Jan 17, 2014 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
We’ve profiled a lot of amazing designers here at Cause A Frockus: Salvatore Ferragamo and Alfred Shaheen, to name a few. But we are perhaps most inspired by the incredible Ann Lowe. Her perseverance and talent encourages us to be mindful of our own aspirations. Most designers hope their work becomes a compelling reflection of their own experiences and the vintage fashions created by Ann Lowe paint a most beautiful picture: a blend of classic silhouettes, a touch of intrigue, and old-fashioned skill. We are honored to share some of her history with you. If you own an Ann Lowe original or her story speaks to you, please share your thoughts in the comments!
Who is Ann Lowe?
Born to a plantation owner and a slave in Clayton, Alabama, Ann learned the sewing trade from her mother and grandmother, who created beautifully stunning gowns (a tradition Ann Lowe continued in her own work). In 1912 she married Lee Cohen at the tender age of 14 and continued on her design journey. Most sources cite that her time at fashion school in New York City fueled her passion for the industry at large. Yet the fashion community, even in a city as progressive as NYC, wasn’t exactly welcoming to an aspiring African American designer. Her peers and teachers refused to acknowledge her presence, let alone her talent at school. Despite this hardship, she persevered and even opened her own salon in Tampa, Florida. She successfully dressed the Florida debutante community from 1919-1928. Yet Manhattan beckoned and she returned later that year.
Her elite styling seamlessly translated to New England society and she found herself designing for the Rockefellers, DuPonts, and Auchinclosses (to name a few). By the late forties and early fifties she had secured her place in American fashion, yet was unable to reap the benefits. In 1946 she designed the dress Olivia de Havilland wore as she accepted her Oscar and this success was followed by the 1953 wedding dress for Jacqueline Bouvier (which famously used 50 yards of ivory silk taffeta). Despite these two pieces reflecting her personal creative genius, she never received proper credit. For example, the name on Olivia’s dress read Sonia Rosenberg.
During this time she also created designs for major department stores, but they refused to put her name on the label. Ann was even dubbed “society’s best kept secret” by the Saturday Evening Post in a feature discussing her work and elite clientele. But the cultural climate was shifting and by the later 1950s and 1960s she was receiving proper citation and praise in national publications such as Vogue, Vanity Fair, and Town & Country. Ann opened her own salon in New York City in 1950, becoming the first African American designer to achieve this milestone and paved the way for future generations. Glaucoma forced her to retire in 1972 and she passed away nine years later.
Her legacy continues to inspire and her designs captured the innocence and wonder of the mid 20th century. Ann Lowe originals are known for their couture styling and dramatic nature. She sought to create enviable reactions and desire for her gowns. Ann’s vision reminds us what fashion can be: a powerful force for good.
Cause A Frockus would like to thank our tremendous resources: Wikipedia, Essence, the National Archives, Black Bride, Fashion Model Directory, The Nikki Thomas Network, and the wonderful people who post their images without restrictions.