Most people recognize the wedding dress worn by Jacqueline Bouvier on the day she married John F. Kennedy. After all, it’s one of the most iconic wedding dresses ever made! Yet few know the name of the designer who created the famous gown.
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The legend is none other than Ann Cole Lowe! The Alabama native’s sewing skills were passed down through several generations from her grandmother, a former slave.
At the time, Jackie Kennedy demurred when she was asked who designed her dress. Many people assumed she wanted to keep the designer a secret so she alone had access to her creations. Others speculated that she didn’t want to let on that her dress had been fairly inexpensive and crafted by an unknown designer.
That’s what led a 1966 article in the “Saturday Evening Post” to call Lowe “Society’s Best Kept Secret.” While she never became famous in her lifetime, Lowe designed hundreds of gorgeous dresses for celebrities and other members of the social elite.
She got her start when her mom, who was also a dressmaker, passed away suddenly when Lowe was just 16. Lowe took it upon herself to finish her mother’s final commissioned job, creating four ball gowns for Lizzie Kirkland O’Neal, the first lady of Alabama.
Lowe was later rediscovered when a stranger saw the dress she was wearing in a store and hired her on the spot. She took her son and moved to Florida to design dresses for the woman’s daughter’s wedding. Using the money she earned, she moved to New York City and enrolled at S.T. Taylor Design School.
After graduating in 1950, Lowe opened a boutique in Harlem followed by one on Madison Avenue. She was the first African American to ever own a business at the famous fashion destination!
While she was a smash hit with the women of high society, Lowe never charged as much as her work deserved. Declaring bankruptcy in 1963 after receiving a huge tax bill she didn’t expect, she had to close her boutique and never reopened it. Someone did eventually come forward to pay Lowe’s back taxes for her. Was it Jackie Kennedy? We may never know.
Now that the world finally knows Lowe’s name, she is considered to be America’s first haute couture fashion designer. She passed away at age 82 in 1981, but her work will live on forever!
While it took a few decades, Lowe was honored for her contributions to fashion and society in 2019. The National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C. created an exhibit in her honor.
It’s wonderful to see her finally getting the recognition she deserves! Share this story to introduce Ann Lowe to your friends.
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