about

Doris Darnell, in her 80's, modelling her favorite dress from the 60's
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 5500 pieces representing 23 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 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 most recently, Australian Wool Innovations (AWI) donated 75 stunning contemporary Australian designer wool garments.

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.

For the past 6 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. An on-line resource catalogue of the collection is planned for 2012.

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.