Tag Archives: Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt House Party at Biltmore Estate

For the past several years, Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC has partnered with Cosprop to mount a costume exhibition in the house. Previously they have displayed costumes from Titanic and Downton Abbey, one year they displayed movie wedding dresses, and another, dresses from films inspired by literature.

This year’s fashion exhibition was a bit different, and more ambitious. Cosprop was hired to reproduce some of the actual clothing worn by the Edwardian Vanderbilts, the owners of the estate. To do this, photos were studied, along with other records such as newspaper accounts, letters, bills of sale and other family documents. It’s not entirely possible to know exactly how a garment that had long ago disappeared looked, especially as to color, but enough evidence was uncovered to give John Bright of Cosprop the information needed to recreate quite a few looks.

In the cases where clothing was recreated, the photos on which they were based was displayed along with the garments. The couple above is Adele and James Burden, two of the first visitors to Biltmore, soon after George Vanderbilt moved into the house in 1895.  Adele’s blouse was beautiful, but the sleeves look a bit deflated compared to the photo of her wearing the blouse. This was, after all, 1895, the era of the huge puffed sleeve.

We sort of joked that James’s ensemble can still be bought today at Ralph Lauren.

Most people can’t really relate to the fact that this was George Vanderbilt’s country home, and that the dress code there was much more casual than you would find in a house belong to the robber baron class in New York. There is a multitude of photos showing the Vanderbilts in outing attire. That’s George, ready for a walk around a small part of his estate.

There were several of these tweed and boots ensembles for men on display, but I was surprised that there was no real woman’s walking ensemble represented. Outdoor activities were a big part of what went on at Biltmore, with trails galore, even one that stretched the fifteen miles to the Vanderbilt’s hunting lodge.

This is the photo from which George’s tweeds were modeled. That’s daughter Cornelia before a swim, 1910.

When George Vanderbilt planned and built Biltmore, he was not married. He met and married Edith Stuyvesant Dresser in 1898. Their only child, Cornelia, was born in 1900.

In the above vignette, George’s suit was reproduced from a photo of him taken in 1900, but “Edith’s” dress was borrowed from another Cosprop project, the 2000 film, The Golden Bowl. Quite a few of the garments in the exhibition are Cosprop products that were not specific to Biltmore. I don’t know why the decision was made to include these garments, but I suspect it was because of the expense. It’s a lot cheaper to rent an existing dress than to make a new one.

This lovely waist and skirt were recreated from a 1900 photo of Edith.

To me, this was probably the most effective recreation, with the design team going so far as to screen-print the exact pattern of the dots on the ribbon stripes of the blouse. There was an interesting little video for visitors to explain how many of the design decisions were made. Even though this is based on a black and white photo, through research they were able to determine Edith’s favored color palette, and to make a good guess at the actual colors used.

Here’s another recreation from a photo. This is Edith just before her marriage to George in 1898.

Her waist looks much more corseted in the photo.

Here’s another pretty waist and skirt combination. If it looks familiar, that’s because this was designed for the 1985 film, A Room with a View. 

Let’s not forget that there was a little girl in the house, and this setting was based on a 1904 photo of Cornelia and her aunt, Pauline Dresser Merrill. I really love Pauline’s travel ensemble.

Unfortunately, they left out Iwan the wolfhound, who was in the original photo.

And here is Cornelia again, along with her cousin John Brown.

John and Cornelia, 1906.

Not only were the Vanderbilts and their guests represented, but we get a glimpse of the staff as well. Here is the gentleman’s gentleman getting out Mr. Vanderbilt’s motoring accessories.

And this is Martha Laube, Mrs. Vanderbilt’s lady’s maid.

A group of guests have made themselves comfortable in the third floor living hall.

And just down the hall a maid is busy unpacking a visitor’s trunk. Much of the third floor was for house guests.

The basement had multiple functions.  Here was located the kitchen, the laundry, and the food and serving supplies storage. It was also the location of recreation rooms, including this bowling alley.

