March 18, 2018

{Titanic Glamour On Board at Biltmore}

By the turn of the 20th century, when touring the European continent was fashionable for wealthy Americans, transatlantic travel became luxurious to suit those “gilded age” patrons. Ocean liners like Cunard’s RMS Aquitania, The French Line’s S.S. France, and White Star Line’s RMS Olympic were synonymous with extravagance and glamour.

For over a century, stories of one of those ships, the ill-fated RMS Titanic which tragically sank on its first voyage in 1912, has captivated the public—and dozens of books and films have kept the fascination alive! The most famous of those movies, James Cameron’s 1997 Oscar-winning epic, recreated the grandeur of the time, including the elegant fashions. How appropriate that Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina hosts the first large-scale exhibition of its costumes: “Glamour on Board: Fashion from Titanic the Movie.”

Now through May 13, 2018, the exhibition at Biltmore House represents the extensive wardrobes preferred by intercontinental travelers like George and Edith Vanderbilt in the early 1900s. Visitors will learn more about the Vanderbilts’ worldwide travels while viewing 45 of the award-winning “Titanic” costumes, evoking the era’s gilded lifestyle.

Since first-class passengers strolled the promenade decks, had tea in richly-decorated lounges, and dined at elegant formal dinners (all dressed-to-the-nines in different outfits for each occasion), costume designer Deborah Lynn Scott and her team had hundreds of garments to recreate and authentically accessorize—down to the proper collar studs and cuff links for the men, and corsets and hatpins for the ladies. (Recreating the hats alone became a “titanic” task!) Scott’s design team scoured international antique markets to find as many original period garments as possible; other ensembles were custom made from original patterns of the era, embellished with vintage beadwork and appliques.

Entrance to “Glamour on Board: Fashion from Titanic the Movie” at Biltmore is included in the general admission ticket price. However, a limited number of special-ticket guided tours are available, taking you behind-the-scenes of the glamorous period! ~

[Reprinted from my article in the Spring issue of SEASON magazine. Images of the costume exhibition inside Biltmore House above courtesy of The Biltmore Company.]

Click here for other Titanic Fashion Happenings!

February 28, 2018

{The Woman I Love} -part three-

We're completing the final part of “The Woman I Love” (excerpt from my book in progress)...and featuring a bit of Prince Harry's family legacy. 

 The Woman I Love
{part three of three*}

Was Diana’s real “duty” as princess—the underlying essence of her life mission—to show how there is always a place for love and that being heart-centered can only strengthen and give pleasure to one’s sense of “duty”? Was part of her monarchic purpose to bring the shadowy emotional inheritance from King Edward into the light, even revealing an intriguing connection to her and the conspiratorial theories about how he was maneuvered from the throne? “In the abdication crisis of Edward VIII,” Jungian analyst Ian Alister asserts in When a Princess Dies, “there was a conflict between the steady, reliable—what I call ‘thinking’—qualities required by the collective institution of monarchy and the more unpredictable personal qualities—which I characterize as ‘feeling qualities’—represented by the individual. Edward favoured feeling (Wallis Simpson) ahead of thought (his kingly duty). I suggest that Diana re-awoke this conflict in the House of Windsor.”

Indeed, Diana awoke a ‘relationship of the heart’ revolution in the House of Windsor! Diana’s was a revolution that was to reveal how one does not have to sacrifice personal happiness for the privilege of doing one’s duty.

Ironically Charles and Camilla’s marriage called on this “feeling,” heart-centered energy that King Edward stirred up and then which Diana broke open in British culture—in the monarchy on down. Several years after Charles and Camilla married, former BBC royal correspondent Jennie Bond commented about the Duchess of Cornwall in the Telegraph: “She’s trodden carefully and turned the public around with her charm and sense of humour. I like her an awful lot.”

