April 20, 2017

{Social Graces at Biltmore}


 Thanks to everyone who attended my special event Social Graces at Biltmore during their "Designed for Drama: Fashion from the Classics" costume exhibition. From enjoying a Jane Austen Social of tea and scones with talks featuring the designers who 'make magic' with period costume dramas to tours of the various costume exhibits around the Estate, a fine time was had by all! 
Costumes from "The Golden Bowl" in the Music Room of Biltmore House
Costumes from "The House of Mirth" in Mrs Vanderbilt's Bedroom in Biltmore House

Cornelia with 'Social Graces' guests


April 3, 2017

{Something Most Royal}


My article, "Something Most Royal," is in the new spring issue of Season magazine! Plus I've reprinted it below with lovely images.... 
Enjoy!




Something Most Royal
Those of us who love royal weddings and queenly costume dramas have had a most regal “film feast” of late! “The Crown”—a rich, lavish Netflix production chronicling the life of Queen Elizabeth II—begins with her wedding in 1947; and “Victoria,” the British series on PBS, portrays the young queen’s journey beginning when she succeeded to the throne in 1837, soon followed by her legendary wedding.

I have written about both Queens, sharing stories of their wedding ceremonies, gowns and the lasting impact of their bridal legacy. But here I tell about a reluctant royal bride of the 1920s—someone who played an important role in connecting the lives of Victoria and Elizabeth, as well as influencing fashion for both real and fictional brides we know and love!

Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, daughter of the 14th Earl of Strathmore, didn’t want a life in the royal spotlight, yet after long being wooed by the Duke of York, love won out. They married in 1923, neither presuming “Bertie” would become king; nevertheless, history changed course, and royal duty called. 
This beloved future queen chose something very fashion forward for her wedding: a slim, drop-waist silhouette with ornate pearl-beaded, medieval-inspired metallic trim. However, it was the sleek, column shape that influenced Cornelia Vanderbilt’s couture designers’ for her 1924 wedding (she married the Honorable John F. Amherst Cecil from England) and also inspired Downton Abbey costumier Caroline McCall’s design for Lady Mary—for that highly anticipated wedding with Matthew Crawley set in the spring of 1920!

Lady Elizabeth’s long, heirloom lace veil was also an inspiration for future brides. Queen Mary loaned her daughter-in-law-to-be a family veil of “old point de Flandres which had aged to a soft ivory colour,” according to British historian Ann Monsarrat, “and the silk crêpe moiré for the wedding dress was dyed to tone with it.” Lady Elizabeth was “the last major royal bride to wear flowers rather than diamonds” (a trend established by Queen Victoria when she wore a crown of creamy orange blossoms), yet Monsarrat called Elizabeth’s headdress a “typically hideous 1920s arrangement” and even “monstrously unbecoming”! The veil, although of exquisite handmade lace, was “clamped down over her head to the eyebrows and firmly held there by a garotte—in this case, a narrow band of myrtle leaves with two white roses and sprigs of orange blossom above each ear.”

Our other two 1920s brides fared much better however! Cornelia Vanderbilt wore her maternal grandmother’s lace veil and orange blossom headpiece in a similar fashion as the petite Lady Elizabeth, but with her statuesque figure, Cornelia carried it off with aplomb. And Downton’s designer went with more glam for Lady Mary, foregoing orange blossoms altogether, she selected a graceful diamond tiara fit for a real princess! ~

March 13, 2017

{A Veil of Distinction} Redux



Continuing our celebration of the ongoing Vanderbilt/Cecil family wedding exhibition at the Biltmore Legacy Museum in Asheville, NC—which opened in February of last year—I'll re-share another article I wrote featuring an antique lace bridal veil on display with celebrity connections. ("A Veil of Distinction" was first published in the 2016 spring issue of Season magazine.) Enjoy!

A Veil of Distinction
Wedding veils hold an especially distinctive yet intimate place in a family’s collective memory. Even more than the wedding gown, the family bridal veil has, historically, been the treasure most often passed down and shared with daughters and granddaughters, nieces and cousins.

That was the case with a certain heirloom veil with a most captivating provenance. First worn by Margaret Merritt as an Edwardian bride when she married James Thomas Lee of New York City in 1903, her cathedral-length, rose point lace veil was also worn by her daughters Marion Lee Ryan, Janet Lee Bouvier and Winifred Lee D’Olier. But this veil developed a particular mystique when her granddaughter Jacqueline Bouvier wore it, along with Margaret’s delicate wreath of wax orange blossoms, for her marriage to Senator John F. Kennedy in 1953.

I became intrigued by this veil’s lineage when I learned it was to go on a first-ever display early this year as part of the wedding costume exhibitions on Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. The veil’s connection with the Vanderbilt family is through Jackie Kennedy’s cousin, Mary Lee Ryan—“Mimi” wore it when she married George Vanderbilt’s grandson, William Amherst Cecil, in 1957.

Jackie’s only daughter Caroline Kennedy didn’t wear the Lee family veil, but both Mimi’s daughter and daughter-in-law wore it with their 1980’s Diana-era “princess gowns.” I find this is part of the beauty and pleasure of a bridal veil: as fashions change, it can be adapted to wear in various stylish ways; and even as women and their roles change, because of its strong feminine impulse, the bridal veil always carries a precious tradition.

Lace was immensely fashionable for Victorian and Edwardian ladies and, indeed, de rigueur for brides during these gilded decades. Following the creation of “rose point” lace in Brussels in the mid-19th century—a type of point de gaze needle lace so named because of its lyrical rose design, often with raised petals—this romantic pattern became a favorite of brides. Therefore when well-to-do American women made their grand transatlantic voyages to Europe on the most majestic luxury liner of the day (it was simply the thing to do!), high on their must-do list was to bring back a lace veil from Belgium—all with dreams of a wedding in mind. (Is that how the lovely rose point veil worn by the Lee family brides—and then the Cecils of North Carolina—began its notable pedigree?)

Later when lace was not as popular and travel to Europe was aboard airplanes instead of ships, bringing home a lace wedding veil stayed dear to the hearts of many American women. Perhaps there is one stored away in your family’s “treasure chest”? ~

February 4, 2017

{Reimagining a Legend - Redux!}


Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil, at home, Biltmore House 1924
Photo courtesy of The Biltmore Company
In honor of the ongoing exhibit at the Biltmore Legacy Museum in Asheville, NC—featuring Vanderbilt family wedding treasuresI'm once again sharing the link to my article "Reimagining a Legend" published last year on Huffington Post (when the exhibit first opened.)
The article offers background on how a design team at Cosprop, Ltd. London recreated Biltmore heiress Cornelia Vanderbilt's 1924 couture wedding gown and accessoriesthe centerpiece of the museum's exhibit on Biltmore Estate. 
Vanderbilt family wedding exhibition at Biltmore Legacy Museum

[See details of my special event in April, 'Social Graces' at Biltmore during their "Designed for Drama: Fashion from the Classics" costume exhibition!]