Past the bowling alley and a line of changing room is the indoor pool. Here on the diving platform are two bathing suits that probably would have never been seen together, The one at top is circa 1920, and the one at bottom is ten years older. Both are a bit too new to fit in with the rest of the clothes on display.

This gymnastics girl was right on point. I would have loved to get a closer look at her shoes. Which leads me to one of my issues with Biltmore clothing exhibitions. The clothes were just out of range to get a really good look, I could not tell if these were antique or newer that just look old.

After the trek through the basement, the tour planners wisely bring the visitor back to the fancy side of things by going back to to the first floor and the magnificent banquet hall. This is where one “dressed” for dinner. Above we see the recreated  Worth dress of George’s sister, Florence Vanderbilt Twombly.

And here is Florence.

Also in the banquet hall was this dress, worn by Edith in 1903.  The dress in the background is from Cosprop’s inventory.

If you visit Biltmore, be sure not to miss the Legacy Museum located near one of the hotels. They do changing exhibitions, with the current one being on travel and recreation. The notes on this motoring duster were not exactly clear, but I am pretty sure it is antique, as is the Louis Vuitton trunk.

There were also lots of photos showing the Vanderbilts and guests at play on the estate. I wish they had recreated Edith’s outing suit.

I really appreciate that Biltmore has a commitment to doing a costume show every spring.  Tickets are not cheap, but they really do try to make the visit as aesthetically pleasing as possible. The floral arrangements alone are worth seeing.

And if you go, why not try the most appropriate dress, as these members of Atlanta Time Travelers did? That’s my friend Liza on the right, along with Randi and Bobbie Jo. Their attire enhanced everyone’s experience!

Finally, here I am with Edith, Iwan, Cedric, and George. The photo prop was based on an actual photograph from 1903. Thanks to Liza for the photo.




Filed under Museums, North Carolina

Fashionable Romance at the Biltmore Estate

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting the Biltmore Estate with friend Liza of BetterDressesVintage and her friend Sarah.  The occasion was a new fashion exhibition at Biltmore, Fashionable Romance: Wedding Gowns in Film.  As the title tells us, all the garments on display were actual film costumes, and there were some very interesting ones.

For those of you not familiar with Biltmore, it is one of the Vanderbilt mansions.  It was built by George Vanderbilt, and was officially occupied in 1895.  In 1930 the house was opened to the public.  It is still owned by Vanderbilt’s descendants and is today, big business.  The estate is a major employer in this area, with more than 2000 workers.

Over the years I’ve been to Biltmore numerous times and it always amazes me how they continually update the experience of the visit.  Six years ago they added costumes to the house tour after doing their research and seeing how popular costume exhibitions have become.  Last year they had the Downton Abbey costume exhibition, and this year they have followed it up with Fashionable Romance.

In all the years I’ve been to Biltmore, they had never before allowed inside photographs, so when we got there and found that photos were allowed, I was caught without my good camera.  I’m afraid we’ll have to made do with the inferior cellphone shots that I took.  And I took a lot of them, probably because it felt like I was getting away with something naughty.

One of the real treats of visiting Biltmore is how it is always decorated with flowers and plants.  On this visit there was the addition of drapery and ribbons, as if the house were a setting for a wedding.  Very effective, as you can see in the top photo.  This is the banquet hall, from the rear of the room.  The tour twists and turns, and often visitors are treated to multiple views of the same space.

And now for the clothes…

Despite the title of the exhibition, not all the costumes were wedding attire.  This is one of the dresses worn by Keira Knightley in 2008’s The Duchess.  As I study mainly twentieth century clothing, this 1770s dress is well beyond my area of knowledge.  As much as I would love to, I can’t say a thing about this dress other than it is pretty.

This is the wedding dress worn by Knightley along with the wedding attire of Ralph Fiennes.  This dress has the panniers and stomacher expected on a dress of this era.

