Dressing the Mannequins of Glamour on Board

After almost two years of planning, Biltmore’s newest costume exhibition, Glamour on Board: Fashion from Titanic the Movie, is beginning to come to life.

While key costumes from the film have been shown in other places, this is the first large-scale display—including outfits of background characters, shoes, accessories, and more.

All that’s to say, Leslie Klingner, Biltmore’s Curator of Interpretation; Anne Battram, our Upholstery and Textile Conservator; and Janey Abbott, Costume Specialist, have been hard at work. Anne and Janey began dressing mannequins back in May and they’ll be the first to admit: There’s more to the task than meets the eye.

Shoes from the film Titanic

1. Outlining the exhibition

Before the costumes were chosen at Fox Studios, Leslie worked with other members of our Museum Services team to map out the storyline of the exhibition, which informs where the costumes will be placed throughout Biltmore House.

“This plan shifted a bit as we saw what costumes were available,” said Leslie. “Some were so striking that it was clear immediately in what room they could best be showcased.”

As Titanic is set in the early 1910s, many of the period-specific costumes paired easily with the interior of America’s Largest Home®—but others required some judgement calls.

Costumes from the film Titanic

For instance, one costume in the film’s collection is a beautifully intricate maritime officer’s uniform.

“The artistry of the piece is truly incredible,” Leslie said, “and the Captain’s story is an important one, but that outfit simply doesn’t make sense just anywhere in Biltmore House. In the end, we decided that it made the most sense in the Banquet Hall, knowing that when the Vanderbilts’ travelled, they would have often been invited to dine at the Captain’s table. We wanted to convey a sense of that through this exhibition.”

Box with Rose's Baording Hat

2. Documenting the costumes of Glamour on Board

Not long after the flow of the exhibition is outlined, the costumes begin to arrive. At this point, Leslie and Janey must photograph each of the 511 items to document their condition and arrangement upon arrival.

“The process is far more involved than dressing a retail mannequin,” explains Leslie. “These costumes are iconic and hold cultural and historical value, so we have to pay attention to the details of every single piece.”

The team then creates an inventory sheet for each costume, identifying all of the pieces included as well as a film still showing the costume on its character.

Inventory sheets

3. Dressing the mannequins

Before actually dressing the mannequins, Leslie and Anne pair the costumes with the most appropriate mannequin.

“Our mannequins are custom made,” explained Leslie, “and as styles change with the times, it’s important for each to reflect the style of dress from that era. We pad out mannequins to best support the textiles while they are on display and also try to reflect the form of the actor who originally wore the outfit.”

“For some costumes, we need mannequins whose poses can accentuate certain accessories, such as shoes or a fan, while still appearing anatomically correct,” added Janey.

Shoes on a mannequin at glamour on board

Finally, Anne and Janey put the costumes on the mannequins and Leslie checks to see what may need adjusting to make the pieces as authentic as possible—which can be anything from needing extra padding to create a certain shape to finding creative ways to resolve issues that arise.

They then take the costume off, make the adjustments, put the costume back on, and check their work.

“No matter how well we plan, there is always something that didn’t fit quite how we expected,” said Leslie. “Anne and Janey have come up with countless ways to mask small gaps between buttons or to create the illusion of a lengthened hem. It’s an art!”

Janey Abbott working during glamour on board

“It really is a challenge in 3D thinking,” says Janey. “We’re essentially creating form from the inside out.”

In the last few months of dressing, this team will be adding wigs custom-made of watercolor paper and jewelry for a final touch. Meanwhile, our Floral team is planning complementary décor for the rooms and our Engineering and Conservation teams plan for lighting, object movement, and installation.

Join us for the exhibition and see how all of the hard work pays off. Also, be sure to ask about our limited-time Glamour on Board Premium Guided Tour. In this 90-minute tour, you’ll learn captivating stories behind the costumes’ creation, and get fascinating insights into the elegance of the era’s fashions, culture of the times, costume design, and making of the film.

