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.
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!”
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.
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.”
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.
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.