The next set of costumes are from the 1995 version of Sense and Sensibility.  That is the wedding dress of Elinor Dashwood as worn by Emma Thompson, and Edward Ferrars, as portrayed by Hugh Grant.

And here are the clothes of Marianne Dashwood as played by Kate Winslet, along with her groom Colonel Brandon who was portrayed by Alan Rickman.  Both dresses looked like reasonable early 1800s dresses, though I thought it was a bit odd that both were white, seeing as the vogue for white wedding dresses came along in 1840 with the wedding of Queen Victoria.

These three dresses were worn in a 1992 adaptation of the E.M. Forster novel, Howards End.  From left to right, the wearers were Vanessa Redgrave, Emma Thompson, and Susie Lindeman.

You may have noticed that the three films mentioned thus far are all British productions.  That’s not a coincidence, as the exhibition was produced by Cosprop, a London-based costume production business.  Cosprop was founded in 1965 by designer John Bright, and he and Jenny Beavan (the recent Oscar winner for best costumes) designed the costumes for several of the movies represented.  Cosprop was also responsible for many of the costumes used in Downton Abbey, and they produced the Downton Abbey costumes exhibition that has been traveling around the USA.

This dress was worn by Helena Bonham Carter in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein of 1994. It was designed to be a wedding dress, but plans changed and it was worn in a ballroom scene.  I knew that Helena Bonham Carter is a small woman, but she is tiny.

Here’s another shot of the dress.  It was placed in Biltmore’s library, one of my favorite rooms.  It may be just that I’m so familiar with the house and that I was focusing on the clothes, but the interior of the house seemed to be relegated to being merely a background for the costumes.  I hope that first time visitors were not so distracted.

This costume and the one following were used in a 2002 BBC  production of Daniel Deronda. The book was written in 1876, and I’m not familiar with the story so I don’t know the time frame.  Both dresses have bustles, though the skirt on the green one looks to be a bit plain for 1876.  But then, I’m no expert.

When it comes to more recent stories that involve real people, the costumer is often able to begin with photographs, or even an existing dress.  You might recognize this as the Mainbocher dress worn by Wallis Simpson for her wedding to the Duke of Windsor.  Actually, it is a costume based on the original dress, which is now faded to grey and which is part of the Met’s collection.  This was worn by Joely Richardson in Wallis & Edward of 2005, and by Andrea Riseborough in W.E. in 2005.  I was impressed at how much this dress looks like the original, though Wallis definitely wore it better than the mannequin.

The dress is also based on an actual wedding dress, that of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon.  The dress she wore in 1923 to marry Prince Bertie was not particularly flattering to her, and this reproduction is downright dreadful.  The fabric looked to be a heavy poly knit, though I could not swear to it.  I didn’t see the movie, Bertie and Elizabeth, so I can’t say how well or poorly the dress photographed.  I assume the headdress was improved with a bit of hair peeking out the sides.

I’ll finish this long look at movie wedding attire in my next post, where I’ll also have some things to say about historical sites.


Filed under Museums, North Carolina

Asheville’s Biggest Attraction Adds *New* Vintage Clothing Collection

As part of the Costume Society Symposium last weekend, we all went to what is generally considered to be Asheville’s largest attraction, the Biltmore Estate.   Ever since the house was opened to the public in 1930 it has been highly publicized as one of the “must sees” of the area.

Built by one of the heirs to the Vanderbilt fortune, George Vanderbilt, the house was completed in 1895.  And it is huge, with over 250 rooms, it was a masterpiece of Gilded Age Show-offery.  And it is still owned by the builder’s descendants, and still has the original furnishings.

One of the reasons the CSA chose to visit Biltmore was because they have recently added clothing  to the room exhibits.  This was part of a larger, over-all effort to make the rooms more lived-in.  I’ve visited this house numerous times, starting with a 6th grade field trip in 1967, and it was true that it was very hard to imagine that people actually lived here.  The effort to make the house look more like a home includes such things as family photos scattered about, paper and pen on a writing desk, professionally made fake food on the tea cart, and clothing props.

