Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Friday, August 17, 2012

Australia's New Museum of Fashion

With so many of us fascinated by fashion, and with so many of us blogging about it, reading about it in magazines, browsing the latest collections on and of course buying it, it's surprising that there is no dedicated fashion museum in Australia, nor other cities, for that matter. Nor more fashion exhibitions?

Museums are changing – slowly. For years the V&A in London seemed to skimp on fashion exhibitions, however that does appear to be changing with the newly renovated Fashion Galleries. (There are also great online archives available here: The Met in New York also falls short on fashion shows – I was disappointed in the recent 'Schiaparelli-Prada-Impossible Conversations' exhibition (above, images via Vogue), but I'm not sure what I was expecting? Schiaparelli herself? And whenever I go to the Musée Galliera in Paris, it always seems to be closed. (Sadly, it's now closed until spring 2013.)

Perhaps I feel nothing has ever come close to the extraordinary show of Audrey Hepburn's personal clothes at Sydney's Powerhouse many years ago. Did any of you see it? It was moving because we knew who wore them; how much love she had for them. Audrey was more than a clothes horse. Her best friend was Givenchy. The woman adored fashion. And it showed. {Image from Funny Face.}

This is why exhibitions need to be more than just galleries of clothes. They need to tell the stories of who wore those clothes. And why the wearers loved them. Fashion is so much more than just clothes don't you think? It is so much more than hemlines and heels, and what's been in season or 'on-trend' (hate that phrase) for the past ten decades. It is even more than an expression of individuality, class, status, style – or indeed history. Fashion is a mirror of our lives. Clothes sit on our bodies for so long, it is no wonder they become part of us. Part of who we are.

This is why I love the concept that author, custodian and curator of the famous Darnell Collection, Charlotte Smith has conceived.

A new Australian fashion museum that reveals the narrative behind the clothes as much as the details of the garments themselves.

I was fortunate to meet the glamorous (it takes a lot to pull off gold lamé at 9AM!) Charlotte Smith yesterday at a fashion breakfast to launch 'Fashion Meets Fiction', a fantastic new exhibition at the Burrinja Gallery from Nov to Feb. The author of the bestselling books Dreaming of Dior and Dreaming of Chanel, Smith has some stories to tell. She told of how she inherited her godmother Doris Darnell's treasured collection of dresses and outfits, collected over 70 years, which was shipped in 72 tea chests from the US. She told of how she found, in those 72 tea chests, priceless Cartier diamond brooches (hidden between old Victorian petticoats so Customs didn't find them!). Plus perfectly cut Chanel gowns and unimaginably beautiful Dior suits made by the man himself. The collection – the largest private vintage clothing collection in Australia – soon became a book, then another book, and now it's going to form the basis of a dedicated fashion museum. Australia's first.

What was even more interesting than hearing about this amazing new museum was hearing about the stories behind the outfits that will go in it. (Such as these, above.) 

There was one story of a dress that had been worn by a woman crossing the Wild West to start a new life in the Gold Rush Fever of California. It was her only good dress. Perhaps her only dress? For years, she altered that dress to reflect the trends, mended it, patched it, and held it together with love. Who knows what that dress went through? But it was significant enough for the owner's family to have passed it down, from generation to generation. That dress has become part of their family's history.

This is, I hope, what Australia's new fashion museum will show. 

Thanks to Charlotte Smith for a wonderful morning. I can't wait for your idea to come to fruition.

PS No details of the museum have been released, however it is going to be in or near Sydney, and it is going to be soon. I suspect the launch will be 2013. But I will let you know. In the meantime, visit for details. Or if you want to see the 'Fashion Meets Fiction' exhibition from November onwards, it's at Burrinja, 351 Glenfern Road, Upwey.


  1. I love a boat neck how is that white top on Audrey!.

    Seriously though interested to read this post my neighbour and family friend the late Chris Jacovides' extraordinary fashion collection is at the Sydney Powerhouse Museum but a dedicated fashion museum can't wait.

    Im sure you will keep us up to date

    1. How fortunate to have had such an interesting neighbour. Haven't been to the Powerhouse for years, but heading to Sydney tomorrow so may well go. Thanks for the reminder smr. Such a great venue. x
      PS Love your comments. All so insightful.

  2. Doesn't that blonde woman in the orange (no getting away from it) dress look like Ita!

  3. How exciting! We have fabric from my G,G,G Great Grandmothers dress which has been passed down alas it is only a swatch not the whole thing!
    But you remind me of some lovely fabrics that I have that have the most amazing history...I must go and find them and perhaps do a post of their history!!!!! The girls are fine Sydney daughter has been a constant on ABC radio for some weeks now commenting on her very special softball team but as it is on at 5.00a.m I have not heard it...very sad!!!

  4. I went to a vintage frock show last night. It came about when a lady was cleaning out her mum's earthquake damaged house and found her mum's clothes in the back of the wardrobe. She decided they were too good to throw away and as they had stories behind them she wanted to share them. Well it was a fantastic night out. Along with her mum's clothes she got more from op shops along with accessories and her husband did a brilliant audio/ visual segments introducing each decade. Audience members who had dressed up were invited onto the catwalk for a parade as well. It was an absolutely fabulous night out and brought back lots of memories for everyone there. We need more occasions like this to keep past fashions alive.

    1. What a wonderful night Angela! It sounds amazing. I agree - we need more knowledge of the way clothes were made in the past. The cutting techniques were incredible.

  5. There used to be an amazing shop in Adelaide called "The Banana Room" (in North Adelaide). The woman who ran it sold vintage clothing before it became fashionable. There was an original Chanel dress from the 20's in there. Sadly, after she died her daughter didn't want to keep it all going, so the whole collection was sold off at Auction in Sydney in 2004. It was such a little goldmine... love that there's going to be a Fashion Museum.

  6. I've heard so much about The Banana Room. Such a shame she didn't keep the collection together. It would be worth even more now. xx

  7. Wow, how fortunate to attend the Audrey exhibition. Her clothes by Givenchy were just amazing.

    I'm very excited to think that Charlotte Smith is planning to open a fashion museum!

    I think my absolute favourite fashion exhibition so far was the Valentino retrospective which I saw in Paris. It was great that they brought it out to Brisbane too....I believe faux fuschia attended!


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