My godmother, Doris Darnell
Cruising the high seas with her "Century of Elegance' talks

Aboard the QEII in 1991 with passengers and crew standing in as models

Howard and Doris Darnell

Howard and Doris on their honeymoon in 1937
For over 70 years, Doris Darnell, a Quaker from Pennsylvania, pursued a passion for fashion by collecting vintage clothes and accessories. For Doris, the social history behind the items was as important as the items themselves and preserving them and their stories for future generations became an important part of her passion. The Darnell Collection grew out of donations and gifts from her family's wide circle of friends and acquaintances around the world. Importantly, most of the items came with accompanying letters, photographs and stories which linked them to the original owners or donors and often to the occasions to which they were worn.
Charlotte Smith inherited her godmother Doris's collection in 2004. It has continued to grow through further bequests to over 8000 pieces representing 32 different countries and is considered the largest private vintage clothing collection in Australia. Included are many internationally recognised 20th century designers such as Lucile, Vionnet, Dior, Chanel, Balenciaga, Pucci, Jean Muir, Zandra Rhodes, Westwood, Versace, Dolce & Gabana and Jil Sander among many, many other names.

Every aspect of a woman's wardrobe since 1720 to present day is included: outerwear, underwear, nightwear, day and evening dresses, wedding dresses, sportswear, shoes, hats, handbags, gloves, jewellery, lace, buttons, fans, feathers, textiles, wire hoop crinolines and bustles. Men's and children's clothing is also represented as is a large reference library of books, journals and museum exhibition catalogues.

In 2007, the collection was enhanced by a bequest of 600 items from the 19th and 20th century from the late Deborah McKeown of Adelaide and more recently, Australian Wool Innovations (AWI) donated 75 stunning contemporary Australian designer wool garments. Just this year, a Sydney collector of couture and haute couture has donated over 25 gowns including a Balenciaga LBD from 1947; an evening gown by Balmain (Ivoire label), 1979; Jacqueline de Ribes, 1970s; a stunning Haute Couture gown by Courreges dating to 1983; and more recent couture by Chanel, Mary Katranzou, Rodarte and Givenchy, among many others.

For the past 11 years Charlotte has researched (and is currently cataloguing) the collection. Aside from the importance of construction, design and the diversity of fabrics, social history and the history of fashion are important aspects of the collection on which Charlotte focuses when lecturing or exhibiting the collection. A digital resource library of the collection is in the works.

As custodian of the Darnell Collection, Charlotte recognises the importance of its role in fashion history education and its role as a design resource. The collection's mission is to preserve, develop and enhance the collection's ability to educate, interpret and inspire existing and new audiences for the better understanding and appreciation of the art of fashion. 

Charlotte regards her collection as a collection recording social history through fashion.

The backbone of the collection is the bequest of Doris Darnell, whose values of preserving the provenance of garments and accessories and honouring personal donations continues. Accepting further bequests from individuals and organisations in Australia and around the world will continue to be the principal method of acquisition and growth.