Bond also recalled a conversation she’d had with Princess Diana: “Diana once told me that Camilla had always been the love of Charles’ life and that she’d been ‘very loyal and very discreet.’” I was happy to read that for several reasons and, if accurate, it was the first I read of Diana acknowledging to someone—in what seemed a mature, thoughtful way—what she truly felt in her heart about Camilla, and without rancor toward her husband. Here was a moment when Diana’s strong “feeling” nature came into balance with a more thoughtful “thinking” nature. (Is this, a reoccurring task we all have, perhaps the essential “life lesson” of the ages?)

Diana indeed carried the mantle for “bringing your heart” along into all situations of life. And perhaps we’re still learning for ourselves what she was only beginning to realize at the end of her life: To trust the intelligence of our heart more than the emotions of our mind and that our body is wiser than our head. So in that sense, “bring your heart” is to bring both love and wisdom.

We see the unhappy results in our own lives when we don’t “bring our heart”—only relying on thoughts and reason and wayward emotions. We see the harsh results in today’s society when politicians, business leaders, or even next-door neighbors don’t “bring their heart” with them in making decisions that affect all of us. It’s not easy for anyone—king or commoner—to simply “be ourselves” in a world bent on winning at all costs, that puts profit ahead of people’s well-being, and appearance above happiness. But then why are we still so fascinated with the story of King Edward and Mrs. Simpson or the life of Princess Diana—or her charming sons who both married for love—if we indeed aren’t yearning to be our authentic self, if we aren’t truly yearning to “bring our heart” with us no matter the bent of the world?

Diana didn't get there herself, but it seems her former husband and both of their sons "bring their heart" into a vibrant life of service and devotion to their beloveds. All three "married for love" and the monarchy still stands. ~

{*Final part of "The Woman I Love"....excerpt from my book in progress, tentatively titled, A Memory of Love: The Spiritual Mission of a Princess.}

February 14, 2018

{The Woman I Love} -part two-

Continuing our "month of love" celebration (and upcoming marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle) with the second part of “The Woman I Love” (excerpt from my book in progress)...and featuring a number of Windsors!
The Woman I Love
{part two of three*}

Clearly “love isn’t everything” nor is “doing one’s duty” without the potential of deep satisfaction. There’s not simply one prescription for happiness. It’s just darn hard to follow one’s heart, however, in extreme patriarchal conditions!

Nonetheless, change always happens. Almost seven decades after King Edward’s abdication, a change in social culture was on Charles’ side (thanks in great part to the work of his late wife.) In 2005, 24 years after his marriage of “duty,” Charles did not have to give up the throne (although there were restrictive provisions), nor start a palace revolution nor send anyone to the guillotine, yet he indeed married the woman who had been his longtime friend and confidante—the woman he had long loved—Camilla Shand Parker Bowles; now Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. And they are a couple who seem to simply fit so well together. “What your heart thinks is great, is great,” nineteenth century American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson said. “The soul’s emphasis is always right.”

I want to look deeper at the role of love in the story of King Edward and Mrs. Simpson, the couple who later became the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. But not the fairy-tale kind of love the story became for many, inspiring films, novels and poetry. (I remember my mother talking about how romantic it all seemed to her as a teenager in Alabama, reading news of the handsome king and the sacrifice he made for “the woman he loved.”) But what did David, soon after becoming King Edward, really give up? And what was it really for? Was it indeed for love or for a woman? Or was it to transform the monarchy, to gain his freedom, or perhaps to reclaim his soul? After his abdication “David later explained that what was at stake was not a choice between love and duty, but a ‘different concept of kingship’,” journalist Beatrix Campbell wrote. (Ironically, is this closer to the “model” of kingship that his great-great nephew William—a young man with a broad and equalitarian world view—will create?) Perhaps the power and bigger message of David’s choice was tainted when he went on to live a frivolous life as the Duke of Windsor, making some unwise decisions while living in the spotlight approaching and during a world war when England was in peril. Nevertheless, “he was making a point about love, women and kingship…,” Campbell added. “Impaled between love and duty, he insisted that love was his duty.”

