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Fashion Designer Anne Lowe- A Black History Fact

[ 0 ] February 22, 2013 |

wedding dressAnn loweDid you know that the stunning ivory wedding gown that Jacqueline Bouvier wore on the day she married John F. Kennedy was designed by African-American designer Ann Lowe? Lowe was once described by the Saturday Evening Post as “society’s best kept secret.”


A trailblazer in fashion whose name has fallen through the cracks of history is Anne Lowe. Born in Alabama in 1898, Ms. Lowe was the daughter and granddaughter of celebrated seamstresses who were known for sewing for the first ladies of Alabama. Anne’s mother passed away suddenly when Anne was 16, forcing her to complete her mother’s unfinished needlework for the governor’s wife.

Anne enrolled in S.T. Taylor Design School in New York. Although she was ignored and avoided by white classmates, she concentrated on her work. Moving to Tampa, Fla., she opened a small studio there, then returned to New York where she worked as a commissioned designer for some of the major houses in the Fashion District. The houses took all the credit, and Anne’s name was never mentioned. She pressed on, and soon she was designer to society’s top families, such as the du Ponts, Roosevelts, Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, and notably, she designed and made the gown actress Olivia de Haviland wore when she received her Oscar for “To Each His Own.”

“Ann Lowe was known as society’s best kept secret…You would have thought her clothing was Parisian couture, but she charged much less to create the same thing. They all went to her for their debutante balls and weddings.

Anne Lowe’s quiet claim to fame, however, was the wedding gown she designed for Jacqueline Bouvier in 1953, when she married John F. Kennedy. Ms. Lowe was also commissioned to make the 10 pink bridesmaid’s gowns and hats. In an effort to promote Sen. Kennedy’s imminent political career, the wedding received high recognition, the designer’s name was left out of most newspapers. Nina Hyde, social, fashion editor of the Washington Post at the time, stated “… the dress was designed by a Negro, Ann Lowe.”

It is said that Jackie did not care for the dress because it was not her style, preferring more simple lines. The dress consisted of 50 yards of ivory silk taffeta, with a full bouffant skirt had interwoven tucking bands and tiny wax flowers. It took Anne two months to make. Her skill as an ultimate professional was put to the test when 10 days prior to the wedding a water line broke, flooding the store and ruining the gown. Nevertheless, Ms. Lowe worked around the clock and recreated the gown and all 10 dresses. Fate would dictate that Jackie would wear the dress anyway.

Anne Lowe’s luck began to fade. She was not very good with record keeping, and in 1962, her New York salon was seized by the IRS while she was undergoing surgery to remove an eye due to glaucoma. When she was released from the hospital, she learned that her debt had been paid by an anonymous benefactor. Could it have been the first lady?

Still going strong in her 70′s, she opened a store inside Saks Fifth Ave, then her own salon, Anne Lowe Originals, on Madison Ave, making over 2,000 dresses for New York’s society. She was awarded the Couturier of the Year Plaque and appeared in the National Social Directory and the 1968 Who’s Who of American Women.

Known for her trapunto work, a detailed needle technique, Anne Cole Lowe’s fashions can be seen in a permanent collection at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, Washington D.C.’s Black Fashion Museum, and the Smithsonian. In 1997, the John F. Kennedy Library & Museum had the Textile Conservation Center of the American Textile History Museum in Massachusetts to restore the Kennedy gown. Ms. Lowe died in 1981 at the age of” Michael Henry Adams.

Originally written by Stacey Maupin Torres on July 23, 2009 “Ann Lowe: The FIRST Lady of Style”

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Category: Beauty & Fashion

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