Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Darnell Collection: Glimpse into Fashion's Past

Fashion's history has always been of interest to me. After all the entire business of Fashion is based on the re-designing and re-conceptualizing of fashion's past to create the new, fresh and current.  I have found some amazing treasures for my eBoutique, EVOLUTION VINTAGE over the last few years but could not imagine being given an amazing Vintage collection from virtually out of the blue.
Late 1930s silk crepe and silk fringed dress by Madeliene Vionnet. In the background is a silk velvet dress with lace panels made by an unknown dressmaker in the USA

This is exactly what happened to Australian Collector, Curator and Author Charlotte Smith.  She inherited a priceless Vintage clothing collection from her American godmother, Doris Darnell. Over 3,500 items started arriving at her door step dating from 1790-1995. 
Her collection has continued to grow (to well over 7,000 pieces) and be showcased for the world to see. It spawned two amazing books too: "Dreaming of Dior" & "Dreaming of Chanel". Each dress tells the reader a story as they pour over the lush fashion illustrations provided by Grant Cowan.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Charlotte about her amazing collection and style.

LG: What is your favorite piece(s) from the collection and why?

CS: My favourite piece is an evening dress made by Lucile, an Edwardian dressmaker, also known as Lady Duff Gordon. She created gorgeous and sumptuous collections all made with exquisite gossamer silks, gold threads, satin roses and bows, glass beads. She called her collections names like "Gowns of Emotion". My dress is dated 1911 and is made entirely of gold threads, cream silk and beautiful, dainty satin flowers. Lucile is famous for surviving the sinking of the Titanic. She, her husband and her secretary were rescued, but under scandalous circumstances - only 20 or so people were in her lifeboat when 40 could have been saved. It was claimed she hampered the rescue of other! I love this bit of history behind the designer of the gorgeous dress!

1960s sequin mini by Andres Courreges, Paris 

LG:  Why did you opt for Fashion illustrations for your book as opposed to actually photographs of the pieces?
CS: I felt photographs would have killed the romance and nostalgia of the stories behind the dresses. With a photograph you need facts and figures. With an illustration, a good story is enough to keep the magic alive. My books are meant to be a snapshot of women's lives and what they wore, not an historical account with facts and figures. Also, some of the dresses were too fragile to dress on a mannequin so the artist, Grant Cowan, was able to sketch it as I held it, and then, with artistic licence, created the 'perfect' imaginary woman to wear it. 

LG: Do you continue to collect pieces? Are you looking for anything in particular now?

CS: I am always collecting, but now collect things in my size!! I am also continually being given things so the Darnell Collection continues to be a custodian of other people's treasures. I am looking for truly elegant Valentino from the 70s, Biba and Ozzie Clark from the 60s. I am really trying to build the 60s and 70s element of my collection at the moment.

Early 1970s Dior wool jumpsuit

LG: Is the collection currently on exhibit? Where can readers see it?

CS: The collection is on exhibit in Australia at the moment with an exhibition in Queensland and then another one in Victoria in July. Only small parts of the collection are every on display at once, and always themed. I don't have anything planned for the US at the moment but would love to be asked!
1930s silk velvet evening dress

LG:  What would be the ULTIMATE piece for your collection? Your personal Fashion "Holy Grail"?
CS: A LBD by Chanel from the late 20s. She introduced a black dress as the ultimate in chic dressing in the late 1920s - 1927 to be exact. I would like one from this date! 
CoCo Chanel - LBD 1920's

LG:  How would you describe your personal style?
CS: A blend of vintage couture, high street and designer clothes. I prefer new and glamorous shoes and some element of vintage and high street. This way, I can ensure I will look individual with a unique look. It also allows me to wear haute couture and couture - vintage haute couture/couture is more affordable than new pieces. I also like to wear vintage jewelry with my newly purchased clothes. Always blending old with new! 

LG:  If you had one piece of style advice for Women what would it be?
CS: Whatever you choose - choose quality (cut, fabric, design, silhouette). It doesn't have to be a major designer name and it could be off the rack, but some clothes just get it right in their look and use quality fabric. And this goes for vintage as well as high street. 
I am in LOVE with the 2 book set and hope that her future collecting spawn a few more editions.

Want to WIN a COPY of "Dreaming of Dior"? Or a FAB sample book with 8 stories and illustrations personally SIGNED by the Author?

Comment below, on the Evolution Vintage Facebook Page or Tweet Me - Tell me how Fashion's Past has influenced YOU and your current WARDROBE. How do YOU Re-Style Fashion's Past Current?

I will pick 2 winners! Contest Closes Sat June 30th!

Good Luck and Keep DREAMING!


  1. Amanda F - TorontoJune 25, 2012 at 8:17 AM

    What a dream that would be to inherit such a collection! Bold choice to do the pictures in illustrations vs actual photos, but I think she made the right one. It maintains the air of glamour and nostalgia to give it a timeless feeling.

    Drawing from fashion through the years has shown me that there are endless possibilities to incorporate different pieces and looks into my every day. Whether it's in a small (one or two well chosen accessories) or in a big way (head to toe), there are so many options! I love being able to borrow looks from different decades too, not just one. It turns every day dressing into an adventure, and allows me to bring my own style and personality into how I dress to express myself. It also tells people a little about me, and how my mood.

    And really, something different and all your own is a fabulous feeling instead of walking amongst the crowds blending in with a cookie cutter look.

  2. I'm an avid follower of Evolution Vintage blogs! I soooo enjoy how you intertwine the narrative, interviews etc, with photo illustration to really make the text come to life. In this case, the texts and photos collab for a fashion collision that leaves us readers in awe! I'm so happy Charlotte Smith has shared her collection with us via book and these brilliant illustrations, and I love that her Fashion Grail is that LBD! For me, Coco's LBD changed everything! All over fashion's kingdom! Thanx so much, Evolution Vintage, for bringing Charlotte Smith and her inheritance to life for us!

  3. Fashion Past has taught me that trends come and go but a classic wardrobe built on basics can carry a woman from morning to night.
    Never should one try to wear something directly from the runway, but select a few pieces that one enjoys to the classics and you are ready to go looking classic but current at the same time...classics never go out of style!

  4. Thank you Evolution Vintage, for introducing me to a new "head to toe" LOVE. LOVE the story, collection of classic gems, photos, illustrations and loved the fact that I felt like I was in the room with all of you. Wow! This blog is a "classic!"