The artistry of great literary works, costume design and movie making comes together in Designed for Drama: Fashion from the Classics, a new exhibition premiering in Biltmore House on Friday, February 10. Inspired by George Vanderbilt’s love of literature, Designed for Drama showcases more than 40 award-winning costumes from films based on favorite books in his collection.
Known as one of the best-read men in America, Vanderbilt amassed a library of more than 22,000 volumes at his North Carolina home. At the age of 12 he began keeping a record of books he had read and by the time of his death in 1914, he had logged 3,159 books. He counted among his personal friends leading authors of the era Henry James and Edith Wharton—both of whom were guests at Biltmore. That literary connection is a central theme in the exhibition, with the original books from Vanderbilt’s library that inspired the films also on display.
The exhibition features elaborate costumes from 14 recent films that bring literary characters to life, from the detective duo of Holmes and Watson in Sherlock Holmes to the creation of the Peter Pan story in Finding Neverland. The grand fashions of 19th century Russia are strikingly portrayed in Anna Karenina, while the simpler attire of Jane Austen’s characters in Pride and Prejudice portrays one of the BBC miniseries’ most memorable scenes.
The costumes reveal the attention to detail involved in period costume design, and represent the work of costume designers at the highest level of their profession. “We have an exquisite dress that Nicole Kidman wore in The Portrait of a Lady,” says Leslie Klingner, Biltmore’s curator of interpretation. “It’s black and gold, embroidered with flat sequins correct to the time period.”
Mallory Flynn, public relations coordinator, says staff at Biltmore House are excited to allow guests to dive into what’s so fascinating and enduring about the stories held in the library through this exhibit. “We consistently hear from our guests that the library is a favorite along the tour of Biltmore House,” she says. “The exhibition gives our guests a glimpse at a time when the Vanderbilts could be found enjoying the library at the turn of the century, while also highlighting familiar literary characters and cultural events from major films in our collective memory.” The exhibition will run through July 4.
Admission to Designed for Drama: Fashion from the Classics is included with a visit to Biltmore. To purchase tickets or to learn more, visit biltmore.com or call 877-BILTMORE.