The Mind Behind the Gowns

ann lowe

Being an African American woman, it's fun finding out new things regarding our culture and society, so last month when I discovered the history of Ann Lowe I was thrilled.  Who is Ann Lowe you ask?  Well she is notably the first African American to be noted as a fashion designer.  She is most famous for designing the dress Jackie Kennedy wore when she married John F. Kennedy!

Born in Alabama, Lowe was the great grand-daughter of a slave and a plantation owner.  Her passion for fashion and sewing came from her mother and grandmother who both worked as seamstresses for the first families of Montgomery and other families in high society.  At 16 however Lowe's mother died, and at the time of her death she had been working on 4 ball gowns for Elizabeth Kirkman O'Neal, the First Lady of Alabama.  Using the skills she had been taught she finished the dresses herself, thus a legend was created.

Lowe married and had her son, and shortly after moved to New York City and attended the S.T. Taylor Design School and after graduation in 1919 she relocated to Tampa, Florida.  She opened up her salon "Annie Cohen" which was a success, and with her earnings she relocated back to NYC.  

olivia de havillandShe has designed many of gowns for many notable people including Olivia De Havilland when she accepted her award for best actress in To Each His Own (left), the Rocketfellers, the Du Ponts, and stated before, the wedding dress that Mrs. Kennedy wore when she married President Kennedy, who was mayor at the time.  

Her gowns, none the less, stand the test of time.  More importantly they show the detailing, effort, but more importantly her vision she had for her garments.  She designed for the privileged, upscale, higher society crowd, even stating "I love my clothes and I'm particular about who wears them. I am not interested in sewing for cafe society or social climbers. I do not cater to Mary and Sue. I sew for the families of the Social Register."

Ann Lowe went on to retire in 1972, after some problems with bankruptcy and health issues, and died in 1981.  It would be amazing to have had a conversation with such a fashion icon, or to touch one of her gowns, but as of now the only memory we have of her ground breaking work are 5 designs currently stored at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  

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