Fall Getaway: A Day and A Half at Biltmore

Perhaps 36 hours doesn’t seem like enough time to truly experience a fall getaway to the Blue Ridge Mountains, right? Think again! With 8,000-acres of ever-changing autumn hues and harvest season celebrations, Biltmore guests can enjoy Western North Carolina at its best.

Of course, a visit to Biltmore House is at the very top of our list, but what should you do after spending a few hours touring America’s Largest Home®? Our autumn itinerary below offers suggestions for how to make the most of a day and a half at Biltmore.

Leaf-Peeping

Family taking in the view of the South Terrace at Biltmore

South Terrace (.5 hours)
Take your time on the four-acre terrace next to Biltmore House and enjoy a sweeping scene of the surrounding mountains that truly seem to go on forever. Fun fact: George Vanderbilt once owned all of the land he could see from this terrace—even Mt. Pisgah more than 30 miles away!

Friends taking a group photo on the Rooftop Tour at Biltmore

Rooftop Tour (1 hour)
Build your architectural knowledge of Biltmore House while taking in picture-perfect long-range fall views from its rooftop and balconies on this behind-the-scenes guided tour.

Garden Strolls

Walled Garden (1 hour)
Next, head to the Walled Garden, transformed by a carpet of vivid chrysanthemums. This year’s color show features brilliant blooms in red, purple, orange, and yellow.

Bass Pond Bridge during Fall

Bass Pond (1 hour)
Stroll the Azalea Garden trail to discover fall color radiating across Biltmore’s Bass Pond. Fun fact: The Bass Pond bridge was featured in the film Last of the Mohicans.

Antler Hill Village & Winery

Taste of Biltmore Culinary Showcases (3 hours)
Relish harvest flavors as you mingle with estate chefs, local purveyors, and artisans who share their expertise in crafting distinctive fare from fresh estate-raised and local ingredients.

Red Wine and Cheese Selection

Wine & Cheese Hour (1 hour)
End the day with a social hour hosted by our most knowledgeable wine aficionados and savor delicious pairings of Biltmore wines and a variety of artisan cheeses.

Outdoor Adventures

Couple Tandem biking at Biltmore

Biking (1.5 hours)
Wake up the next morning with a bike ride across the estate and discover our woodland trails enveloped in fall color. Bring your own bike or rent one from us!

Biltmore Vineyard Photo

West Side Segway Tour (2 hours)
Travel by Segway across the French Broad River to the estate’s west side and enjoy beautiful views of our pastures and vineyard while learning about Biltmore’s agricultural program.

So you see, a day and a half is plenty of time to experience the perfect fall getaway during our most colorful time of the year.

Lucky in Love: The Dresser Girls and Marriage

Ward McAllister, a well-known arbiter of New York society, once said of Edith Stuyvesant Dresser and her sisters: “Every one of those girls will marry splendidly and they will never have to seek husbands.”

And he was right. Sisters Edith, Natalie, Pauline, and Susan each celebrated their unions with romantic wedding ceremonies and—though some were cut short—marriages full of love.

Natalie Bayard Dresser Brown in her wedding gown, ca. 1897 (cropped)
Natalie Bayard Dresser Brown in her wedding gown, ca. 1897 (cropped)

Natalie Bayard Dresser Brown

Natalie was the first of the Dresser girls to marry. She had been wooed by John Nicholas Brown, a member of the prominent Brown family of Providence and Newport, Rhode Island.

Edith Stuyvesant Dresser, Susan, and their governess, Mademoiselle Marie Rambaud, were living in Paris at the time and returned to the United States to attend the wedding.

The ceremony was held at Trinity Church in Newport in September 1897.

As their parents had passed years earlier, Daniel LeRoy Dresser, the Dresser girls’ brother, walked Natalie down the aisle. She wore the same diamond-accented veil worn by their mother, Susan Fish LeRoy Dresser, at her wedding.

Unfortunately, Natalie was widowed just three years later and never remarried.

