Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet as worn by Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. What more can I say except this dress looked much better in person.
Also on view were these dresses from the 1996 version of Pride and Prejudice. These dresses belonged to Miss Bingley and her sister, Mrs. Hurst.
Probably my favorite costumes from the exhibition were the ones from Out of Africa. The designer Milena Canonero was nominated for a Best Costume Design Oscar, but she did not win. That’s a bit of a shame, actually, because the costumes were quite influential in starting a trend for “safari clothes.”
Here’s another ensemble as worn by Meryl Streep in Out of Africa. I really do wish you could see just how wonderful this suit is, with construction of silk. Truly, it was my favorite.
This wedding dress is from a 1996 production of Hamlet. Yes, Hamlet. I don’t remember this film, but director Kenneth Branagh set it in the Victorian era, rather than the Middle ages of the original. I didn’t quite know what to make of this dress, but I loved the way it was displayed, with the mirror view of the front. It was worn by Julie Christie in the role of Queen Gertrude.
I really, really disliked this dress, and I can’t decide if it is the dress or the portrayal. It was worn by Billie Piper as Fanny Price in Mansfield Park, and while I’m quite sympathetic toward Miss Price, I hated the way Piper played her. Oh, well, the dress is all sparkly and looks like something a modern mother of the groom would wear if trying to compete with the bride. Remember, this is a Regency era film, and the dress just did not look true to era.
A better known Jane Austin adaptation was the 1996 film, Emma. Played by Gwyneth Paltrow, it was a sweet movie, convincingly played. The fact that Paltrow’s figure was perfect for Regency dresses helped, though on this wedding dress, the mannequin was a bit too busty, and thus the dress is riding up where it should not be. Still, I like this and the other Emma costume.
Again, as mentioned before, the way the tour winds through the house opened up opportunities to show off more than one view of some of the clothes. This is the veil on Emma’s wedding dress.
And here is the second dress from Emma, though the lighting was terrible. This was worn in the picnic scene.
This is the wedding dress worn by Frances O’Connor in the 2000 film, Madame Bovary. It was set in the mid to late 1850, in the era of hoops and pagoda sleeves.
And another dress from Madame Bovary.
What was really interesting, was that not all the costumes were in the historic house. There was one in the visitor’s center, and another, this one, was in one of the gift shops. This is a costume from Tess, the 1979 Roman Polanski adaptation of Tess of the d’Ubervilles. The dress was in a glass prison, but that allowed one to see it on all sides.
I think this is supposed to be late 1880s, after the bustle collapsed and sleeves started getting puffy. It’s a lot of look.
And finally, there was this dress, which is not a film costume, but is rather, a reproduction of Cornelia Vanderbilt’s 1924 wedding dress. It was re-created by Cosprop, the company that produced the exhibition. I find it interesting that the original does not exist, or maybe it does and is too fragile to display. But for some reason, very few of the Vanderbilt family’s clothing survive. You would think that with all those rooms they’d have plenty of storage space.
Biltmore House was opened to the public in 1930. From what I’ve read, the family was in need of cash, as most of their assets were tied up in the house and the many acres of land. The estate was a working farm, and some money was being made from dairy cows, but it was during the Depression and money was tight. The city of Asheville asked Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil, who had inherited the house in 1925, to open it to the public to draw tourists to the area. For years only a small part of the house plus the gardens were open, with the family continuing to live there at times.
Over the years, the business at Biltmore has grown considerably. The dairy is long gone, but in its place is a popular winery. There are two hotels on the property, and a number of restaurants and cafes. Much more of the house has been opened, including the downstairs area where the servants worked and lived.
What I found interesting on this trip was how Biltmore seems to have looked at other more touristy, attractions to increase revenue. One thing that stood out was how they are now targeting children in some of their branding. Using the “character” of a former St. Bernard owned by Mr. Vanderbilt named Cedric, they have made a special audio tour for kids with Cedric as the guide. In the gift stores there were Cedric items for sale, and I saw several children carrying around Cedric stuffed dogs.
There is an attempt to market Biltmore, not as an historic site, but as an experience. Professional photographers take each visitor’s photo as they pass through the house, much like is done in Walt Disney World, and the Titanic attraction in Branson, Missouri and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. There are Segway tours, river rafting and carriage rides. For shoppers, there are a total of twelve gift shops.
If you plan a trip to Biltmore Estate looking for a purely historical experience, you are not going to find it. I suggest to any first time visitor that they take the audio tour, and try to tune out the rest of it. It is a beautiful house, nicely situated, and it’s always interesting to see how the other one percent lived.