Couture trove an ongoing adventure, full of tales

Tue Dec 7, 2010 11:36pm EST
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By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - An evening gown embroidered with gold thread. A silk batik kaftan. A wedding dress made for a beloved niece. The stories of women's lives each has to tell.

Australian fashion curator Charlotte Smith immediately fell in love with a collection of more than 3,000 dresses and accessories -- many designer originals -- she inherited from her American godmother, a renowned couture collector, six years ago. But she had no idea how her life was going to change.

"I'd never even considered vintage clothing before. Vintage clothing was used clothing, it was other peoples' clothing," Smith told Reuters.

"That was my initial impression and it remained that way until it arrived and I started pulling out the collection. It's been quite an adventure."

Now the collection, dating from 1790 to the present and including originals by Dior, Ungaro, Lucile and Chanel, has grown to 6,000 pieces and Smith has published two books chronicling stories of the dresses and the women who wore them, including the new "Dreaming of Chanel."

Many of the tales were written down in a book by Smith's godmother, Doris Darnell, that came to Smith along with the original collection. All are true.

"I think there's something about stories about fashion and dresses, you have the idea of fantasizing about wearing them. It's part of being the scene -- not jealousy, but putting yourself into it in a simple and inexpensive way," Smith told Reuters from Australia, where she moved after a busy life in Paris, London and New York.

"It's like men and sports. They're always sort of fantasizing about making the goal that, you know, wins it for their team and their country."   Continued...