10 June 2010

From Debra McGuire at the Las Vegas Review-Journal - June 07, 2010

'Dreaming of Dior' celebrates the art of dressing
We members of the cult of the closet, we know who we are.

We remember what we were wearing ''when’’ — when we went to our first prom, on our first date, the night we met “the one,’’ when we got engaged — even possibly what we wore to divorce court.

Clothing serves as signposts, as armor, as a uniform — literally or otherwise. We have outfits we wear to cheer ourselves up or when we want to be comfortable on a busy day at work. We have ''fat clothes’’ that hide a few extra pounds, dresses that make us look skinny, blouses that show off our eyes, a pair of jeans that we love like an old friend.

And, if we’re fortunate, we have at least a few items in our closet that make us drool. It might be a designer handbag we lusted after for a long time and finally splurged on. It might be a gorgeous wedding dress, wrapped and protected in tissue paper and garment bag. A knockout pair of shoes. A little something-something that cost a fortune and makes us feel like a million.

Now, imagine that a fairy godmother bestows upon you a massive collection of irreplaceable vintage, collectible clothing. Gowns with a story. Dresses with a past — of dances, weddings, costume balls, wild motorcycle rides through the south of France, stagecoaches,  ’60s London parties ’til dawn, dates with tycoons and princes — the gossamer fabric of dreams.

We members of the cult of the closet, let us try not to turn green from ill-disguised envy as we now contemplate Charlotte Smith, the owner of such a collection and author of "Dreaming of Dior." The book includes lovely art by Grant Cowan. He has drawn for Harper’s Bazaar and Glamour, and teaches illustration in Australia.

Smith, curator of The Fashion and Textile Gallery in Sydney, Australia, played dress-up in some rather fabulous closets as a child, the third floor of godmother Doris Darnell’s Philadelphia townhouse. Darnell loved vintage clothing with a passion. She collected it, wore it, lectured on it and, most importantly, documented its stories — because fabulous garments each have a story, a history. Darnell was a Quaker, a faith of the plain, simple and unassuming, but her love for gorgeous clothes could not be doused by the tenets of a gentle faith.

So Darnell collected, and as friends and acquaintances heard of her passion, they contributed favorite pieces, along with their stories — of the woman who was fined for refusing to wear a corset, the bride whose groom spent the wedding night in jail for possession of bootleg whiskey.

Eventually, Darnell decided to pass on her priceless collection of more than 3,000 pieces to the person she knew loved them as much as she did, her goddaughter, Charlotte Smith. So every day for three months, boxes arrived at Smith’s home in Australia, bringing ball gowns, flapper dresses, a couture pink wool mini, Victorian day dresses, French lingerie, silk, chiffon, velvet — fashion spanning 205 years, from 1790 to 1995, from Lucile, Dior, Madeline Vionnet, Galanos, Chanel — the costume of the fairest of dreams.

"Dreaming of Dior" is a fairy tale picture book for grown-ups who love fabulous clothes. Smith tells the stories of dozens of the outfits in her collection, with gorgeous accompanying illustrations by Cowan. But the stories about the clothes are really about the spirited, interesting, determined women who wore them. Some of them defied convention. Some endured tragedy. Some had glorious, adventurous lives, while others lived quietly, anonymously — but their dresses survive, treasured, cared for and admired, to speak for the women who loved and wore them.

1 comment:

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