Pauline Georgine Warren Dresser, ca. 1897 (cropped)
Pauline Georgine Warren Dresser, ca. 1897 (cropped)

Pauline Georgine Warren Dresser Merrill

Pauline, the youngest of the Dresser girls, was the next to marry. After Natalie’s wedding, Edith Stuyvesant Dresser, Susan, and Mlle Rambaud planned to return to Paris—this time, with Pauline.

However, before the trip took place, Pauline became engaged to Rev. George Grenville Merrill, an Episcopal minister, and long-time family friend.

The couple wed on December 1, 1897, at Trinity Church in Newport with Edith serving as Maid of Honor. And like Natalie, Pauline wore the same veil worn by their mother and was escorted down the aisle by their brother Daniel.

Pauline and her husband were happily married for more than 40 years.

Edith Stuyvesant Dresser in her engagement portrait, ca. 1898 (cropped)
Edith Stuyvesant Dresser in her engagement portrait, ca. 1898 (cropped)

Edith Stuyvesant Dresser

The April 1898 announcement of George Vanderbilt’s engagement to Edith Stuyvesant Dresser was a leading topic in newspapers of the era as George was considered America’s most eligible bachelor.

According to one 1898 New York World article, much of the speculation ascribed the engagement “to everything except the right thing—love.“

Many assumed the wedding to be a grand affair, but the couple decided to marry in Paris with as little fanfare as possible. As required by French law, there was a brief civil ceremony on June 1, 1898, and a religious ceremony the following day.

Edith’s gown was trimmed in the same lace worn by her grandmother nearly a century before. And she, too, wore her mother’s veil, just as her sisters had before her.

Her brother-in-law Rev. George Grenville Merrill assisted in officiating the religious ceremony and Daniel, once again, escorted one of his sisters down the aisle.

George and Edith enjoyed a beautiful life together at Biltmore until George’s unexpected passing in 1914.

Susan LeRoy Dresser d’Osmoy, ca. 1899 (cropped)
Susan LeRoy Dresser d’Osmoy, ca. 1899 (cropped)

Susan LeRoy Dresser d’Osmoy

Susan, the eldest Dresser girl, remained in Paris with Mlle Rambaud after her three younger sisters had all moved back to the United States. But she too would soon marry.

In 1899, she wed Viscount Romain d’Osmoy of Paris. Little is known about the ceremony. However, we do know she was given away in marriage by her brother-in-law, George Vanderbilt, as Daniel was unable to travel to Paris for the wedding.

And she also wore the same wedding veil as her mother and sisters.

Edith and her eldest sister Susan doing needlework, ca. 1890 (cropped)
Edith and her eldest sister Susan doing needlework, ca. 1890 (cropped)

A Legacy of Romance

The 1898 New York World article said of Edith Stuyvesant Dresser and her sisters:

“Now, the Dresser girls did not grow up really beautiful, but they had something deeper than beauty—brains…They were clever, too. When they opened their mouths people liked to listen. They had a way of saying bright things, or talking about the serious things in life—literature, art, music, politics.”

Perhaps it was the Dresser girls’ intelligence that allowed them each to be lucky in love and marry well—or perhaps it was their charm. Regardless, they helped to create a legacy of romance that enveloped the Vanderbilt name.

Though we do not have the wedding veil worn by Edith, her three sisters, and their mother, other special pieces of this romantic legacy are now part of our permanent collection at Biltmore.

An April Engagement Brings a Biltmore Legacy

Please enjoy this archived content. Our Fashionable Romance exhibition was on display from February 2016 through July 2016.

If April showers bring May flowers, what do April engagements bring to Biltmore? For George Washington Vanderbilt, April 1898 brought his engagement to Edith Stuyvesant Dresser. That, in turn, brought about two wedding ceremonies: the first being the couple’s civil service on June 1, performed by the mayor of Paris at the Town Hall of the Eighth District in the Rue Anjou.

