Designed for Drama at the Biltmore Estate

For the third spring in a row, the Biltmore Estate in Asheville is presenting a costume display in the Vanderbilt mansion.  As before, the exhibition is planned and presented by Cosprop, a British costume shop, well-known for their work in “costume dramas.”  And while this is not, strictly speaking, fashion history, it does give an excellent look at how fashions of the past are portrayed in film.

As before, I went to the Biltmore with friend Liza of Better Dresses Vintage, and this time we were joined by Suzanne of Vintage Runway, and Cornelia of Cornelia Powell Weddings.   I can’t say enough about how enlightening it is to attend events like this one with people who share an interest in fashion history.  I learn as much from my friends as I do from the exhibition.

We went on the opening day of the exhibition, and were happy that it was on a weekday, and not the more crowded weekend.  Before the show opened, Biltmore had placed five (that we located, at least) costumes in the public areas of the estate, not in the house proper.  I really do not know if they will be/have been moved into the house, so I’ll give a hint as where to find those not actually in the house.

The first costume was the one above, worn by Carey Mulligan in Far from the Madding Crowd. It is in the visitor’s center.  Like all the costumes not actually in Biltmore House, this one is encased in a protective glass cage.  That makes for very poor photo taking, but the actual viewing experience is much better than my photos might suggest.

One thing I wish the production would add to the information given is when the story was supposed to have taken place.  Of course, we can dig deep into that old literary education and come up with rough dates, and we can also use the styles of the clothing, but in order to check for authenticity of style, knowing exactly when would be a big help.

Far from the Madding Crowd was published in 1874, but that does not mean the movie was set in that year.  From looking at many historical drama costumes, I’ve learned that the late 19th century is often loosely interpreted as far as fashion goes.  Above, another costume worn by Mulligan in the role of Bathsheba Everdene.

These costumes are from Finding Neverland, the story of author Sir JM Barrie, played by Johnny Depp, and his relationship with a woman (Kate Winslet) whose children inspired his character Peter Pan.

The movie was set in the last days of the nineteenth century, and the early twentieth century.  This dress was worn by actress Radha Mitchell, who played Barrie’s wife in the film.

You’d never know, but these are costumes from an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.  This 1996 version was set sometime in the late nineteenth century, but I just could not see these dresses as actually being the style of any particular era.  They were worn by Helena Bonham Carter and Imogen Stubbs.

There were several beautiful dresses designed by John Bright of Cosprop for the 2000 version of Henry James’ The Golden Bowl.

This story was set in the very early days of the twentieth century, and the gowns for it look the most at home within Biltmore House, which was finished in 1895.

This suit was worn by Kate Beckinsale in the role of Maggie Verver.

Well, this was a delightful moment!  Mr. Darcy meets Miss Elizabeth Bennett, not on the lawn, but in the library.  These costumes were from the 1995 BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

This is from another Jane Austen story, Sense and Sensibility,  and was worn in a 1995 version starring Emma Thompson.  This dress was worn by her.

This costume is in the Biltmore Wine Shop, which seems a bit odd, but it was positioned such as to allow a really great look from all sides.

And finally for today, this costume was worn by Anne Hathaway in Becoming Jane, a story not written by Austen, but rather, about her.  It was based on a book of the same title which speculated on a supposed romance that Austen had.  Anyway, this costume was one of my favorites.  All the decoration on the dress was embroidered (but impossible to photograph) and the fabric was the most scrumptious color (again, un-photograph-able).  This costume is on the second floor of the Village Hotel.

I loved how the plaques showed each costume as it was worn in the each film.  It really does help to see them in action.  Which leads to another observation:  I enjoyed the costumes of the films which I had seen better than the ones I had not seen and had no idea of how the actors portrayed the characters.  But now I’ll have the pleasure of catching up on films not seen.

Tomorrow:  the exciting conclusion of this tour.

9 Comments

Filed under Museums

9 responses to “Designed for Drama at the Biltmore Estate

  1. That was a fun tour. I’ve been to Biltmore once. Can I have a box room?

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  2. Why Biltmore!? A bit confusing ! Missed the “tie in”! Interesting /puzzling ! Would like to see it! Thank You!

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    • They started this two years ago with costumes from Downton Abbey, as the PR kept drawing parallels between Downton and Biltmore. They must have liked working with Cosprop, because they then commissioned a reproduction of Cornelia Vanderbilt 1920s wedding dress from them. And so the tradition continues.

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  3. Keith Oliver

    How lovely! I always enjoy your blog and perceptive analyses and commentary.

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  4. Pingback: Designed for Drama at Biltmore, Part II | The Vintage Traveler

  5. Costume design is one of my nearly lifelong interests. This was a delight.

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  6. Thanks for sharing! I love that version of “Twelfth Night”. The fashions are vaguely 1890s-1900s, but it doesn’t try to be totally real, the places are all fantasy anyway.

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  7. I simply love opportunities like this to see costumes from films and such. And what a gorgeously scrumptious selection here! It reminds me I need to get over to one of our local museums that has Downton Abbey costumes on display.

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