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Dreaming of Dior: Every Dress Tells a Story Hardcover – April 13, 2010


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Dreaming of Dior: Every Dress Tells a Story + Dreaming of Chanel: Vintage Dresses, Timeless Stories + The Little Dictionary of Fashion: A Guide to Dress Sense for Every Woman
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books; 1st Ed. edition (April 13, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 143918755X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439187555
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #90,055 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Charlotte Smith is Curator of The Darnell Collection. She was born in Hong Kong to an English mother and an American father. She grew up with her brother and sister on the east coast of America and graduated with a degree in Art History from Hollins College in Virginia. Charlotte has worked for art dealers, ran her own business manufacturing decorative lampshades and was the proprietor of a French country antiques shop. Her interests include horse riding, interior decorating, writing and gardening. She has lived and worked in America, England, France and and now resides in Australia, in the Blue Mountains with her daughter. 

Charlotte's fascination with fashion began with a special vintage dress at the age of three. Since inheriting her godmother's vast vintage clothing collection, her passion for fashion has grown to include the history of fashion and its significant impact on society. Charlotte is involved with exhibitions of her collection around the country, gives lectures and talks, works with fashion and design students and is featured on television and radio. 

 
Grant Cowan has worked as an illustrator on magazines like Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour and Red magazine. He studied fashion design and lived in London before moving to Australia to teach fashion illustration. Grant is a freelance fashion illustrator and works  with fashion schools in Sydney.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Inheriting a priceless vintage clothing collection containing more than three thousand pieces sounds like every woman’s dream come true.

But all I could think after my American godmother Doris Darnell told me her invaluable legacy was on its way across the world to me was: ‘What on earth am I going to do with it?’

Doris’s collection had been a lifetime labour of love for her, more precious than any treasure I knew of, and she had chosen me as custodian. I was simply overwhelmed.

That is, until the first box arrived at my home in the Blue Mountains. I peeled back the packing tape, pushed aside layers of white tissue and caught my breath at what lay inside. It was a gown of gossamer silk in the palest cream with silver beads glistening over and beyond the bodice; panels of frothy chiffon slipped through my hands as I raised it to the light. I had unearthed my first treasure. I was instantly enchanted, as Doris knew I would be.

For the next three months Christmas came every day. Out came strapless ballgowns with vast, sumptuous skirts of taffeta and moiré silk, velvet hats bedecked with exotic plumes, organdie party dresses in every style and hue … and every stitch, every sequin, ribbon and silk petal reminded me of Doris.

When I was a child growing up in Philadelphia, Doris was the ultimate fairy godmother. Tall and elegant, flamboyant and utterly charming, she was exotic and unpredictable in a thrilling way. She always dressed in clothes from a time long ago, swishing bustle skirts, lace blouses and trailing feather boas. Clothes that no one else wore, and no one else could wear with quite the sense of drama that Doris did.

I grew up thinking everyone had a special room in their house full of nineteenth-century hats and crocodile handbags, and that every woman had - or should have - wardrobes and trunks filled with rainbows of shimmering gowns.

Each time I visited Doris, the two of us would climb the impossibly narrow and steep staircase to the top floor of her townhouse and lose ourselves for an hour or two amid her latest acquisitions and old favourites. For me this was where magic happened, brought alive by Doris’s wonderful stories about the dresses and the women who wore them. Her eyes would sparkle as she recounted the adventures of 1920s flappers, Edwardian ladies at high tea, new brides, debutantes and pioneer women. And it is these stories that make her collection unique.

Doris’s collection is a spellbinding journey spanning two hundred and five years, from 1790 to 1995, and encompassing famous couturiers like Lucile, Madeline Vionnet, Dior, Galanos and Jean Muir, but not one bit of it was purchased by her. They are all gifts from friends and acquaintances who either knew or had heard of her legendary ‘hobby’. As the Quaker saying goes, every piece was ‘given in love and in trust’. Doris was a Quaker her whole life, and while her passion for clothes and accessories was frowned upon as immodest and frivolous by the elders of her religion, her passion remained as irrepressible as her character.

