Companion YouTube video: https://youtu.be/9zfKgCvdzS8
Just 100 miles from my tiny farmhouse is America's Largest Home - Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. As part of my #costumeflashback series, this blog post and video will tell you about my journey of organizing and hosting three costume events in that spectacular place. I named the events Party Like A Vanderbilt and that is exactly what we did!
Biltmore Estate is, perhaps, the most ambitious private building project of America's Gilded Age. In 1893 the great landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted described Biltmore Estate as "The most distinguished private place".
In 1888, a twenty-five year old George Washington Vanderbilt II began his purchase of what would ultimately become a 125,000 acre estate. Vanderbilt, Olmstead, and architect Richard Morris Hunt began their five year relationship to create Biltmore Estate.
Volumes have been written about the accomplishments of each of these great visionaries. Fredrick Law Olmsted's prolific landscape designs including Central and Prospect parks in New York and the U.S. Capitol grounds in Washington.
Richard Morris Hunt's accomplishments include the Fifth Avenue wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island, and the Administration Building for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
All these photos I'm sharing with you are from John M. Bryan's book which was a gift to me by Stephanie, the wonderful Catering Sales Manager I had the pleasure to work with during the costume events.
This book is meticulously researched and presented with detailed in progress photos of the building of Biltmore Estate including the grounds. I'll share a link for you for copies available on Amazon:
Biltmore House was built between 1889 and 1895. It is 255 rooms in 178,926 square feet and has 34 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces.
There are 75 acres of formal and informal gardens and a conservatory. The estate now covers 8,000 acres of the original 125,000 with the remainder of the now forested acres donated to the public upon the death of George Washington Vanderbilt in 1914. Biltmore Estate played a major role in the birth of the U.S. Forest Service operating the first school of forestry. Biltmore Estate is still owned by the Vanderbilt descendants.
Party Like A Vanderbilt - Season 1
The Downton Abbey television series launched in January 2011. It was a huge success for the story, which begins with the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, and the incredible costumes.
In 2014 Biltmore Estate announced that in 2015 they would be hosting the Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times costume exhibit. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to organize a costume event at Biltmore Estate. I had attended events organized and hosted by others and it was my turn to give back to the costuming community. I met with Stephanie in Catering Sales at Biltmore, toured all available venues, perused all menus and sampled all wine selections, and by December of 2014 I had organized the event and signed contracts with Biltmore. My costuming community consisted of people I had met through other events. I detailed the event on my blog, The Perfect Touch, making it open to the public. I had organized the event for 24 attendees with the fear that I would not fill the event. Within 24 hours I had a wait list and changed the dinner seating arrangement and added another 6 attendees. It was amazing to see people from eight states willing to travel to attend the event at Biltmore Estate!
With people attending from across the country and many not knowing each other, I thought it would be a nice keepsake and way to recognize each other if we had a wearable badge. I found a Dogwood Blossom finding with a Swarovski crystal center and thought that was the perfect beginning as the Dogwood Blossom is the State flower of North Carolina. A chocolate brown and aqua two-sided satin ribbon made a wonderful backing and with a pin sewn on the back we could wear it on all our costumes.
The Inn on Biltmore is an extremely luxurious hotel and a fresh rose in the bathroom awaited each of the attendees upon arrival.
For our first get-together on Friday evening I had arranged a trolley ride and tour through Asheville. The town has beautiful historic areas and an active art community. Biltmore staff was very accommodating in creating a snack for our journey and they even tried to find metal tins for packing but in the end we settled on wonderful black boxes. The trolley company approved individual bottles of wine and I had sparkling mineral water available as well. It was memorable when our driver was stopped next to a car where the occupants were gazing at all of us. Our driver said "Don't worry! We're visiting from the past!" A fun and informative tour guide!
After our trolley tour we met inside the Inn for a Meet and Greet where I handed out our event badges and a goodie bag I had assembled for each attendee. Everyone was given a printed schedule of the event so that they could always catch up with the group if they chose to skip an activity or continue to enjoy Biltmore Estate on their own.
