Glamour on Board: Titanic Fashion at Biltmore Estate

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Travel Fix and Titanic Fashion at The Biltmore
Biltmore Estate
Perfect place for a King of the World Fly Photo

Climb aboard The Biltmore! You have until May 13, 2018 to experience Glamour on Board: Fashion from  Titanic the Movie , the maiden voyage of the first large-scale costume exhibit from the iconic film that won 11 Oscars including Best Costume Design.  No location could be more fitting for simulating a first-class passage on luxury liners, “Floating Palaces” of the early 20th century.

On this ultimate girl getaway, my friend, Sally, and I channeled-for- a- day lives of patrons of White Star Line ships: Rose DeWitt Bukater, movie heroine, and Edith Dresser Vanderbilt, Mistress of Biltmore. Edith’s love story with George Washington Vanderbilt II  was truly “A Transatlantic Courtship.” Their home, inspired by the Chateau de Blois in the Loire Valley in France, was constructed by George  from 1889-1895. While gorgeous in every season, The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina is the perfect spring escape/road trip for romantics and history-lovers. This exhibit is also a marvelous Mother’s Day gift.

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With Biltmore as backdrop, I finally had a real-time reunion with Sally, best friend since we were five growing up in Kentucky. We both lived in Africa, though not at the same time, and love trading travel tales. She’s now in Virginia, and I’m in Nashville, so we met in the middle.

Thankfully, after spending winter in Paris, George, Edith and daughter Cornelia who were booked on Titanic’s first and only voyage cancelled a week before the ship sailed. They arrived home April 10 and learned two days later that 1517 people perished on The Titanic after hitting an iceberg. Edith wrote to a friend: “For no reason whatsoever we decided to sail on the Olympic and had only 18 hours to get ready in. We were homesick and felt we simply must get home, and changed our ship, as I say, at the 11th hour!”

George Vanderbilt's Hourglasses
Time for a beauty, adventure, relationship break at The Biltmore

Something for everyone, the movie was a collaboration of realism and romanticism. Director James Cameron explains in a 2014 TED Talk:  I went and pitched it to the studio. It was ‘Romeo And Juliet’ on a ship. It’s going to be this epic, romance, passionate film. Secretly, what I wanted to do was I wanted to dive to the real wreck of Titanic, and that’s why I made the movie.”  

Cameron spared no expense on authenticity–$200 million which was more than the budget that built the Titanic. Our Biltmore guide on the Premium Tour, Tom, said 20th Century Fox bought every gown they could find made around 1910. Costume Designer, Deborah Lynn Scott, used patterns and parts from vintage garments and some in pristine condition on extras. According to Vogue, Rose’s red “jump dress” (see below) was one of the seven most expensive dresses of all time, selling for $330,000. According to the Hollywood Reporter the beading on the gown took 1,000 hours to sew. When she accepted the Best Costume Award for Titanic she said that her two young daughters’ beauty was her inspiration. Her range is legendary. Design credits for other cult classic favorites include Back to the Future, About Last Night, Legends of the Fall, Transformers, and The Amazing Spider- Man 2. 

The exhibit immerses us in authentic Edwardian style–intricate beading and patterns; sumptuous velvets, satins, and chiffons; tailored suits. For me, reliving The Titanic up close and personal was a dream–vintage style worn on travel adventures and a love story transcending death. I have loved Kate and Jack (and Kate Winslet and Leo DiCaprio who played them) since first seeing the film twenty years ago with my grandmother and children, but learning about the adventurous, kindred spirits of the exhibit’s host family was a bonus. Before Edith married George, she had traveled to the Caribbean, Europe, and South America. George had been to 26 countries across Europe, Northern Africa and Asia. They were regular first class passengers on White Star Line, the company that owned Titanic, and brought back art, books, fashion, and other treasures from their travels. 

The Biltmore’s 250 rooms, 2.4 million cubic feet space is breathtaking and puts the massiveness of The Titanic in perspective. The ship had 416 first- class state rooms. In The Biltmore, costumes are displayed in context–fashion for each room’s function. Clothes indeed made the man (and woman and child). Characterizations were achieved through wardrobe.

Glamour Boards Titanic
This outfit was the designer’s favorite creation. When curators learned 20th Century Fox was making available costumes, they selected 50 consisting of over 650 items.
Rose Boards The Titanic
Rose makes her entrance onscreen from under this hat. The acorn on the hat pin is the Vanderbilt family symbol also seen at Breakers, their New York City Estate.
Glamour on Board at Biltmore
Rose’s “Jump Dress”–my favorite in the movie–is what she is wearing when she meets Jack. Though he persuades her not to commit suicide, tripping on the dress’s train almost causes her to fall to her death.