By her uncle choosing this path not only changed his niece Elizabeth’s life path, but set (or perhaps re-set) her on an extremely duty-bound course, declaring “duty” as the center of “the inspiring exemplar of ideal family life,” wrote Howard Chua-Eoan in Time magazine in 2007. She put the whole Windsor clan to work in a regular, day-to-day, dutiful plan of action. “Elizabeth would serve. She would persevere. She would be dutiful. She would obey.” And with such focus, maybe she missed the emotional shifts her people were going through when Diana came on the scene in the 1980s and 90s; cultural changes that Diana—“the girl chosen to refresh the line, to bear its heirs, to be the new smiling face of the family”—recognized, related and responded to, and called out the monarchy for ignoring. Yet no matter how Queen Elizabeth had carefully and dutifully constructed this façade that she believed to be true and honest, “Diana found the dynasty dysfunctional, uncertain of its work, in truth more a firm than a family,” Chua-Eoan added. “Diana tried to serve, she tried to persevere. She tried to be dutiful. But in the end, she would not obey.” Nor had King Edward. Perhaps the world was not ready for a king to “bring his heart” to the throne, but Princess Diana later got the world’s attention by revealing what happens in a family not allowed to bring its heart along with them. (It occurs to me the Windsor family’s sacrificial trade-off for being immensely rich and privileged was to do your duty and happiness be damned. That was certainly the royal culture in which both David—King Edward—and Prince Charles grew up.) 
[To Be Continued...]

{*Part two of three from "The Woman I Love"....excerpt from my book in progress, tentatively titled, A Memory of Love: The Spiritual Mission of a Princess.}

February 1, 2018

{The Woman I Love} -part one-

During the month of February—considered the month of love—and in celebration of the upcoming marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, I’ll share an excerpt (in three parts) from my book in progress. The section, called “The Woman I Love," features several members of Prince Harry’s family!

The Woman I Love
{part one of three*}
The timing of Diana Spencer and Prince Charles’ union, caught in the historical crossfire of a major shift in royal culture, arose in paradox. These were the last stages of an era where marriages were arranged to suit one’s level of dynastic duty and now times were shifting into a more modern world where royals, at last less isolated from the masses, desired to marry for love and supportive companionship. (Can you imagine either Prince William or Prince Harry marrying based solely on their dynastic duty? Or for that matter, can you imagine your children marrying someone that you selected for them based on background, connections, and reproductive capabilities?) The irony for Diana and Charles was that without some sort of outside “arrangement,” they would have never become a couple.

But the timing had not shifted enough for Prince Charles in the 1970s and ‘80s allowing him to act from his true feelings, especially since the marital decisions of this particular heir to the throne were still shadowed by his family’s recent history. The actions of a great-uncle, King Edward VIII (Uncle David), who, with some political pressures, gave up the throne “for the woman he loved” in 1936, were a little too close in historical proximity for Charles to have made a similar decision about marrying someone for love, regardless of “background.” (Of course, to make matters worse, Wallis Simpson, King Edward’s beloved and regular companion, was not only twice married—and only once divorced at the time—but an American to boot!) 
The earthshaking decision of the king to choose love and happiness over duty and abdicate the throne (causing a constitutional crisis) was considered abhorrent by the rest of the Windsor family for many reasons. And to show they meant business, they shunned the former king—their brother, son, in-law, cousin, and uncle—insisting on a near exile from Great Britain; he was only allowed to return by royal invitation for short visits or to attend a funeral, but never to live. This exile-of-sorts lasted the remainder of his life; ending only when his body was brought back home for burial, some 36 years later. So it was under this specter that Charles was trained in the mindset of “duty above feelings” by all the palace powers led by his mother and grandmother.

While editing this section (originally written in 2011 or so), I watched the television drama series from 1978, “Edward and Mrs. Simpson.” The actor who played Edward (as prince then king), responding to his advisor’s instruction about “who” he could bring to the palace to avert any further notoriety in regard to his companion, Mrs. Simpson, asks in almost a whisper: “How can he not bring his heart?” I don’t know if King Edward actually said these words, but it was the most poignantly telling line in the program’s reenactment. And perhaps his great-nephew, Charles, asked the same question years later about his own circumstances.