On Saturday morning we assembled in the Inn lobby and were shuttled to Biltmore House. The Estate is large and the shuttles are the only way to transport and see everything it has to offer. At this time photography was not allowed inside Biltmore House but James of eCreate Photography joined us before and after the inside tour and captured some wonderful moments outside Biltmore House and in the gardens. Our event coincided with Biltmore in Blooms and the azaleas were in full glory! Could the weather have more perfect, or that Carolina blue sky more blue? And the quality of costuming was stunning for both ladies and gents!
For the Saturday evening dinner I had reserved the Champagne Cellar which is beneath The Winery and accessible by a candle-lit tunnel.
I had chosen a menu and published it with the event details and, of course, Biltmore was responsive to any dietary needs our attendees might have. Having sampled all the wine offerings, I selected wines for the various courses.
I seated attendees knowing who may know whom or would be interested in whom, and made place tags from damask boxes filled with wrapped chocolates and wrote names on laser-cut cardstock attached to the box with satin ribbon. Biltmore had the full menu printed for each attendee and were treated with the elegance you would expect from such a venue.
After a most incredible dinner I was treated with a surprise. The attendees had collaborated to present me with a full set of Vanderbilt Tea Service adapted from the Sevres tea service circa 1888 on display in the Oak Sitting Room. I was in tears!
James, our extraordinary photographer, was with us and captured beautiful moments during the dinner and special photos of everyone as they left the dinner and travelled through The Winery tunnel.
Sunday afternoon was time for tea in a private venue. We ate the wonderful offerings, drank tea, and entertained each other with a DIY Fashion Show sharing our creations and vintage garments.
While most of the activities during the event centered around the time Biltmore Estate was a private residence from 1895 into the 1930s, Sunday evening was focused on the 1920s. I commissioned an artist to create caricatures of all attendees while appropriate era music played and the Biltmore chefs again outdid themselves with more finger foods and luscious desserts and drinks. James created a photo corner and as the music played, the artist drew, and we ate and chatted, our Party Like A Vanderbilt weekend came to an end.
As you can imagine, there were hundreds of photos over this fun weekend. Biltmore Estate, the Dressing Downton Exhibit, the activities, and the attendees and their amazing costumes kept James busy. I've shared a handful here, but each attendee had the opportunity to find their photos at James' website and to purchase a photo album he had created. Once the event is over and only these photos remain, they bring back all the glorious memories of time well spent with amazing friends.
Party Like A Vanderbilt - Season 2
When something was so amazingly fun, what is the best thing to do? Why, do it again, of course! In no time Biltmore Estate announced their next costume exhibit - Fashionable Romance: Wedding Gowns in Film to be on display in Spring 2016.
Having learned so much from the 2015 event and knowing that I wanted to add some very special touches to the next event, I contracted with Biltmore and shared the details on my blog, The Perfect Touch, in August 2015. The public was invited.
The event was filled quickly with a waiting list. Time to create the personal badges for the attendees!
North Carolina has a state tartan and I had some fabric remnants from a gown project. I cut and gathered the tartan fabric into flowers and attached a satin ribbon which I cut to resemble kilt flashes. For the ladies I added a black velvet button with ribbon embroidery. For this event there was a selection of activities for Sunday and I found pins and charms that represented each of those activities and attached them to each individual badge.
Everyone arrived at the Inn on Biltmore on Friday where we are again greeted with a fresh red rose in the bathroom.
Friday evening was our first time together and we met in the Inn on Biltmore lobby to be shuttled to the Champagne Cellar under The Winery. The stunning ladies and dapper gents were a most glorious sight!
This year I had chosen the long feasting table set for 24 and arranged the attendees as Edith Vanderbilt might have done in 1908.
Ladies and gentlemen were seated, presented their menus, the wine was poured, and lively conversation and eating continued throughout the evening.
I wanted each attendee to take something home with them from Biltmore and it seemed fitting that each should receive a modern beverage mug matching the Sevres tea service they had graciously gifted me a year earlier. I still use mine for tea every day.
It was wonderful to have James of eCreate Photography with us again to capture the special moments. He photographed during dinner and again caught everyone as they walked the tunnel from the Champagne Cellar. Patrick and I are wearing the tartan of Patrick's clan.