Mary Lee Ryan Cecil’s wedding gown on display at The Biltmore Legacy (left)
Mary Lee Ryan Cecil’s wedding gown on display at The Biltmore Legacy (left)

Another wedding

At noon the next day, George and Edith were wed in a religious ceremony at the American Church of the Holy Trinity. Afterward, the newlyweds, along with family and friends, returned to Edith’s apartment on Rue Vernet for a reception that included two bottles of champagne set aside for the occasion 24 years earlier–at Edith’s birth–by her maternal grandfather.

Following an extended honeymoon in Europe, the couple took up residence at Biltmore House, beginning their legacy of gracious hospitality that continues to delight our guests today.

Wedding gown and veil of Mary Lee Ryan Cecil.
Wedding gown and veil of Mary Lee Ryan Cecil.

Fashionable Romance

In honor of the Vanderbilts and their descendants, The Biltmore Legacy in Antler Hill Village is currently hosting the Fashionable Romance Exhibition which features all the beautiful details and descriptions of 60 years of family weddings. You’ll discover stories of “Cupid’s richest captive” as the newspapers of the day dubbed George Vanderbilt and his marriage to Edith Stuyvesant Dresser–a “very charming and accomplished girl.”

Original satin pumps worn by Cornelia Vanderbilt at her wedding to John Cecil.
Original satin pumps worn by Cornelia Vanderbilt at her wedding to John Cecil.

Other exhibition highlights include the stunning re-creation of the gown Cornelia Vanderbilt wore for her 1924 marriage to the Honorable John Cecil, and the glamorous 1950s wedding dress and exquisite Lee family veil worn by Mary Lee Ryan when she married George Vanderbilt’s grandson William Cecil. The heirloom veil was also worn by Mary Ryan’s first cousin Jacqueline Bouvier when she married future President John F. Kennedy in 1953.

Planning your own group event or fairytale wedding or Biltmore engagement? The gardens and grounds of America’s Largest Home® can provide the perfect setting for your special day!

Edith Stuyvesant Vanderbilt: a very charming and accomplished girl

In honor of Edith Vanderbilt’s birthday on January 17, we’d like to share a glimpse into her childhood and young adult years before she married “the most eligible bachelor in the world.”

In April 1898, an article appeared in the New York Herald announcing the engagement of George Washington Vanderbilt to Edith Stuyvesant Dresser. Much attention was given at the time to George Vanderbilt’s family connections and the fact that he had long been considered one of the most eligible bachelors in American society. But what of his fiancée, Edith?

Other than basic facts about the identity of her parents and the marital status of her siblings, little more was said about Edith other than that she was “a very charming and accomplished girl.”

Childhood adventures

Edith was born in Newport, Rhode Island in 1873. She was the fourth child of Colonel and Mrs. George Warren Dresser, who was a descendant of the last Dutch governor of New York. The Dressers divided their time between Newport and their New York residence, and much of what we know about Edith’s childhood comes from an unpublished narrative written in 1943 by her younger sister Pauline.

According to Pauline, the Dresser children enjoyed a wide variety of pets—including Edith’s 19 turtles that lived in the backyard—and a wide variety of adventures such as roller skating in their dining room while it was being repaired for water damage.

Growing up in Newport

Both of Edith’s parents both passed away in 1883, but the children’s elderly maternal grandparents stepped in to raise the five siblings who ranged in age from six to nineteen. The young Dressers moved to their grandparents’ home in Newport, and a governess named Mademoiselle Marie Rambaud was added for the girls. Pauline’s memoirs mention how Mademoiselle Rambaud had the Dresser girls adhere to the following regime:

“Two hours’ exercise, rain or shine, and early bed hours… We were not allowed to get up until seven… half an hour for dressing, then, if we hurried sufficiently, a chance to run outdoors for a few minutes … before a hasty glass of milk and a roll, which preceded the hour of piano practice from 7:45 to 8:45. A quarter of an hour for family prayers in my grandmother’s room…then breakfast at nine in the dark dining room…, and lessons from 9:30 to 1:30 in winter, and 9:30 to 11:30 in summer. Lunch at 1:30, then another hours’ practice from 2 to 3 – walking every day from 3 to 5. Supper at 5:15 –… and bed at 6:15 in winter and summer, until I was fourteen years old: then only, was I allowed to dine with the family and go to bed at 8:00 P.M….

