If couture could talk: collection charts women's lives

Wed Nov 11, 2009 12:46am EST
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By Miral Fahmy

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - Owning more than 3,000 dresses, many of them designer, many from a era long gone, is a dream for most women. For Sydney-based fashion curator Charlotte Smith, it's a reality.

Smith, who handles the collections of The Fashion Gallery at the Australian branch of internationally renowned school L'Ecole Superieure des Arts et techniques de la Mode (ESMOD), inherited a trove of priceless clothing from her American godmother and renowned couture collector Doris Darnell.

Dating from 1790 to 1995, the clothes -- originals by Dior, Ungaro, Lucile and Chanel, wedding dresses from centuries ago, handbags and plummed hats -- were given to Darnell over the years by friends and acquaintances who knew of her love of dressing up.

But it was only when Smith unearthed her godmother's book of stories about the dresses and the women who wore them that she discovered the true significance of what she had inherited.

"This is not just a collection of dresses, it's a social memoir of sorts," Smith, who moved to Australia after many party-filled years in Paris, London and New York, told Reuters.

"This is a collection of lives, snapshots of women's joys, disappointments, their entrances and exits, their changing role in society. Whether you're a man or a woman, everyone has a special outfit that triggers a memory and Doris was collecting to keep these stories alive. This is what I want to share."

Smith's recently published book, "Dreaming of Dior," showcases 140 outfits from the collection that became her godmother's life-long labor of love.

Beautifully illustrated by Grant Cowan, who teaches at ESMOD, the book is also an entertaining, at times poignant, look into the lives of hundreds of women through the ages.   Continued...