In the spirit of love and trust, Doris devoted the last few decades of her life to sharing her collection with the world. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Doris became well known throughout the east coast of the United States and beyond for her ‘living fashion’ talks, which she would give in museums, college halls and even on cruises around the world, including the QEII, donating her speaking fees to the Quaker Society of Friends. Her audiences were invariably so enchanted by her shows that they would donate some of their own treasures to the collection, from a great aunt’s pair of Victorian dancing slippers to the latest designer gowns by Chanel and Dior. And so the collection continued to grow, more and more stories were added to share, until the baton was passed on to me.

The treasures that lay before me were worth a fortune. Selling them would set me up for life, but enticing as that thought was, I could never consider such a thing or the idea of them being broken up by donation to museums or other collections. I still had no idea what to do with the collection, but somehow, like Doris, I would find a way to share it, and to keep it growing. Over the years, Doris had loaned me some of these gowns to wear, for a ball in Oxfordshire, a wedding in Monaco … I had so many stories I could add too.

Then, among the last of Doris’s boxes, I found her catalogue notes - the notes of all her stories, of the dresses and the women who wore them. As I pored over Doris’s words - her wit, wonder and wisdom - the true value of what I had been bequeathed hit home. This wasn’t a mere collection of beautiful things, it was a collection of life. Women’s lives. Tiny snapshots of our joys and disappointments, our entrances and exits triumphant and tragic - and sometimes tragically hilarious.

And so, in the spirit of love and trust, I - and the inimitable Doris Darnell - share some of those moments with you now.

Charlotte Smith

Dearest Charlotte,
You cannot imagine how happy I am to learn that you are thrilled to have me pass on to you my collection of clothing and accessories of other eras
.

Ever since I was a teenager, I have loved to dress up and I still do! Family and friends and friends of friends heard of the old trunk in my attic where I stored my dress-up clothes and started adding to my collection as they cleared out ancestral attics and wondered what to do with all that stuff. That’s when my collection really started to grow!

It’s been hard, if not impossible, for me to turn down any gifts, because I soon discovered that I was not just collecting dress-up clothes, but, in addition, each piece was a springboard to history. Each donor told me the story of the woman or man who wore the clothing, fascinating stories of other times, sometimes full of joy, other times grief, sometimes bitterness, other times heartache. In my opinion these stories make my clothing three dimensional and in some odd way the people who wore the clothing come alive again in the telling. I am giving you all the stories so that they can continue to be an extension of each outfit.

You ask me what everything I am giving you is worth if you have to declare a value. I have a hard time with that question. I have never bought a single thing nor has anything been appraised. I am giving you a part of my life. I have been a trusted custodian and I am delighted that you see yourself in that same capacity.

The contents of our home are insured for a modest amount with no mention of my clothing. If our house burned down and we lost everything, all of the stories, the glimpses of history, would have no value without the clothing. Money could not replace what I had lost, so why insure?

If I had to come up with something, I would call my gift to you ‘Old-fashioned clothing with stories about the people who wore the clothes’. They have been treasured by me, but never evaluated. I had planned to leave everything to you in my will, dear godchild, but I am 87 years of age and feel now is the time. So here it is with my blessing!

Love, love, Doris

© 2009 Charlotte Smith

More About the Author

Charlotte Smith is Curator of The Darnell Collection. She was born in Hong Kong to an English mother and an American father. She grew up with her brother and sister on the east coast of America and graduated with a degree in Art History from Hollins College in Virginia. Charlotte has worked for art dealers, ran her own business manufacturing decorative lampshades and was the proprietor of a French country antiques shop. Her interests include horse riding, interior decorating, writing and gardening. She has lived and worked in America, England, France and and now resides in Australia, in the Blue Mountains with her daughter.

Charlotte's fascination with fashion began with a special vintage dress at the age of three. Since inheriting her godmother's vast vintage clothing collection, her passion for fashion has grown to include the history of fashion and its significant impact on society. Charlotte is involved with exhibitions of her collection around the country, gives lectures and talks, works with fashion and design students and is featured on television and radio.