But life in Newport wasn’t all hard work, and Edith and her sisters were encouraged to enjoy outdoor pursuits such as horseback riding, carriage driving, and swimming. Summers were particularly lighthearted as the Dresser girls, accompanied by their governess and their pet collie Paddy, walked to the beach three times a week, returning in a public horse-driven bus. Apparently Paddy loved to swim so much that he would visit the beach on his own, jumping into a cab for the return trip home. The girls would look out to see what appeared to be an empty cab pull up to their house, and out would jump Paddy, leaving a laughing cab driver behind.

The Paris years

Following the death of their grandmother in 1892, Edith and her sisters spent some time traveling, returning to Newport for a few months before taking an apartment in Paris for the next several years.

In 1896 and 1897, the Dresser girls vacationed for the summer in the French town of Dinard. Still pet lovers as they had been from childhood, they acquired two dogs in France – “Mlle Follette,” who would “die for France,” standing on her hind legs then falling over as though felled by an enemy’s bullet, and Bluette, a bulldog. Time in Dinard was light-hearted and fun, with most of their friends in attendance. They “picnicked and swam and danced and enjoyed themselves hugely.”

After their last summer together in Dinard, Edith and her oldest sister Susan stayed in Paris while Natalie and Pauline Dresser returned to Newport for the first time in four years. It was a time of new beginnings for each of them as the Dresser sisters began to meet and fall in love with the gentlemen they would one day marry.

Edith Vanderbilt’s legacy

Without a doubt, Edith Vanderbilt’s childhood and young adulthood certainly molded her into much more than “a very charming and accomplished girl.” The development of her striking personality traits such as intelligence, sophistication, an outgoing nature, a love of adventure, the ability to relate to people of all backgrounds and cultures, resilience in the face of difficulty, and strong commitment to family make her a woman we continue to admire.

Pictured above, right: the Dresser girls with their grandmother (L-R: Natalie, Edith, Grandmother Susan Fish Le Roy, Pauline, Susan)

Pictured above, left: Dresser girls in Dinard, 1896 or 1897 (L-R: two servants, Edith, Mlle. Rambaud, Pauline, Susan, Natalie; Bluette the bulldog in  foreground & Mlle. Follette to the left of the bicycle)

Welcoming Edith Vanderbilt to her new home

Edith Stuyvesant Vanderbilt was just 25 years old when she arrived at Biltmore on October 1, 1898, following her marriage to George Washington Vanderbilt.

The couple, who wed in Paris, enjoyed a three-month honeymoon in Europe before traveling to Asheville where Edith caught her first glimpse of her new home.

Archival photograph of Biltmore Estate employees lining Approach Road to welcome the newlyweds.
Archival photograph of Biltmore Estate employees lining Approach Road to welcome the newlyweds.

The arrival of the newlyweds was celebrated all around Biltmore; employees and their families lined estate roads to greet the Vanderbilts. Festivities continued into the night with fireworks and music in front of Biltmore House. 

The Asheville Daily Citizen reported that estate employees gathered at the arch, “…representatives from the agricultural departments of the estate were massed, each group bearing a device typical of their labor.” Dairy workers wore white suits and led Jersey calves by their halters, while employees of the Biltmore Nursery tossed flowers as the couple passed by in a carriage.

Archival photograph of the floral arch constructed by estate employees to welcome home the newlyweds.
Archival photograph of the floral arch constructed by estate employees to welcome home the newlyweds.

It was a warm welcome as estate employees constructed this dramatic floral arch celebrating George and Edith Vanderbilt’s arrival at Biltmore on October 1, 1898, for the first time since their wedding.

