"Society’s Best Kept Secret": Jackie O's Anonymous Wedding Dress Designer
In 1898, Ann Lowe was born as the granddaughter of an enslaved dressmaker in Alabama. She learned to sew from her grandmother and mother, taking over the family business at the age of 16, when her mother died. In 1917, she moved to New York City where she enrolled in a couture class. On her first day of class, the dean of the school tried to turn her away upon realizing he admitted a black woman.
But Lowe didn't let that deter her. She continued to work for her dreams even though her white classmates wouldn't sit next to her. Eventually, Lowe settled in Harlem and became the in-house seamstress for many department stores including Saks Fifth Avenue.
In the 1940s, Lowe was designing for famous socialites like the Rockefellers and Hollywood celebrities like Olivia de Havilland. Because it was hard for African Americans during that time, Lowe became "society's best kept secret."
Unfortunately, Lowe died broke and anonymous at the age of 82. The New York Post reports that Lowe's business sense did not match her design expertise, and she charged clients barely enough to break even. The commission she received from Jackie Kennedy's wedding almost left her bankrupt.
Lowe had to create Kennedy's iconic ivory French taffeta and pink silk faille dress twice after a broken water pipe destroyed the original just 10 days before she even made it to the alter.
Now, the country's first black high-fashion designer is finally getting the credit she deserves. Three of Lowe's gowns are on display in Washington, D.C., at the new Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African American History & Culture.
On December 6, the Fashion Institute of Technology Museum in Manhattan will display several of Ann Lowe gowns in an exhibit on black fashion. There's also some talk about two children's books being written on the secret designer.
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