I really don’t have a problem with clothing props; I actually think they can add a lot to a museum house.  The problem at Biltmore is that nowhere is it mentioned in the guidebook that the props being used are not original to the house or to the Vanderbilt family.  We were very lucky to have a visit from Biltmore’s curator before we went to the house, and she explained that all of the clothing items on display were new acquisitions.

While there is quite a bit of the Vanderbilt family’s clothing left from the 1920s and later, there is no clothing from the time period that the house interprets.  Thus, when they decided to display clothing, they had to start from scratch and build a collection of 1895-1900 clothing.  And they have done a beautiful job of it.  The displays are well done, and do actually give the house a more homelike feel.

Still, it seems a bit off, perhaps because the average visitor is going to go away thinking they have seen the Vanderbilt’s clothing.  I  say the average visitor, because some people are going to get the information from the tour guides.  And this leads to the second problem I have with Biltmore – the prices.

Believe it or not, the price of an adult ticket is $55.  And to make it even worse, to take a guided tour where you really learn something, you have to pay an additional $17.  It just seems to me that $72 is a bit much to see even the most magnificent home.  And there is also the cost of lunch (lots of great places to eat on site) and drinks (they have a winery) and souvenirs, and this is one pricey day in the mountains.

So the people on the tours might possibly be told that the clothing is not original, but the cheap-skates who try to muddle through with their $55 ticket and small tour booklet are going to tell their friends to be sure to see Mrs. Vanderbilt’s lovely gowns.

Just one more observation:  even though we had paid for a tour, we did not get to see all of the rooms.  There were at least two rooms that were just on a newly make tour, and so we were whisked by those, as were most visitors.  And while the group I was in had a very good guide who answered all questions and pointed out a lot of interesting things, others were not so lucky, and complained that their guides did not even mention the newly installed clothing at all!

But, I will say the the Biltmore Company is constantly working on restoration, and that they do it right.  That is not cheap.  And they are one of the region’s largest employers, with around 1800 people working for them.  Operating costs have to be high.  Still, with all they have going on – the house, the winery, an inn (rooms start at $200 a night), a whole range of licensed home decorative objects for sale, and a new shopping area, seems like the cost of admission could be a bit more in line with that of other private historic structures.

Still, if someone were to ask, I’d have to say that yes, you should see this house at least once.  Go, do the tour, drink the wine and try to imagine that the Vanderbilts are picking up the tab.


Filed under Museums, North Carolina

Visit to Buck Springs

I posted this postcard several weeks ago, and you may recall that this was the camping lodge of George Vanderbilt.  He had built an over-the-top mansion, Biltmore House, in Asheville, and so he needed an over-the-top lodge to go with it. I made the short trip up to Mt. Pisgah today, and so I went by the site of the lodge to shoot some photos of the way it looks today.

First, vintage photos, courtesy of the interpretive marker placed by the US Park Service:

The angles are different, so it’s a bit hard to tell, but the first photo shows the covered walkway you can see in the postcard, and the second photo shows the porch  (on left in postcard).  According to info in the Pisgah Inn, the lodge was built in three sections and was connected by the coverd walkway.  Because the Vanderbilts were so wealthy, their time at Buck Springs is well documented, with fascinating photos of the women and their big 1905ish hats and long skirts.

Inside, the lodge was rustic looking, but was actually quite modern.  The only thing that was not modern was the heating system.  Instead of central heat, the buildings were heated by huge fireplaces.

The lodge was torn down in 1963. What a loss!  Today, little remains except a small bit of the foundation and the Vanderbilt’s multi-million dollar view.

This is part of the foundation of the building in the top photo.  It’s easy to figure it out because the leaning tree in the photo is still there, although it is dead.

