more traditional artistic career like painting?
I think in the end for us – a lesson from my father [John Olsen], being an artist, it’s a very lonely existence. You have to really be just in the studio and there’s not much communication with the outside world for months and months at a time. He often says to me, “I think one of the hardest things is that isolation”. And just, you’re spending it on your own, all day, and the canvas is in front of you. He said that’s been the toughest thing of his career. When we started Dinosaur we were, like, 19, 20 and you just didn’t feel like that. We wanted to do something together, and we wanted to do something revolving around community. And we also loved fashion, but we didn’t want to actually feel we had that isolation. We wanted somehow to have that balance between being isolated, and creating something that you can do with more people around you. Originally, when we first started Dinosaur we had this dream of being just students who had this little company and we’d spend most of our time painting, but it ended up being the other way around completely. It completely overtook us and now we hardly have any time to do any painting.
So when you do draw, it’s generally ideas for designs as opposed to, like, the church roof next door?
Yeah, it is. For me personally, because I come from such an artistic family, I also have that slight pressure that I feel like anything I create in a way gets kind looked at because of my… I feel in a way quite creatively free doing what I’m doing with Dinosaur because