Costume exhibit “A Vanderbilt House Party” showcases fashions of the Gilded Age in America’s largest home.
It’s no surprise the people who owned and visited Biltmore Estate wore fancy clothes. It’s more surprising we’ve never seen that clothing on display.
Biltmore’s newest exhibition, “A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age,” fills the void. The exhibit runs through May 27, 2019.
Working with Biltmore curators and poring over historic photos, magazines, and letters—which often included detailed descriptions of who wore what when and, perhaps most importantly given that any photos are black-and-white, in what colors—Oscar-winning designer John Bright recreated many of the elegant fashions the Vanderbilts and their guests wore at turn-of-the-century celebrations known as house parties.
Nobody munched on Chex Mix at those house parties.
This is not the first time Biltmore and Bright have collaborated. Costumes that Bright created for the PBS series mega-hit “Downton Abbey” were exhibited at Biltmore in 2015. Bright has been honored with 12 Academy Awards nominations and won “Best Costume Design” in 1985 for “A Room with a View” starring Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, and Daniel Day-Lewis.
Among the artwork, tapestries, and antiques in Biltmore House and the Vanderbilt collection, there are few pieces of clothing from the Gilded Age era. Clothing tends to deteriorate over time.
“This exhibition is unlike any we’ve ever done before,” said Leslie Klingner, Biltmore’s curator of interpretation, in press materials.
“This exhibition is like we’re replacing a piece of the collection that was missing,” said Dini Cecil Pickering, great-granddaughter of Biltmore’s founder George Vanderbilt, in press materials.
A short film running on a loop in the House’s “Halloween Room” offers a peek at the design process. Klingner and Ellen Rickman, Biltmore’s director of museum services, traveled between London and Asheville to work with Bright to recreate the Vanderbilt wardrobe, researching fashion magazines of the era, and studying archival photography and portraits from Biltmore’s collection to inform the designs.
You can learn a lot by looking at the dressed mostly-faceless mannequins and watching the short film, but you can learn even more by listening to the new Premium Audio Guided Tour. This unique, immersive audio-visual experience combines 360° sound techniques with stories told from the perspectives of those who lived and worked at Biltmore in the early 1900s.
Whether you’ve visited Biltmore several times or are going for the first time, “A Vanderbilt House Party” offers a compelling glimpse at lavish lifestyles of yesteryear.
“A Vanderbilt House Party” is included in Biltmore daytime admission. The new Premium Audio Guided Tour is free only with online ticket purchases at biltmore.com, or can be purchased at Biltmore for an additional fee.
1 Lodge Street
Asheville NC 28803
Biltmore was the vision of George W. Vanderbilt. Designed by Richard Morris Hunt, the 250-room French Renaissance chateau now exhibits the Vanderbilt family’s original collection of furnishings, art and antiques. The estate encompasses more than 8,000 acres including gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. Today, Biltmore has grown to include Antler Hill Village, which features an award-winning Winery and much more.
@21plusTravel Tip: After visiting the estate you can also tour the estate’s gardens, explore hiking and biking trails, dine at one of seven restaurants, and spend time at Antler Hill Village & Winery. The Winery offers complimentary tastings from among more than 20 of Biltmore’s handcrafted award-winning varieties.
– Photos © HSP Media LLC
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion. Thanks to Explore Asheville and Biltmore Estate for hosting my visit.