Employee Christmas Tradition

When Edith Stuyvesant Dresser became Mrs. Vanderbilt in 1898, she added a special note of hospitality to holiday entertaining each year by organizing grand parties for estate employees. She ensured that all the children had gifts specially chosen for them, creating a tradition that we continue today.

According to Edith’s good friend, Anna Wheeler, Edith spent a great deal of time preparing for the holidays. “Mrs. Vanderbilt kept a book in which the individual presents were recorded yearly; her idea was to avoid duplication, but it served another purpose in assisting [her] in the better knowledge of each family.  It was just another example of her predominate kindness and her executive ability.  Mrs. Vanderbilt did the buying, and labeling and wrapping of all those many gifts.  As far as possible they were bought in Asheville soon after the first of October.  One of the west tower rooms assumed the appearance of a Santa Claus storage place.”

In keeping with this holiday tradition, our team was busy packing Christmas gifts over the last week for our annual employee party tonight.  Hundreds of gift bags were carefully stuffed with toys for each age group.  They spend months in preparation, looking for presents for children of our employees.   And while the gift list looks very different than the 1897 list below, the joy of carrying on the Christmas spirit at Biltmore is the same.

A gift list from Christmas 1897 reads:

60lbs cut rock candy
2 boxes of oranges
6 balls
5 red balls
10 baskets
22 rubber toys
1 dozen dolls
2 sets dishes
5 doll carriages
6 chimes
2 clowns
3 horns
1 drum
1 train
1 gun
1 wagon
1 bicycle
1 harp
120 candle holders
5 cakes
12 gallons cream

Revitalize Your Health

No Time Like the Present

Don’t let those resolutions you made in January get you down—there’s no time like the present to make a brand-new commitment to revitalizing your health and well-being this spring!

Healthier Habits

Here are some easy ways to get started with those healthier habits:

•    Unplug: turn off the television, computer, and cell phones for at least an hour before going to bed—you may be surprised by how easily you fall asleep without last-minute distractions and much stimulation, like loud noises and lights that simulate daytime.

•    Unwind: stand under a warm (not hot) shower for a few minutes before bedtime. Ease the water temperature to cool (not cold) for the last minute or so. The warm water is soothing and the cooler water signals your body that it’s time to sleep.

•    Uncork: enjoy a glass of Biltmore Wine—our reds pair well with a wide range of good-for-you foods including tuna, salmon, and dark chocolate—and some studies suggest red wines may have health benefits.

Resolve to try this

If your resolutions seemed right on track for New Year’s but got derailed soon after, you might benefit from a “try this, not that” strategy that helps you substitute one better choice at a time rather than taking on your whole list at once. Here are some examples:

•    Vowed to give up chocolate? Try substituting high quality dark chocolate (cocoa content should be 70% or more) for your cravings instead of going cold turkey. For an extra treat, pair dark chocolates with Biltmore Zinfandel.

•    Vowed to run a mile each day? You can still work toward that goal, but for starters, try taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walk your dog an extra 20 minutes (you’ll both benefit!) each day. You’re more likely to reach a goal that you work toward gradually.

•    Vowed to be less carnivorous? Instead of serving a big steak and a small salad, shake things up by serving a smaller portion of steak in the salad. Toss a few ounces of thinly-sliced prime rib and a splash of low-calorie vinaigrette with your favorite greens, and pair the tasty treat with Biltmore Century Red.

Red Wines + Healthy Eating

Although red wines are often associated with cooler weather, spring is also a great time to pair them with fresh, healthy food options like these:

•    Sip a glass of Biltmore Pinot Noir with a portion of heart-healthy salmon.

•    Our Biltmore Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 North Carolina just received a rating of 90 points from The Beverage Testing Institute. Try pairing it with leg of lamb with rosemary—and be sure to choose lean lamb and trim it well to keep the calories much lower!

Shop our online store or click here to find Biltmore Wines in your area.