I recently had the distinctive honor of being invited to visit Biltmore’s current exhibition Glamour on Board: Fashion from Titanic the Movie. George Vanderbilt spared no expense in his creation of Biltmore House, his grand 250-room Renaissance-era French chateau in Asheville, North Carolina, a marvel of Gilded Age era architecture. Today, an entire team of conservators and curators are tasked with the daily preservation and maintenance of George’s vision, a lavish interior filled with an impressive and eclectic mix of artifacts, curios and prized artwork from different time periods and cultures. Be it sumptuous curtains hand-woven in Lyon, France, rare samurai swords and vases from Japan, or the impressive collection of Albrecht Durer engravings, the home is magnificent! An avid collector, George read over 3000 books in his lifetime and collected over 20,000, half of which are on display in the two story library, overlooked by an 18th century Italian painting imported from Paris.
I could not imagine a more perfect setting for the first large-scale exhibition of costumes from the 1997 blockbuster hit Titanic. Luxury ocean-liners such as the Titanic were known as “floating palaces” of the sea, an indication of their success in mirroring the ultra-luxurious settings of their most affluent clientele. For the Titanic, these clients might have included George and Edith Vanderbilt had they not changed their plans to travel on the ship shortly before its ill-fated voyage.
The Titanic made every expense to imitate the lives of its most wealthy clientele and like the Vanderbilt home included grand ball and dining rooms, as well as a premiere swimming and work out facilities. But the Titanic also catered to the broad economic spectrum. Our tour guide took us downstairs into the kitchens, laundry rooms and servants’ quarters of Biltmore House, giving us “behind the scenes” access to a world often hidden from view, just as it would have been on the Titanic on which so many steerage-class passengers lost their lives.
Over fifty costumes by Academy-Award winning Designer Deborah L. Scott are thoughtfully interspersed throughout the Vanderbilt’s home, arranged in settings picked specifically by Biltmore’s Curator of Interpretation Leslie Klinger to mirror those of the film. I have decided that Leslie has THE dream job. Not only did she hand-select each and every costume for the —i.e. she went to Los Angeles and into the costume archives!—as Curator of Interpretation for the Biltmore Estate, she is tasked daily with developing a better understanding of the ever-intriguing lives of the Vanderbilt family, the estate and the many people who called it home. Please stay tuned for an interview with Leslie in the coming weeks!
I took multiple tours while visiting Biltmore House and each was fascinating as the next. In an “Upstairs/Downstairs” tour, we were admitted into Edith Vanderbilt’s “suite,” a series of rooms behind her bedroom and otherwise hidden from view. These rooms included her bathroom, massive closet and lady maid’s quarters. If you are making a connection to Downton Abbey here, you are not alone. I kept making the comparison between Downton and Biltmore time and again throughout the tour! Especially when we visited the private quarters of the respected and beloved head housekeeper (Mrs. Hughes, anyone?!), the domains of the butler and the numerous laundry rooms, kitchens and other facilities used by staff. I was pleased to learn how generous the Vanderbilt family was in taking care of their staff, and that it is a tradition still carried out today. Biltmore Estate that is still family-owned and operated.
I am a little embarrassed to say that prior to this experience I had NO IDEA that Biltmore Estate existed. But it is now hands down one of my favorite places in the country and quiet possibly the world! I have been to castles in Europe but none provided such open and intimate access, or such historical context! Biltmore House itself is a wonder of turn-of-the-century architecture and a fantastic testament to the legacy of one of America’s most renowned families. The surrounding Estate is a wonderland and we had the pleasure of staying there, at the four star hotel The Inn on Biltmore Estate, one of two available hotel accommodations on the property. Just a short walk and shuttle ride from the Inn was the Antler Hill Village Area which offers a wide array of culinary delights. We enjoyed a delicious farm to table meal at the Village Social before heading to a complimentary wine-tasting at the Winery’s tasting room next door. Biltmore House, which is about a fifteen minute shuttle ride from the hotel, offers its own range of delightful shops and restaurants. After our tours, we enjoyed many strolls in the Estate’s beautiful gardens, at one point stumbling upon the glass-roofed Biltmore Conservatory which houses a variety of exotic plants! I simply cannot say enough things about this wonderful gem of a place. I cannot wait to come back to this castle in the sky…
If you are interested in learning more about Biltmore, visit Biltmore.com or follow their official social media handles: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. Find out more about the aforementioned exhibition and plan your visit here. Thank you again to Biltmore for hosting me!