Saturday, August 27, 2011

Dreaming Of Chanel

Chanel suit, 1960's
There is an exhibition on in Brisbane at the moment at QUT Garden's Point, to coincide with Mercedes Fashion week called Dreaming of Chanel.  It is a only a snippet of  The Darnell Collection, a 195 year history of women's fashion.
An American woman, Doris Darnell collected costumes of yesteryear and wore them flamboyantly in her day to day life and got quite a reputation for it, as a result people gave her fabulous clothing from their attics and their stories.  Her entire collection was given to her.  Doris, all those years ago had the foresight to document the stories of these garments and the women who wore them.
While Doris was well into her senior years she bequeathed her collection onto her god daughter here in Australia.  She sent several boxes, 1200 kilograms and over 3000 frocks and accessories.  She had tried to donate the collection to a museum somewhere in America, but they only wanted the Gucci's, Prada's, Dior's, all the clothes of designers whose stories are already told.  Doris wanted the collection to stay together, as they tell a story about unknown seamstresses and dressmakers.  It was a full bodied account of what women wore.  The collection tells the stories of women who have lived, laughed, loved and lost.  It is AMAZING.
Her God daughter is Charlotte Smith (what a lucky woman), who is keeping her collection alive.  Since she has been the beneficiary of the collection it has grown in size to over 6000 items and countless more stories.  Charlotte Smith has written a 2 books about the collection. The latest is "Dreaming of Chanel".  It is a collection of the stories of the women who once wore these frocks.  Rather than photos of frocks the book is fabulously illustrated by Grant Cowan.   I think my love of patterns stems from the illustrations on the packets.
I love that Charlotte Smith and the Darnell Collection has given these Garments another life.  I have mega wardrobe envy.  I love to get a frock with a story.  I love being the custodian of Rita's Dresses I will always think of Rita and the stories she has told me when I wear her dresses.  With the Darnell Collection, dressmakers like Ivy Spooner from Towoomba, Queensland  and Kate Ludwig from Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, who perhaps would only be remembered by their families, will now be known by people for generations to come.
I was lucky enough to coincide my visit to this exhibition with a visit by Charlotte Smith, who was talking about the collection.  I seriously want to be best friends with this woman.
If anyone is in Bris Vegas, you have to see this exhibition.  It is on until October 16th.  Otherwise look for this book, "dreaming of Chanel" is amazing!! 

Barbra Coty, 1951.
In Australia in the late 40's,  Barbra Coty joined a weekly sewing circle at the church hall and proved to be so gifted that she won a scholarship to East Sydney Tech College.  This is her Graduation dress. This dress literally being inspired by Dior's La Corolle silhouette, inspired by the petals of a flower as each skirt panel is the shape of a petal.  Fabulous.  Barbra couldn't find spotted silk, so she screen printed her own.
Fabulous Illustration

1960's Pucci.

1960's Dior suit.

1940's Ceil Chapman dress, made of lace silk and horsehair.

1950's "falling in love" dress

1956 swimsuit

Opera coat dating 1903, stunning.

Love the shape is this late 40's taffeta no.

Ivy Spooner and 1920's silk organdie dress

1920's silk, chiffon and glass beads

Mary Quaint and a paper polyester dress, 1960's

My favourite. 1970's Jean Muir.
1937, custom made Coco Chanel Wedding gown

Lace was made especially for this dress

Fabulous buckle detail


  1. Oh! I've worn that Barbara Coty dress!!

    Teehee! I took part in some modeling of the Darnell collection when Charlotte was in Melbourne. I even got to wear her fabulous Versace shoes. She's an incredible woman and it's so wonderful that she can show this collection to people.

    I had such a blast doing the modeling - I also wore a gold brocade Ceil Chapman dress with fur trim.

  2. The gold brocade dress was there too, it just didn't show up very well in my photos. I want to make a fur trim dress!!