The trail to the lodge.  The path was cut through rhododendron thickets, or as the mountain people called them, “hells”.

And the view from that lovely porch:


Posted by StellaMaris:

Wow! In my next life, I want to live in Asheville- just gotta make my peace with snow!

Saturday, August 22nd 2009 @ 5:03 PM

Posted by Stacey Brooks Newton:

Thanks for stopping by- I’ve been a little busy with moving and the like. Hopefully I’ll be posting more often. I have lots of ephemera to share!
Thanks again for the encouraging words- It’s nice to know when someone actually visits!

Sunday, August 23rd 2009 @ 10:45 AM

Posted by Niesz Vintage Home:

Very interesting.
I’ve been to the Biltmore house several times, but never heard of the lodge before.BTW, I’ve had the best time looking through your site! Wonderful fashion posts!


Sunday, August 23rd 2009 @ 10:51 AM

Posted by Lizzie:

I’d imagine that most people who live here have never heard of the lodge. It’s an almost lost piece of the story.

Sunday, August 23rd 2009 @ 12:20 PM

1 Comment

Filed under Camping and Hiking, North Carolina

Currently Viewing – The Swan

Before she was a princess, she played a princess.  Yes, this post is about The Swan and Grace Kelly.  The movie was on this morning and I felt obligated to watch a bit of it as I sipped my coffee.  I’ll admit, this is not my favorite film.  I guess I’ve just never seen the reason for its making, as a similar theme was explored just a few years prior in Roman Holiday.  But that all aside, I’ll not be comparing Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly.  The purpose of this blog is more architectural in nature.

The exterior scenes of The Swan were filmed at the Biltmore House, a Vanderbilt mansion plopped down on the top of a Western North Carolina hill.  It was built around the turn of the 20th century, for the purpose of housing the expensive treasures George Vanderbilt had amassed in his European tours.

I’ve been there probably 20 times, starting with a class trip in the 6th grade, so I’m quite familiar with the house.  This makes for some disconcerting moments while viewing the film, as while the exterior shots were filmed there, the interior ones were not.  And the movement between the familiar and the unfamiliar leaves one with a slightly odd sensation.  And it’s probably another reason I’m not terribly fond of this film.

One of the big questions that filmwatchers sometimes ask after seeing The Swan is, if the family was in such a bad way financially, how was it they had such a grand estate?  Well, the reason was because the director of the Asheville Chamber of Commerce happened to read about the making of the movie, contacted the studio, and invited them out for a look.  The director liked what he saw, and the house was closed for two and a half months for filming.   I can’t imagine that happening today, with the price of an adult ticket at about $40, and almost a million visitors annually, they couldn’t afford to close for any amount of time!

Photo is from a 1957 NC roadmap

Leave a comment

Filed under Currently Viewing, North Carolina

What to Wear on Fall hike

I just got this old postcard last week, and I just love it!  It’s not dated, but it’s sometime in the early 1920s.  Note that the women in front are wearing knickers, but that at least one woman is wearing a skirt.  That had to be an improvement on the way this would have looked just 15 years prior, with the women wearing corsets and skirts to the ankles!

The hikers are on the Mt. Pisgah hike, which is the mountain in the background.  The starting point is the Pisgah Inn, which was built  in 1919.  By that time, the area was national forest land, having been purchased from the Vanderbilts in 1914.  The Vanderbilts also had a hunting lodge in the area, and at one time, there was a trail all the way from the Biltmore Estate, which is in Asheville, about 15 miles away.

Today, to get there, you travel on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  You still have to hike to get to the top of the mountain, though.  It’s an easy jaunt most of the way, with the last half mile or so being a bit tougher.  But on a clear day, you get the feeling of sitting on top of the world!

I took this photo on Thursday. I hadn’t planned to be anywhere near Pisgah, but found myself there anyway.

1 Comment

Filed under Camping and Hiking, North Carolina, Proper Clothing