King Edward also said that he could be a better king with the woman he loved at his side and longed to be able to just “be himself,” asking his subjects to trust that would be enough. (“I am different from my father and determined to be myself.”) But palace officials, steeped in tradition, feared such heart-centered notions—so foreign to them the possibility of heart and head working in powerful alignment! (Queen Mary, David’s uncompromising mother, responded to her son’s dilemma by asking, “What’s love compared to duty?”) Not only were the lives of both men, Edward and Charles, altered because of these attitudes, but a nation also remained in wait.  [To Be Continued]

{*Part one of three of "The Woman I Love"....excerpt from my book in progress, tentatively titled, A Memory of Love: The Spiritual Mission of a Princess.}

January 26, 2018

{British Royal Family Engagement Rings}

After the engagement of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle this fall—and the news that Harry designed Meghan's ring—Vogue compiled and shared an anthology, "A Close Look at the British Royal Family's Engagement Rings." Some are heirloom family rings, others were newly designed....

The Vogue article begins with Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, who became Queen Elizabeth then the Queen Mother, and includes her two daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret, her granddaughter and brides of her grandsons, featuring Princess Diana and her daughter-in-law, Duchess Catherinewho now wears Diana's famous sapphire and diamond engagement ring. 

Prince Harry's mother's ring was originally part of his inheritance; however, he gave it to his big brother when William was planning his engagement to Kate Middleton.

January 21, 2018

{Coronation Gowns / Excerpt No. 2}

With the beginning of Season Two of Victoria on PBS, I'll continue sharing excerpts from one of my guest-speaker presentations, “SOMETHING MOST ROYAL: Recreating Crowns & Gowns for Victoria & Elizabeth, featuring costume design stories from both Victoria and The Crown on Netflix. Below is the second in the series (first one posted on November 18, 2017) about Queen Victoria's ornate coronation garments.

Queen Victoria kept a detailed Journal during her lifetime and wrote a long description of her coronation day, a unique record of the event. When she arrived at Westminster Abbey, the heavy red velvet and ermine mantle of her Parliament robe, with its eight-foot-long train, was added for the procession down the nave to the prepared ‘theatre’ in the Abbey.  (The robe is made up of a kirtle and mantle: the kirtle fits over the gown or uniform like a tunic/weskit; the mantle is an over-garment with a train, worn over the kirtle.)
According to historian Kay Staniland in In Royal Fashion, “following the formal rituals of the recognition and oath,” the Queen, in the privacy of St Edward’s Chapel (which is hidden behind a stone wall behind the high altar) “was divested of the Parliament robe…. Normally a king was disrobed in full view of the congregation; however, from motives of delicacy, anointing on the breast was omitted at Victoria’s coronation and she therefore re-entered the ‘theatre’ already wearing the cloth of gold supertunica over her colobium sindonis.” 
The linen colobium sindonis is a plain linen garment, with sacred ritual associations—“a simple, humble gown which contrasts with the regal splendour of the robes.“ This is tied or sashed over the queen’s satin gown…kind of like a full-size bib to cover and protect the formal gown. Then this richly woven gold supertunica is worn over it all and “is the second robe used in the ceremony”; there will be others! 

“Seated on St Edward’s chair, beneath a cloth of gold canopy held by four knights of the Garter, Victoria was anointed, on her forehead only, by the Archbishop of Canterbury. This is the most solemn part of the coronation ceremony.” Moving from the sacred chair, “the Queen was then robed in her dalmatica and returned to St Edward’s Chair for the crowning and investiture with regalia.” 
(The dalmatica for Victoria—another “cloth of gold” but this one has a train—was "crafted in a resplendent gold tissue cloth embellished with British emblems in an ornate print: purple thistles, pink roses with green leaves, golden eagles and green shamrocks"…. ) 
“When the homage and remainder of the service were completed, the Queen retired to the privacy of St Edward’s Chapel to be divested of her cloth of gold robes” (there were two by now!), “which by tradition were left at Westminster.” 
Now arrayed in a purple velvet robe (ie, kirtle and mantle)—not the red velvet Parliamentary robe she wore in—and “wearing the Imperial State Crown…” (and, indeed, a special crown had to be made to fit Victoria’s petite head!) “…and carrying her scepter and orb, she processed back down the nave and out the Abbey to the state coach, which took her back, in a long impressive procession along a crowded route [of cheering subjects], to Buckingham Palace.” Back home at last!!

