Party Like a Vanderbilt at the Biltmore – Garden & Gun

Arts & Culture

Party Like a Vanderbilt

For Gilded Age gatherings, like those at her brother George Vanderbilt’s sprawling estate tucked among the mountains surrounding Asheville, the heiress Florence Vanderbilt Twombly wore a peach silk gown sprinkled with beaded butterflies. In the Biltmore Estate’s new mansion-encompassing exhibition, A Vanderbilt House Party (February 8–May 27), curators led by the Oscar-winning costume designer John Bright (you’ve seen his work on Downton Abbey) remade the ensemble.

“We worked with embroiderers in London who hand sequined the dress and used different colors of metallic threads to make the butterflies,” says curator Leslie Klingner. “Not only is it a stunner, it’s hard to believe it’s not original.” More than fifty additional garments—including re-creations of George Vanderbilt’s sporting tweeds and Edith Vanderbilt’s casually elegant polka-dot bodice and silver-belted skirt—will grace vignettes of entertaining. “Everything they did here,” Klingner says, “was the ultimate in gracious Southern hospitality.”  

See these costumes and preview more of the exhibit here.

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A colorized photograph from the Vanderbilt archives depicting afternoon tea on the Loggia of Biltmore House, September 1900. From left: Edith Vanderbilt, Mademoiselle Rambaud (Edith Vanderbilt’s former chaperone), Lila Vanderbilt Webb (George Vanderbilt’s sister), Mary Webb (Lila Webb’s sister in law), Isabella Stewart Gardner, William Blodgett II, and George Vanderbilt.

photo: Courtesy of the Biltmore Estate

From left: Edith Vanderbilt, 1900; a reproduction of the 1900-era skirt and blouse worn by Edith Vanderbilt, created by Academy Award-winning costume designer John Bright and Cosprop, London.

photo: Courtesy of the Biltmore Estate

Edith Vanderbilt in 1903, pictured with a detailed look at a reproduction of her dress by Cosprop, London.

photo: Courtesy of the Biltmore Estate

Cornelia Vanderbilt, right, and cousin John Nicholas Brown in 1906.

photo: Courtesy of the Biltmore Estate

A recreation of clothing worn by Cornelia Vanderbilt.

photo: Courtesy of the Biltmore Estate

Jay and Adele Burden honeymooned at Biltmore in June 1895. Adele was George Vanderbilt’s niece.

photo: Courtesy of the Biltmore Estate

From left: George Vanderbilt with Adele and Jay Burden;  a reproduction of outfits worn by Adele and Jay Burden, stationed in the Salon in Biltmore House.

photo: Courtesy of the Biltmore Estate

Florence Vanderbilt Twombly, George Vanderbilt’s sister, in 1900.

photo: Courtesy of the Biltmore Estate

A reproduction of Twombly’s butterfly dress, among other creations, in the Cosprop Studio.

photo: Courtesy of the Biltmore Estate

In the banquet hall, re-creations of Florence Vanderbilt Twombly’s butterfly dress and Hamilton Twombly’s white tie attire.

photo: Courtesy of the Biltmore Estate

Edith Stuyvesant Dresser in 1898.

photo: Courtesy of the Biltmore Estate

In the tapestry gallery, ensembles the Vanderbilts wore in their engagement portraits, circa 1898.

photo: Courtesy of the Biltmore Estate

In the library, George Vanderbilt is dashing in a formal day suit, standing between Edith Vanderbilt, and writer Edith Wharton, a frequent guest at Biltmore House.

photo: Courtesy of the Biltmore Estate

A valet stands by in Mr. Vanderbilt’s room. He is there to assist Mr. Vanderbilt with his wardrobe for the day.

photo: Courtesy of the Biltmore Estate

Edith Vanderbilt and head housekeeper Emily King met daily in the Oak Sitting Room to discuss and plan the day’s agenda and menus.

photo: Courtesy of the Biltmore Estate

Couples gather in the third floor living hall, where guests staying in nearby bedrooms came here to relax, listen to music, and read before and after dinner. Depicted here are Lila Vanderbilt Sloane Field and William B. Osgood Field; Ernesto Fabbri and Edith Shepard Fabbri; Douglas Robinson Jr. and Corinne Roosevelt Robinson.

photo: Courtesy of the Biltmore Estate

The chef and cook prepare the evening’s gala meal in the Main Kitchen. The chef led a team of more than a dozen kitchen workers.

photo: Courtesy of the Biltmore Estate

Guests pose in front of Biltmore House, December 1898.  William B. Osgood Field is seated atop the lion sculpture, along with guests Mary Field and Mary Helen Cadwalader, and Cedric, the Vanderbilts’ St. Bernard.


More on the Vanderbilts: 

A Forgotten Vanderbilt Finally Gets Her Due

A Vanderbilt Library Comes to Life

Secrets of the Biltmore Estate

A Legendary Southern Wedding

Inside the Biltmore’s Orchid Room

Olmsted’s Southern Stand

photo: Courtesy of the Biltmore Estate

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