Million-dollar Wardrobe to Stun Brisbane Fashionistas


Million-dollar Wardrobe to Stun Brisbane Fashionistas
Katherine Feeney
August 13, 2011

Charlotte Smith with a selection of the vintage designer garments she inherited from her god mother.
Charlotte Smith with a selection of the vintage designer garments she inherited from her god mother. Photo: Edwina Pickles
Conservative estimates put the value of Charlotte Smith's wardrobe at around one million dollars.
Contained within a cavernous clothing vault three metres deep by four metres wide, myriad designer creations jostle for space surrounded by the shoes and jewels and lingerie that comprise Ms Smith's splendid collection.
But this month, some of Ms Smith's most prized pieces will disappear from her closet for the benefit of Brisbane style voyeurs.
Chanel suit from the Darnell Collection, Sydney.Click for more photos

Treasures from a million-dollar wardrobe

Chanel suit from the Darnell Collection, Sydney.
  • Chanel suit from the Darnell Collection, Sydney.
  • The Darnell Collection, Sydney.
  • The Darnell Collection, Sydney.
  • Pucci skirt from the Darnell Collection, Sydney.

Dreaming of Chanel is the latest fashion exhibition to hit town, following a string shown at the Queensland Art Gallery including Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones, the Easton Pearson retrospective and the blockbuster GoMA showValentino: Past/Present/Future.
It opens at the Queensland University of Technology's art museum on August 26, in conjunction with the 2011 Brisbane Fashion Festival, and Ms Smith says the display of 40 garments and accessories will be a tribute to the timeless style and verve of legendary French designer Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel.
“In general Chanel just represents that passion and striving for perfection - a woman who in a very male-dominated world could come up with something very different,” Ms Smith says.
“She was the one who showed women how to dress casually, who used jerseys and fabrics not commonly worn, and, of course, who introduced the little black dress.''
Built from a vast array of clothing she inherited from her vivacious American godmother, a Quaker named Doris Darnell, Ms Smith's fashion anthology features more than 5,559 pieces of vintage clothing and accessories.
The Darnell Collection is considered the largest private collection of clothing in Australia, and its owner has been making improvements since it came into her possession seven years ago, and publishing two books based on it -Dreaming of Chanel, from which the exhibition takes its title, and Dreaming of Dior.
Though the labels stitched to most of the pieces read as a who's who of international fashion – garments by Dior, Lucile, Vionnet, Balenciaga and Pucci will be displayed alongside Chanel – Ms Smith believes the most valuable items are by no means the most expensive.
There are pieces bequeathed by 'real people' with stories far removed from the fairytales of wealth and glamour, she says.
Ms Smith tells of one such article: a dress bequeathed to her godmother with the legend of its former owner intact - an American pioneering woman who travelled from the east coast of America to Minnesota on a covered wagon.
“The dress is stained, patched beyond belief,” Ms Smith says. “It's made of a brown, little-tiny-flowery calico, and it's got this Peter Pan collar with lace around the collar but the lace on the collar doesn't match the cuffs, and you can tell the dress was worn and worn and worn – it was probably her only 'best dress'.

''And it was worn to the point that she ran out of the original fabric pieces to be able to patch it up properly, so she started taking pieces from whatever was lying around the house that could be spared.
“That to me is the essence of the exhibition – of fashion, of why these clothes are valuable – because if you went to sell it without telling the story, no one would buy it, but when you tell the story of how rare something in that bad condition was to someone who had nothing, then suddenly it's worth something because it speaks of something you'll never ever see.”
A concept pertinent to lovers of fashion currently caught at juncture between disposable consumption and frugal conservation – it is the story, or the clothes, that really maketh the woman?
Dreaming of Chanel, an exhibition about the dreams attached to pieces of clothing, brings to life the garments contained in the book Dreaming of Chanel by Charlotte Smith with garments from her Darnell collection. It is current at the QUT Art Museum from August 26 to October 16.