Silly of me to think this story wouldn’t have roots. I fully expected learning about Miss Lowe to be a quick study with five bullet points. But alas the story runs deeper, and the points hit so close to home that it will need to be two parts. In a previous blog post, I wrote how guests dressing up for a wedding was a form of love. In this blog post, Miss Lowe’s creation was her form of love. If I was a gambler, I would bet 100% of the people reading this have seen her work without realizing it. She designed a dress for this little-known woman by the name of Jackie Kennedy. Jackie O in some circles. Of course, when it came time to tell the press who made her dress, Miss O would reply, “a colored dressmaker made it.” With that statement, Ms. Lowe’s name did not receive the credit she deserved and needed to keep her business afloat. But Jackie wasn’t the only one to snub Ms. Lowe, Olivia De Havilland would remove the tag off her Oscar dress so no one knew it was Ann Lowe’s work. A usual practice among her blue-blood clientele.
(The Oscar dress in question)
With a mother and grandmother who were expert seamstresses most notably for the first family of Alabama, it’s a wonder Ann became whom she became. Ann’s mother and grandmother ran their business during the reconstruction era in the time of Jim Crow. During this time is when Ann would start learning and making her signature flowers. At six years old she built her pattern from the flowers in the garden, take the scraps from her mother’s projects and start sewing them. In 1914 Ann’s mother passed away. Leaving behind 4 dresses for her 16-year-old daughter to finish for the first lady of Alabama. Ann obviously went to design school. S.T. Taylor Design school to be exact and she would graduate early. Not before having to be segregated from her other classmates being the only Black person. And certainly not before being so skilled that her work would be an example for everyone else.
“All the pleasure I have had, I owe to my sewing.” She wasn’t lying in the slightest. To be as skilled as Ann came from a place of love, a place of passion, a place of dedication. So dedicated to sewing that she would have two husbands come last to her craft. The first was ditched for an opportunity in Tampa Florida to make a wedding dress and trousseau for a woman and her daughter. Her second husband wanted a wife and wasn’t too fond of being married to someone who was excited to get out of bed and start the day…. sewing.
Ann loved sewing so much that she wasn’t even charging her worth. Something her clients took full advantage of. Exclusivity was her trademark. She made her couture from the most hard-to-obtain materials that were the finest in the world. She would build the inside of her bodice so it was fitted. Built bras into the dresses so they just needed to be slipped on. She had intricate scallop pin tucks. Complex rosette embellishments. Those flowers she started making at six and would become her signature? She built those by hand.
In learning about Ann, I learned about pride. My chest took in a bit more air than usual. My posture straightened and my head was held just a little higher. Part two of Ann’s story will focus on her making Jackie’s dress and explore her bankruptcy. Can’t wait for you to read it.