There’s a reason bonbons, chocolate truffles and other romantic confections are elegantly displayed: They’re dressed to impress.
The same holds true for frozen-in-time movie romances and a ton of “Masterpiece Theatre” productions. They’re dressed for caress.
As Biltmore House is quite aware. Last spring, the elegant Asheville attraction staged “Dressing Downton,” a multi-month exhibition that featured scores of mannequins dressed in early 1900s-style costumes from the popular public TV series; they were displayed throughout the mansion.
It was incredibly successful. But what do you do for an encore?
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You can find out Feb. 12, when “Fashionable Romance: Wedding Gowns in Film” opens at Biltmore for Valentine’s weekend. It runs through July 4.
“Fashionable Romance” is a collection of 41 costumes from 19 movies, most of which were filmed in the past 30 years and show up as regular cable TV fare or via Netflix and other on-demand services. They range from “Tess” (Roman Polanski’s 1979 Oscar-winner starring Nastassja Kinski and Peter Firth) and “Out of Africa” (1985, with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford) to more recent releases like 2008’s “The Duchess” (Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes).
“The Duchess” took an Oscar for best achievement in costume design. For that matter, the apparel to be displayed at the Biltmore draws largely from costume dramas. Among them: productions of novels by Jane Austen, both British TV imports (2007’s “Mansfield Park” and the 1995 “Pride and Prejudice,” the one with Colin Firth), as well as the 1995 widescreen “Sense and Sensibility” with Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Kate Winslet and Hugh Grant. Add more classic hankie-twisters, like the 1992 production of E.M. Forster’s “Howards End” (Anthony Hopkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Helena Bonham Carter and Emma Thompson) and the 1994 version of George Eliot’s “Middlemarch.”
The cream linen suit Meryl Streep wore when she wed in “Out of Africa” became quite the trendsetter in the later 1980s.
You get the picture. Well, kind of. Also represented is romance-wear from Kenneth Branagh’s “Hamlet” (a 1996 Oscar nominee for best costume design) and Branagh’s horror fest from ’94, “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.”
Don’t expect to view monster duds representing this “Frankenstein” adaptation, though: On display here, says Biltmore House, is a moire silk gown from a ballroom scene that reflects luxurious fashion from the 1770s. You’ll find it in the library, paired with red roses accented with hot pink.
Fancy threads to be displayed throughout the mansion are teamed with visually complementing floral displays. And a 6-foot-tall wedding cake in the entry area is decorated with 450 roses and 150 lilies.
Accompanying “Fashionable Romance: Wedding Gowns in Film” is a display in Biltmore’s Antler Village in the Biltmore Legacy building that addresses 60 years of wedding fashions among the attraction-owning Vanderbilt family. Among the items is the wedding veil worn by Jackie Bouvier when she married future president John Kennedy in 1953. (It was loaned to her by a cousin, a Vanderbilt bride.)
As for you? Dress comfortably for the two-hour drive to Asheville. And remember to turn off your TV before you head out the door.
John Bordsen: 704-358-5251
Want to go?
“Fashionable Romance: Wedding Gowns in Film,” on display at Biltmore House Feb. 12-July 4, is included in regular self-guided admission ($50; $25 for ages 10-16). Details: www.biltmore.com.
From Charlotte, take Interstate 85 South to Exit 17 (in Gastonia) and follow U.S. 321 North to I-40 (Hickory area). Take I-40 West to Asheville and take Exit 50-B; drive north on U.S. 25. Make a slight left at All Souls Crescent and a left at Lodge Street to reach the Biltmore gate.