Our shuttle driver was so gracious to allow us time to walk Antler Village in the beautiful evening before shuttling us back to the Inn...
where the evening wasn't over and we had an afterparty in full costume! Historically accurate? Methinks not! But very fun!
Saturday mid-morning we again gathered in the lobby and shuttled to Biltmore House to view the costume exhibit Fashionable Romance: Wedding Gowns in Film.
Biltmore Estate is known worldwide for hosting lavish weddings and their bakers and florists never fail to impress. Their exhibit upon entering Biltmore House was jaw-dropping! Yes, those are fresh flowers!
This year we were allowed to take non-flash photos inside Biltmore House. Of course our group caused a bit of a slow-down as everyone wanted a photo of us and with us. The exhibit was beautifully staged throughout the House.
Our tour ended in the gardens where James continued to capture beautiful photos.
George Washington Vanderbilt had an office with a balcony overlooking the main entrance to the house and a spiral staircase to a rooftop overlook. One of the wonderful and memorable activities is a private Rooftop Reception and that was my choice for Saturday evening.
The Reception menu was as amazing as the views from that platform.
Biltmore Estate has been the filming location for many full-length movies and a Rooftop Reception seemed like the perfect time for a costume theme entitled Moguls and Movie Stars of the 1920s and 1930s. The attendees were in fine form and you may recognize Nick, Nora, and Asta and a favorite dance couple.
Our evening began with a private tour showcasing un-restored areas of the house not open to the public, including the attic.
Following our tour we were to be escorted via the circular staircase to the rooftop deck for our private reception of specialty foods, drinks, and stunning views at sunset. After a day of beautiful weather it was so sad to see the skies had darkened and the rain clouds roll in which would make the Rooftop Reception impossible. We were guided through the main banquet room, generally off limits to visitors, and into the loft of the adjoining Stable Cafe where we were served our reception menu.
The rain lifted long enough for us to capture a few more photos of our award-winning group of Moguls and Movie Stars outside the Biltmore Stables.
During my first site visit to Biltmore Estate I learned of all the separate and fantastic venues and activities offered. Too many to do in a single weekend. For this year Sunday was a day to choose your own activity from some which were pre-arranged such as sporting clays, or a carriage ride which takes you through the property to the back view of Biltmore House.
Then there is always the excellent afternoon tea in The Library at the Inn.
Were we finished having fun yet? Not quite!! Sunday evening was to be a Grande Finale to our time on Biltmore Estate - A May Day Masquerade Ball! I had attended a Vintage Dance Week a year earlier and heard the music of Spare Parts, an extraordinary group from Massachusetts specializing in music from the Regency Era into the 1920s. I contracted them for an evening at Deerpark Lodge on the Estate with Sharon Guli, a Dance Mistress out of Colorado with the ability to read a dance group and teach and call the dances to the enjoyment of novice and experienced dancers alike.
I had selected a menu to be served in the Deerpark Lodge Courtyard and to add to the festivities the feast would be served under the stars!
I don't have the words to describe the detailed, colorful, and creative costumes for that evening. So here are a few photos:
Then it was time to dance the night away!
And that's a wrap from the partygoers of Party Like A Vanderbilt - Season 2!
Thank you to James for his fantastic work with our precious memories! Photos were available on the website as well as a memory book. So very well done!
After some months had passed and I was still travelling all over the east coast for work, I learned that Biltmore Estate would once again offer a costume exhibit in 2018 - Glamour on Board: Fashion From Titanic The Movie. A quick call confirmed that the Champagne Cellar was open for Saturday, April 14. It seemed the Universe was telling me most sincerely that it was time to create one more costume event at Biltmore Estate. I listened. And I did.
Party Like A Vanderbilt - Sail Away - Season 3 - The Finale
The plans were made, the contracts signed, and again a blog post in October 2017 inviting the public. This would be the only blog post I published that year as work was beyond hectic. And I was very much looking forward to a very special event!
The lives of everyone on board the Titanic on that fateful night would be forever changed whether they were a lost soul or a fortunate survivor. The movie reminds us of the individuals from all walks of life and the fragility of life. The exhibit at Biltmore Estate and our weekend together seemed like the perfect time to honor some of those passengers. And that is what I tried to do with the badges we would wear in 2018.
