The collection was founded by my American Quaker Godmother, Doris Darnell.
My favourite and everlasting image of Doris is
of her leading the way up the impossibly narrow and steep staircase of her townhouse in Phildadelphia. Slightly out of breath, we would reach the third floor. Here, for a young girl of 6 years old, magic happened. Every inch of space was neatly filled with boxes: hat boxes, boxes marked 'gloves', shoe boxes and boxes filled with furs, boxes tagged 'men's suspenders' and thin boxes filled with silk and lace hankies. The built-in wardrobe with the immense mirrors slid back to reveal sumptuous dress-up dresses beyond my wildest dreams. Then there was the chest of drawers filled with costume jewelry, hair combs and delicate, beaded handbags. We spent hours on the third floor sitting on the tick piled carpet surrounded by her collection of treasures.
The Darnell Collection grew out of donations and gifts from her family’s wide circle of friends and acquaintances around the world. Most of the items came with accompanying letters, photographs and stories that linked them to the original owners or donors and often about the occasions to which they were worn.
Not in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine I would be surrounded by these same treasures, all lovingly catalogued and tagged and entrusted to me. Not even when the 70 boxes totalling 1200 kilos arrived at my home in Australia in 2004 did I imagine the scope of what I was unpacking. Now I know I am privileged to be the current custodian of this Collection.
Doris' passion for beautiful clothes and her skill at weaving personal stories into the Collection's soul has, no doubt, influenced me. Each time I give a talk about the Collection, I love to think of Doris standing infront of a hushed crowd intently listening to one of her amusing stories about a dress. I also thrive on passing on her knowledge, typed into large green notebooks, about each piece when I prepare for an exhibition.
Doris lives on in the collection, which was originally known as The Darnell Collection and now called The Charlotte Smith Fashion Collection, a name change in recognition of the new direction and breadth of the Collection from its origins to what it is has now become: 9000+ items and growing weekly through bequests from and purchases made around the world.
My mission as the current custodian is to build on the extraordinary historical background of the collection and to bring it to life as a resource by working with national and international galleries, fashion events and global companies who, by aligning with the collection, make the point that 'the past inspires the present and creates the future'.
The Charlotte Smith Fashion Collection is recognised as one of ten significant private fashion collections in the world.