On view now until May 13 is Biltmore’s new exhibition Glamour on Board: Fashion from Titanic the Movie, the first large-scale exhibition of original costumes from the film.
I know I am not alone when I say that few movies have stuck with me over the years more than the 1997 blockbuster hit “Titanic.” It has been over twenty years since the film’s release and yet I still remember the emotion I felt watching the film for the first time as an impressionable 13 year old girl. I soaked it all in: Leo and Kate, the romance, the love, the loss…the costumes!!! It is perhaps by no coincidence that my expertise and passion as a fashion historian lies in the 1910s.
Fashions of the year 1912 were recreated to perfection in the film by Costume Designer Deborah L. Scott, who deservedly won an Oscar for Best Costume Design. While some of the characters such as Jack and Rose might have been fictional, Scott’s costume designs were in many instances based on real clothing from the period. For instance, the iconic black and white pinstriped suit worn by Rose when boarding the Titanic was based on a suit or “tailleur” by the British designer Linker & Co., featured here in the French fashion magazine Les Modes in January 1912. Others, such as Rose’s tiered black tulle and red satin evening dress found inspiration–while less literal– in extant garments from the period such as this House of Worth evening gown in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum.
I cannot think of a more majestic setting then Biltmore House, based on a French Renaissance chateau, for an exhibition that seeks to bridge the gap between the fictional and the historic, transporting attendees back to a very real period in American history enjoyed by the house’s first inhabitants–and affluent transatlantic passengers–George and Edith Vanderbilt. George began construction on the Biltmore House in 1889 and he was joined by his new bride after their marriage in 1898.
“We are all fascinated with Titanic, and this moment in history,” said Leslie Klingner, Biltmore’s curator of interpretation. “It’s intriguing to think about what was happening in the daily lives of the Vanderbilts, and how closely that connected to what the filmmakers showed onscreen.” The costumes are interspersed throughout the sprawling home according to the most appropriate setting. In one scene in the film, Jack attends a dinner with the ship’s wealthy first class passengers in the formal dining room. The costumes from that scene are set in the Biltmore’s Banquet Hall where the Vanderbilts would have similarly dined in full evening attire with their guests. “Guests at Biltmore would have dressed in a very similar manner,” says Klinger, “I can imagine them assembled in the Living Hall, taking a moment to visit with fellow guests or admire the paintings before going down to dine in the Banquet Hall.”
I am thrilled that Biltmore has offered to host me so that I can experience the exhibit in person and share it with you all on Instagram, so stay tuned!
The exhibition runs through May 13, 2018.