I found images of Titanic passengers and over several months created what I hoped would be a way for each attendee to honor the Titanic passengers as we toured Biltmore Estate.
Like me, Patrick's hair turned silver at a young age. I was thrilled when he agreed to grow a beard over the next five months and portray Captain Edward John Smith.
I studied and researched the appropriate uniform and sourced the correct gold braid, White Star Line recreation buttons and hat patch, and found some Carpathia replica medals.
Then I had an idea. What if some members of the 1997 Titanic movie wanted to join our group? So I sat down, contacted them through their IMDb info, and invited them. "Dear Mr. Cameron, have you visited Biltmore Estate....."
And lo and behold! I received acceptances! Scheduling and logistics, security and privacy all got in the way of some of the potential attendees but we were able to work out the details for one special attendee and I was thrilled!!
Joining our group for the weekend would be Rochelle Rose who portrayed Lucy Noell Martha, Countess of Rothes.
As all the actors in the film, Rochelle wore some truly spectacular vintage and recreated costumes, but my favorite was her ivory and gold gown from the dinner scene.
Before I learned to sew I was fortunate to wear some creations by Kate, maisondeverneur, an exceptional seamstress in France. Kate offered to recreate the ivory and gold gown for Rochelle to wear at our Titanic dinner. The finished gown arrives and with the gold silk satin and hand embroidery and beading it is extraordinary! Kate is an artist! And I can't wait for Rochelle to see and wear thus beautiful gown!
Biltmore Estate was a working dairy operation as early as 1900 and that continued for decades. In 1977 a sixth-generation winemaker was brought from France to oversee and develop the vineyards and wine production that come from Biltmore today.
The day of travel can be lengthy and exhausting and I decided that this year our first evening would be a time to meet each other and unwind with a tour of The Winery. We took the complete tour of The Winery, enjoyed a wine tasting, and then a casual dinner at The Bistro. It was a nice way to start the event and gave me an opportunity to talk with each attendee and present them with their badge and image of the Titanic passenger they would honor over the weekend.
Saturday morning we began our tour of Biltmore House and the Titanic movie costume exhibit. Rochelle Rose joined us in a suit created by The Fashion Archaeologist.
It was a joy to follow Rochelle as she viewed the exhibit sharing her memories of the movie filming and the costumes she wore. When we arrived in the Banquet Hall where her gold dinner gown was displayed she quietly whispered "That's not the necklace I wore." It was fascinating seeing everything through her eyes and memories!
James of eCreate Photography was with us again capturing moments both outside Biltmore House and in the gardens. As this event was several weeks earlier than the previous one in 2016, the spring gardens were in full bloom.
Saturday evening was time for our dinner in the Champagne Cellar on the 106th anniversary of the last dinner on the Titanic. I had shown Rochelle the gown recreated for her when she arrived Friday evening and it brought tears. I had fashioned an aigrette - a headdress of white egret's feathers and a spray of gems. Thank you to my sweet friend Kat, our community's personal tiara expert! With white leather gloves, a lace fan I had made, and jewels as close as I could find to those she wore in the movie, she was stunning and every bit the Countess!
Now it was time for my own tears as I watched everyone arrive wearing what I can only describe as elegance. The gowns and ladies were beautiful! The men were dapper and handsome! Everyone had truly gone all out in their dinner dress!
The walk to the Champagne Cellar begins at The Winery entrance in an ivy-covered and lighted arbor and through the stone candlelit tunnel. I wanted to share this photo of Michael, the gentleman waving at us. I met Michael about 10 years earlier on one of the Victorian Dance Cruises. Michael has just turned 89 and still costumes and travels the world. He selects and commissions all his suits, hats, and accessories for many different eras. I often wonder when I will give up costuming due to age and Michael is a reminder to all of us in costuming that giving up is something that is not a given. Hats off to you, Michael!!
The companion YouTube video to this blog post has 26 seconds of our table in the Champagne Cellar. It was a rousing evening of Biltmore wines, fabulous food, and sparkling conversation. And, of course, photos!
Our dinner ended with a toast - To making it count! I like to think the Titanic passengers we were honoring would have nodded and smiled in agreement.
