Charlotte Smith, the curator of the Fashion and Textile Gallery in Sydney, inherited over 3,000 dresses from her godmother, Doris. The collection came with a catalogue of notes detailing the stories that revolved around each frock and the woman who wore it. Her book, Dreaming of Dior, pairs these stories with illustrations of the clothing in her collection. Charlotte brought one rolling rack’s worth of her collection to the 92YTribeca this week, where she showed them off for an audience of all women, save one dude.
Pulling a black raw silk Dior cocktail dress from the sixties, she told us how Doris sent her the frock when she was working in Paris. “I never thought I would wear it!” Charlotte joked before reaching for a sequined pink knitted minidress she wore to lunch with the curator of the Philadelphia Art Museum when she was 19, and again to her book’s launch party this past Friday.
Clearly this is a woman who loves classic styles, as evidenced by her opinion of modern-starlet dressing. “The women at the Met ball looked like complete tarts!” All of them? “The one that Sarah Jessica Parker wore, that gold one, that was quite beautiful,” she told us after the lecture. Parker wore Halston, an iconic label of the seventies — one of Smith’s favorite fashion decades.
Smith also loves the glamorous dresses of the thirties: “1930’s Hollywood didn’t want actresses showing cleavage, but they didn’t say anything about backs!” she joked before pulling out a stunning thirties floor-length backless black lace gown. “I wore this when I was invited to the Black and White Ball at Blenheim Palace.” She was stood up by her date that night, but ended up dancing with the Maharajah of Jaipur. “Never bring a date to a ball! It’s more fun that way!”
Smith also had some words of wisdom to share with aspiring designers. “I always tell design students, if you’re going to reference a style, get it right. This young woman made a fantastic dress out of wool and called it a crinoline, and it wasn’t the shape of crinoline at all, it was more like a bubble. Knowing where something came from, where the idea came from, and applying it correctly makes or breaks the dress.” See some of Charlotte’s collection as illustrated in her book, in the slideshow.