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.
My life is a Tale of Two Cities…both tourist towns. At Nashville’s center, 2nd Avenue, I rubbed shoulders this summer with girl gangs in shorts and boots out for barbecue and beer. In Marrakesh’s marketplace, Jemaa el Fna, I rub shoulders with girl groups in harem pants and sandals out for a bargain and mint tea. But sometimes the best stuff is found on country (or desert) backroads.
Though Sundays when I was growing up and picnics with my kids meant fried chicken, the last few years I’ve rarely eaten anything fried. But when on my layover in Madrid on the way to Tennessee I almost opted for KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) over a tapas bar, I knew it was time to go home. I missed biscuits and gravy. And like I said in my first Southern Girl Gone Home post, I dreamed one night of bacon. I’ve never eaten country ham other than at Christmas, but I couldn’t wait to taste it again. While home I porked out—literally–particularly at a place considered a national treasure. I’m ashamed to say I have been in Nashville since 1987 and never made the trip to the Loveless Café. Since only home for a month, I decided to check out the place People Magazine says the country ham is “the best in America” and USA Today calls “the real McCoy of Southern cooking,” Bon Appetit gushed, “On a scale of 1 to 10, my breakfast came in at about a 14,” and Martha Stewart crooned, “It was the best breakfast I’ve ever had.” And, of course, there’s the wall of fame– country music legends making claiming the food is iconic.
The Loveless began as a private home hangout in the 40s where folks gathered in the living room and danced on the hardwood floor. By 1951 Lon and Annie Loveless were serving chicken and biscuits to travelers on Highway 100 from their front door; they then added 14 motel rooms. The rest of their history is here and check out their world-famous “Biscuit Lady,” Carol Fay Ellison making biscuits on the Today Show.
When Taylor, Cole and I were told the wait was an hour and forty minutes, we almost bolted, but I’m so glad we didn’t. We waited only and hour and I was a little disappointed because I was having a great conversation in the Shimai gift shop with owner Becca Ganick. She loves meeting people from all over the world who stop by. The restaurant is open 7 AM-9 PM Monday-Friday. We were there on a Friday at prime lunch time; to beat the crowds it’s recommended to visit Monday-Thursday 7-9am, after 2pm or before 6pm. Or stop in on a road trip on the Natchez Trace as I hope to do next time. To plan it, festivals, sites, and Bed and Breakfasts along the way are listed here. It’s amazing what you can learn on backroads.
We did breakfast at lunch time (so Taylor and I tried the Blue Moon Cocktail–there actually WAS a blue moon when I was home) but you can get lunch or supper as well. See menu here.
Be sure to try the GRITS–even if you aren’t a “Girl Raised in the South.” And after the biscuits, you may want to pick up a package of their biscuit mix. I hauled mine back to Morocco…if only I could have brought the ham, too. And if you want to try one of their recipes, I recommend the Fruit Tea Punch–especially those of you who drink only hot tea because In the south, “sweet tea” on ice is a staple, Banana Pudding with Homemade Wafers (especially if you don’t have “store-bought” wafers), Loveless Pecan Pie, or their signature Elvis Pie. And please, all you southern cooks, leave your favorite variations and other favorite recipes in the comments for Yankees ( people from “up north” or anywhere not southern US) to try.