It was disappointing for both Rochelle and us to learn prior to the event that Rochelle had to return to work and would have to fly home on Sunday. The Fashion Archaeologist had created a tea dress for Rochelle and she kindly changed into the dress after dinner. And we took more photos!
Although Rochelle couldn't join our Royale Tea on Sunday we were reminded of her on the way. This display held a vintage gown that Rochelle wore in this scene snapshot during the movie.
As the attendees started to arrive it was again apparent that they had created and accessorized to perfection!
The Private Dining Room at the Inn was the perfect place for our Royale Tea. It has an incredible view of the Blue Ridge Mountains and greenery of the Estate.
We started our Royale Tea with a glass of champagne and time to enjoy the view and each other's company and costumes. Our menu was placed at each of our settings and the offerings were beautiful to look at and delicious to eat. Chocolates with gold leaf. How extraordinary! I passed out Harney & Sons Titanic Blend Tea as a special treat.
The companion YouTube video has 1 minute 11 seconds of the lively Royale Tea.
After our tea, Lynn gave us a presentation entitled RMS Titanic and Ralph B. White. Ralph White was an award-winning cinematographer who documented the expedition which found the wreck of the Titanic in 1985. Lynn's presentation was powerful and personal as she shared information and photos not available to the public but only through her personal association with Ralph White and with permission from the family. Thank you so very much, Lynn!
As a special gift, Lady Detalle on Etsy had created anchor earrings for each of the ladies. Thank you, Lady Detalle! They are a beautiful memento!
Sunday evening would be our last time to gather and the end of Party Like A Vanderbilt - Sail Away - Season 3 - The Finale. What could be the perfect ending? An afterparty, of course! And this one would be named Party Like A Clampett. Remember the Clampettes? The family that struck oil, got rich, and moved to Beverly? Hills, that is......
There is James of eCreate Photography on the right, hanging in with us until the sweet end!
And the end was sweet as it was a competition between Biltmore fudge and Mackinac Island fudge. Since both were finished off along with bottles of Biltmore wine, I can only assume both were delicious.
And then it was time to say goodnight to each other, and goodbye to Biltmore Estate and the end to three costume events full of experiences and memories.
James once again captured photos over the entire weekend and went the extra mile creating a memory photo album. Not only were the photos breathtaking but the book was created over a ship theme. There were even photos of attendees imposed over vintage ship photos beautifully keeping with our theme. Thank you, James and everyone who contributed to this wonderful keepsake!
As another keepsake for the attendees I wrote a blog post with photo collages and detail about the Titanic passenger each attendee honored over the weekend. The blog post was available to everyone and also available in printed copy for each attendee. I'll share the photo collages and Titanic passengers here and the link to the blog post if you would like to read about each.
Honoring Titanic Passenger: Violet Constance Jessop
Honoring Titanic Captain: Edward J. Smith
Honoring Titanic Passenger: Lucy Noell Martha, Countess of Rothes
Honoring Titanic Passenger: Edwin Charles Wheeler
Honoring Titanic Passengers: Madeleine Talmage Force Astor and John Jacob Astor IV
Honoring Titanic Passenger: Colonel Archibald Gracie IV
Honoring Titanic Passengers: Rosalie Ida Straus and Isador Straus
Honoring Titanic Passengers: Dorothy Annan Harder and George Achilles Harder
Honoring Titanic Passenger: Margaret Tobin Brown
Honoring Titanic Passenger: Helen Churchill Candee
Honoring Titanic Passenger: Berthe Antoine Mayne
Honoring Titanic Passenger: Marjorie Anne Newell
Honoring Titanic Passenger: Lady Lucy Duff-Gordon
Honoring Titanic Passenger: Constance Willard
Honoring Titanic Passengers: Mme. Leotine Pauline Aubart and Benjamin Guggenheim
I truly hope you've enjoyed our Party Like A Vanderbilt three seasons of memories! As part of #costumeflashback I shared the steps I took to organize each event, and the special touches I included to make each event enjoyable, fun, and a memory to bring a smile with every thought.
This is the perfect time for me to say a very public Thank You! to Patrick. He has been such a perfect costuming partner and good sport as I spend time planning, organizing, and hosting these events. Thank you, babe....excuse me....I mean, Captain!