The marvelous costume designer for the first season of “Victoria” on PBS, Rosalind Ebbutt, had to either faithfully recreate all of this coronation finery—gowns and robes and tunics and more—or “hire” pieces from the various well-stocked-up-on regalia costume houses in London! ~

[Images above are slides from my "Something Most Royal" presentation.]

December 13, 2017

{Titanic Glamour}

My article, "Titanic Glamour," is featured in the winter issue of SEASON magazine (scroll to page 48.) I've reprinted it below, adding images shared by fashion historian Randy Bryan Bigham, author of Lucile - Her Life By Design.


Bridal sketch by Lucile
Courtesy: Randy Bryan Bigham
Whenever you read about the RMS Titanic—the fabled “floating palace” that sank on its maiden voyage in April of 1912—gilded glamour and high fashion are always part of the intrigue. During its “dressing hour,” when first-class passengers dressed for dinner following white-tie protocol, many ‘Lucile’ gowns—gingerly unpacked by ladies’ maids from grand steamer trunks—were worn by patrons unaware the celebrated designer, sailing incognito, was aboard. British couturiere Lucile, Lady Duff Gordon, traveling to expand her business in America, was on the Titanic with her husband, Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon, and her assistant, “Franks.” (All three were saved when disaster struck, but there was a whiff of scandal surrounding the circumstances!)  

Lily Elsie in Lucile, Ltd. wedding gown, circa 1911
Courtesy: Randy Bryan Bigham
Lucile was internationally famous for her femme-femme evening clothes and bridalwear made of gossamer layers of silk with delicate beadwork (some say she was the first to design a “corsetless” gown); she was also known for her elegant ‘naughty but nice’ lingerie—a bridal trousseau darling of the rich and royal. Indeed, the innovative designer was favored by fashionable brides around the world: stars of stage and screen, fiancées of business tycoons, daughters of the nobility (too many to name here!) One of Lucile’s beautiful young brides was a fellow Titanic passenger—recently married to the older and very wealthy John Jacob Astor IV; Madeleine and her unborn child made it to safety, he did not.

Lucile’s élan even spilled over into the popular Downton Abbey television series 100 years later! There’s a scene in season three—soon before Lady Edith Crawley’s ill-fated wedding—when Cora, Lady Grantham (quite the fashionista), informs Violet, the Dowager Countess, that the bride would, of course, be wearing ‘Lucile.’

Mary Marvin in Farquharson & Wheelock design
Courtesy: Randy Bryan Bigham
Mary Farquharson Marvin—the daughter of another high-society couturiere—and her husband were also first-class passengers on the Titanic, returning to New York from their European honeymoon. Mary’s mother was half of the Farquharson & Wheelock design team—two Scottish sisters with fashion ateliers in Washington, DC and New York City. Naturally, they designed Mary’s stylish wedding gown and, because of their fame, she appeared in Vogue wearing the bridal confection. (A decade later, Farquharson & Wheelock created the lace and silk tabard-style gown for Biltmore heiress Cornelia Vanderbilt’s wedding in Asheville, NC.)

The family of Mary’s husband, Daniel Warner Marvin, were pioneers in the motion picture production business and, although their wedding in early 1912 was not filmed, the ceremony was restaged for the camera a few months later, making international news. The London Daily Mirror reported it as the very first wedding to be “cinematographed.” Sadly, like many men on the sinking Titanic, Mary’s husband saw his young wife safely aboard a lifeboat, then stayed behind and went down with the magnificent ship. ~