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Fashions of the Gilded Age

For the first time, elegant fashions worn by the Vanderbilts—re-created by Oscar-winning designer John Bright—will fill the grand rooms of Biltmore House when Biltmore's newest exhibition, A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age, opens February 8, 2019.

In collaboration with Biltmore curators, Bright and his team at Cosprop, London meticulously re-created fashions favored by the Vanderbilts and their guests at turn-of-the-century celebrations known as house parties.

Throughout his career, Bright has received 12 Academy Award nominations and a Best Costume Design win in 1985 for the Merchant Ivory adaption of A Room with a View. The film starred Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Daniel Day-Lewis.

"This exhibition is unlike any we've ever done before," said Leslie Klingner, Biltmore's Curator of Interpretation.

"You will get a sense of what life was truly like at Biltmore."

Using information gleaned from letters, photographs and documents in the Vanderbilt archives, the curatorial team has created an experience that will put groups into the action of the time when George and Edith Vanderbilt extended their boundless hospitality to family and friends. Visitors will get a boosted sense of the Gilded Age era by taking advantage of a new Premium Audio Guided Tour. This component of the exhibition combines innovative 360° sound techniques with stories told from the perspectives of those who lived and worked at Biltmore in the early 1900s, creating an enhanced immersive audio-visual experience that is a real treat for groups.

Klingner and Ellen Rickman, Biltmore's Director of Museum Services, traveled between London and Asheville, North Carolina, over the course of two years to work with Bright to re-create the Vanderbilt wardrobe, researching fashion magazines of the era and studying archival photography and portraits from Biltmore's collection in great detail to create the designs found in the exhibition.

"To bring these photographs that have been in black and white for more than a century into vivid, living color representations has been incredible," said Klingner.

Among the artwork, tapestries and antiques in Biltmore House and the Vanderbilt collection are few pieces of clothing from the Gilded Age era, as clothing tends to deteriorate through the years and not hold up as well as other artifacts.

"This exhibition is like we're replacing a piece of the collection that was missing," said Dini Cecil Pickering, great-granddaughter of George Vanderbilt, who was Biltmore's founder.

The exhibit is open through May 27, 2019. Visit Biltmore to learn more.

Written by Sarah Suydam, Staff Writer for Groups Today.

Photo courtesy of Biltmore.