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The exhibit inspired me to learn how to make beaded jewelry from Sally, something she does beautifully for her soul.
Biltmore Estate Library
George Vanderbilt personally chose 10,000 books for this library he shared with guests–half of his 22,000 volume collection of American and English fiction, world history, religion, philosophy, art, and architecture.
Biltmore library ceiling
Jack plays Rose’s guardian angel, saving her from jumping overboard. The Chariot of Aurora, painted in the 1720s by Italian artist Giovanni Pellegrini was originally in the Pisani Palace in Venice.

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Rose's gown
In her suite on Titanic (Edith Vanderbilt’s bedroom at The Biltmore) Rose recovers from the scare of almost losing her life at sea. She’s then given the Heart of the Ocean by Cal.
Edith Vanderbilt's bedroom
Like other married couples of the Vanderbilts’ social class, Edith and George had separate bedrooms so maids could dress her and valets could dress him. Behind curtains is Edith’s walk-in closet. Her closets held 1,000 square feet of frocks.
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Cal, Kate’s fiance, wore the best even to bed

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George Vanderbilt's bedroom
In the mirror reflection in George Vanderbilt’s bedroom is his paw-footed tub cut from one piece of Italian marble. His walls were 22 carat gold. The mansion has 35 bedrooms and 43 bathrooms.

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Glamour on Board: Rose's Day Dress
The morning after Jack saved her, Rose looked at his drawings as they drew close. This was her dress on the promenade deck.

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In the Downstairs Breakfast Room two Renoir paintings hang right of the fireplace. See George Vanderbilt: A Modern Art Collector.

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Cal reveled in showing off his wealth–even by wearing shirts that buttoned up the back. This announced he had a valet that dressed him. I couldn’t help but notice the parallel between Cal and Fitzgerald’s Tom Buchanan, and how Leo DiCaprio as Jack and Jay Gatsby played the perfect foils to the obnoxious characters. I also fell in love with the pink etched champagne coupe glasses.
Costumes worn by Rose and her mother
Our guide pointed out the Victorian-style dress of Rose’s mother (heavy damask pattern like on wallpaper) contrasted to Rose’s more romantic, loose chiffon and silk dress.

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Glamour on Board Titanic at Biltmore
The Unsinkable Molly Brown (Kathy Bates) was snubbed for being nouveau riche as the daughter of Irish immigrants whose husband struck it rich in Colorado mines. Based on a historical hero, she forced the captain of her lifeboat to go back to save lives and later fought for women’s suffrage and labor rights.

 

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In the Biltmore’s Banquet Hall under the seven-story ceiling are costumes worn by Rose and Jack. Molly Brown loaned Jack one of her son’s tuxedos for the dinner thanking him for saving Rose.  Men wore white ties and tails to dinner; women wore evening gowns.

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The scale of this fireplace is in keeping with The Titanic’s enormous size. There are 65 fireplaces in the Biltmore.
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This 1916 Skinner pipe organ towers above the dining table which seats 38. The Vanderbilt family often ate by the fireplace 7-10 course meals. Five crystal wine glasses were set at each place for enjoying George’s wine collection.
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The Countess of Rothes helped 3rd class passengers onto the boats and raised money for those widowed and orphaned by the sinking of The Titanic.

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Stairs lead to costumes displayed on the second and third floors.
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In the 2nd floor Living Hall, guests at The Biltmore would wait to be called to dinner in the ballroom by a gong below.
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These costumes were worn by John Jacob Astor IV and his new wife, Madeleine Talmage Force. John was 47 and his wife 18 when they married 3 years after he divorced his wife. Though he was the richest man on the Titanic, the couple was snubbed for the scandal. He, like most first-class males, did not survive for lack of lifeboats, but his wife did. When it was discovered she was pregnant, gossips softened toward her and her child.

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Titanic dance downstairs
Jack slips Rose a note to meet him downstairs for a real party after the formal dinner. There he dances with a little girl and introduces her to his friends–immigrants and refugees. See this site on how The Titanic impacted US immigration and other historical facts.
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In the basement of the Biltmore were the maids’ quarters where 24/7 they awaited calls from the bell in the hall, including setting pins and returning balls (below) in the bowling alley. On the Titanic, first-class passengers had electric buzzers to summons 322 stewards and 22 stewardesses in addition to their personal valets and ladies’ maids. One of the kitchen maids survived not only the sinking of The Titanic but of two other ships on which she worked.

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The Biltmore pool was filled with cold mountain water. On board the Titanic the pool had heated salt water.
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When Cal’s spy reports that Rose was below deck, Cal threatens her over breakfast. Above is the Oak Sitting Room between Edith and George’s bedrooms where the Vanderbilts shared breakfast and Edith planned the day with her head housekeeper.