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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I bought this book for my coffee table for decoration purposes and I love it!
Sadie Haidari
As the title states, this is a great little book to get for your loved one as a "just because" gift.
Marc
Charlotte Smith inherited a collection of beautiful vintage clothing from her godmother, Doris Darnell.
BermudaOnion

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Himalayan Consulting on April 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover
From the introduction, in which author Charlotte Smith describes how her godmother Doris Darnell presented her with a priceless collection of couture clothing, to the exquisite illustrations, to the stories behind each ensemble, this book is pure magic.

Now the curator of the Darnell Collection, Smith wrote this book as a tribute to her "fairy" godmother as well as the women who wore the amazing outfits. Every dress (yes, they are mostly all dresses) has a story, whether it's laced with anecdotes about famous people, spiced with humor or infused with poignant recollections of loss.

Inspiring and full of affection, this book is something to be shared, not only among fashionistas, but as a celebration of bonds between women.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By JuneofJune on October 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My attention is on the illustrations, lovely and creative to aid the imagination when thinking about some of the stories and people. The book will make a wonderful gift to those are love fashion, art, and vintage clothing.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By BermudaOnion VINE VOICE on July 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Charlotte Smith inherited a collection of beautiful vintage clothing from her godmother, Doris Darnell. Her godmother collected not only the clothing but the stories of the people who wore them. At first, Charlotte was overwhelmed and didn't know what to do with all of the clothing (over 3,000 pieces), but once she read the stories, she knew she had to share the collection somehow. She couldn't bear the thought of it being broken up, so she didn't want to donate it to museums. Luckily for us, she has created a beautiful book.

Dreaming of Dior by Charlotte Smith is an absolutely gorgeous book - from the flocked dust jacket to the beautiful endpapers to the heavy weight paper to the stunning illustrations. Because of the high quality paper used, this book has some heft to it. After a short introduction, approximately 140 items of the collection are shown off in the pages of the book. The left hand page tells a story about someone who wore the dress and the right hand page features a frame-worthy illustration by Grant Cowan. These garments date from the 1800s to the modern day. The stories tell about the person who wore them and when I read them, I felt like I was living vicariously through them. I particularly enjoyed the stories that featured the author or her family.

I've never been much of a "girly-girl," but I adored this fabulous book! First of all, the illustrations are just amazing - bright and vibrant on vivid backgrounds - and they were so much fun to study. It's hard for me to describe just how beautiful they are. The stories are wonderful too - they made me dream of times past. I'm sure I'll continue to flip through this book for years! This is a must have for every fashion lover out there.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By BookLover on July 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I am almost done w/Dreaming of Dior. It's insightful, alluring, charming and maintains the mystique of bygone times, the adventures of others and the confluence of events experienced by the original owners of these fashion pieces.

I'm moved by many of the stories who owned and wore these outfits,, intrigued by the fashion items themselves and I understand completely the author's and her godmother's, desire to share all of this with us.

Something inside me sighed with relief as I began reading this book. I was relieved to be able to immerse myself in a book that celebrated each woman who adorned herself with these outfits. I was relieved to know that this yearning I've had about fashion, especially vintage fashion, was shared by others with how it relates to the whys, hows and whens of an outfit and its previous owner.

I love the illustrations, too, but I wish there were photos of the actual pieces accompanying each story. I understand why there are not, but checking out the pieces online, worn by models, has helped me picture them better.

I recommend this book for those not just into fashion, but for those who appreciate all aspects of womanliness, whose inner yen wants to be expressed by outer dressing.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Marc on May 23, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My wife has an affinity for fashion books, and wanted to begin growing her collection. This is the second book I purchased for her collection. She loves the book, and has added it to our coffee table.

The hardcover book is bound nicely as well has having good quality paper. The images are also very crisp and colorful.

As the title states, this is a great little book to get for your loved one as a "just because" gift. It's priced great, and with Prime you can't beat the free shipping!

Amazon also has special boxes that they use for their books, so you're not getting some huge box just for a book. Good job Amazon!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Sophisticat on April 3, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I enjoyed the drawings and the stories behind the dresses but would have liked to have seen the real thing
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Barbara L. Cano on November 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book is a charming fairytale- only it's real. The author is restrained and meticulous.

It's hard to believe that quality inherent in this type of clothing have gone the way of rotary dial.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Sadie Haidari on May 16, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book for my coffee table for decoration purposes and I love it! It adds sophistication to my home!
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