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This gorgeous piece has hidden panels for hiding treasures, such as the Heart of the Ocean necklace.

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Biltmore music room
In the Biltmore music room, completed in the 1970s, are church-going costumes. Rose attends with her mother and Cal after promising them both she won’t stray from their plans for her arranged marriage.
Music Room of Secrets
This room played a huge part in preserving National Treasures. See below. Also here are candlesticks made for Empresses Amalia and Maria Theresa of the Austrian Hapsburgs.

Just before moving to Morocco in 2014, I saw The Monuments Men starring George Clooney, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, and Matt Damon, based on  Robert Edsel’s book. Read here on the Biltmore blog more about the estate as proof of the premise of the film: “the importance of art and the lengths to which nations and individuals will go to either steal or save it.”

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In the Flemish tapestry gallery hangs a 1530s set, The Triumph of the Seven Virtues, where curators placed costumes from afternoon tea. When Rose sees a little girl forced to play a part Rose is no longer willing to play, she boldly chooses freedom as a virtue.
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Loved this form most because she looks relaxed.

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Adore this look
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Wigs are made of watercolor paper
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After the tea scene, Rose is ready to fly from her cage. Below is the “fly” dress in a room that compliments its rich color.

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Glamour on Board
This robe Rose wears briefly before asking Jack to sketch her like one of his “French girls.”
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Our guide pointed out the frayed ties on the robe. Kate did several takes of the scene to unveil herself  picture perfect wearing only the necklace.
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Outside the bedroom where Rose posed on a chaise lounger is this painting, the last bought by George Vanderbilt before his death, of a Spanish woman on a couch.
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At this time, the Titanic hit the iceberg that cut into six of its sixteen watertight compartments. It was built to withstand four losing water,  but the blow was fatal for most of the passengers save the first class women and children.
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The last dress in which we see Rose is worn throughout the second half of the movie. There were many replicas made to film her in water in different scenes. The chiffon was chosen so it would float. The coat was a size 8–purposely too big for the actress to show her vulnerability.
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I have always loved backs of dresses more than any other feature–especially  when this beautiful.
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Rose’s mom dresses in high fashion to go into the boat,  complaining that seating etiquette by class isn’t being upheld. She is oblivious to the suffering of those who won’t be able to escape the sinking ship. Of the 48 lifeboats needed, only 20 were onboard and some of them were dropped during the panic only half-filled.

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Ostrich feathers were in high demand in Edwardian wear.

When the Titanic sank, valuable cargo on board was a shipment of twelve cases of ostrich feathers insured for $2.3 million in today’s money.  In 1912 only diamonds were worth more by weight than feathers. Hats covered in feathers, even entire birds, were the rage. Ostrich feathers were exported from South Africa as were diamonds and gold.

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Edith Vanderbilt painted by Giovanni Boldini

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In the billiard room were costumes worn by Rose and Jack  in the final scene when they are reunited after death. Though they enter the grand ballroom together,  Jack is wearing the clothes he boarded the ship in–not a tuxedo. Rose is wearing an elegant but free flowing dress, clearly part of his world.

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The Vanderbilt family’s love of learning moved them to support what is now Vanderbilt University. Likewise, opening the Biltmore to the public provided a portal to the past and future because, as Keats said: “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”  Thanks to this exhibit, we can enjoy splendid, classic couture, elements of  style which designers continue to revive in modern fashion. More importantly, the The Titanic movie reminds us of what’s important in life and death. The story of Jack and Rose is timeless because underneath the face and form we wear for the world, we all want to our core to be treasured for our essence. For someone to say as Jack did to Rose:

Winning that ticket, Rose, was the best thing that ever happened to me… it brought me to you. And I’m thankful for that, Rose. I’m thankful. You must do me this honor. Promise me you’ll survive. That you won’t give up, no matter what happens, no matter how hopeless.

In the end, their story is our story. We want someone–friend, family, lover–who says, “You jump. I jump.” Whether hanging onto the bow of a sinking ship or flying high, we want at least one ride or die person in our lives.

 

Thank you to The Biltmore Estate for this unforgettable experience. As always, opinions here are my own.

 

 

 

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Sami says:

    Finally someone thought to take pictures of the incredible detail on the dresses! The Jump dress, heaven dress and swim dress are my three favorites and the picture you took of the back of the swim dress is perfect! Love the little rose on the sash too! Thank you for this, it’s the closest I’ll ever get to these magnificent costumes!

    1. Cindy McCain says:

      Hi Sami, It’s so hard to do these dresses justice. Thank you for your comments! I wish I could have seen the backs of all of them and would love them hanging in my closet, too! (And to have opportunities to dress for dinner like this. 🙂

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