This week’s throwback is dedicated to the inspirational journey of Ann Lowe, the African American fashion designer who overcame many obstacles in her life to become one of the most successful black designers in history.
Lowe was born in Alabama in 1898. As the granddaughter and daughter of two seamstresses, she honed her craft from a young age, watching her family sew for the members of high society in her state. Sadly, Lowe’s mother passed away when she was 16, but she left behind some unfinished ball gowns commissioned by the First Lady of Alabama. Lowe finished the dresses on behalf of her late mother, and this was the beginning of her glittering career as a fashion designer.
Image: Lowe in Ebony Magazine, December 1966
Lowe married in 1912, and was initially put off sewing by her husband. However, after being offered a job in Florida designing a wedding dress she decided to pursue her dreams, and she enrolled in the S. T. Taylor Design School in New York City. It was here that Lowe experienced much racial discrimination. The classes were segregated, so Lowe was in a class on her own, and was considered an outsider by her white fellow students. However, Lowe rose above these obstacles, and moved to Tampa, Florida after graduating to open her own dress shop, Annie Cohen.
Shortly after, Lowe returned to New York, designing in several of the cities chicest salons. Her designs were very popular, yet the recognition went only to the owners of the salons, which prompted the resolute Lowe and her son to open her own store in the city, Ann Lowe’s Gowns. Her success was then cemented when she was asked by Jackie O to design her wedding dress to the future president John F. Kennedy. Miscrediting the work of PoC was an ugly theme of the 1940s/50s, so unfortunately, at the time Lowe was not publicly credited for designing the luxurious ivory gown, which is all the more reason why we should be celebrating her work now!
Image: Jackie Kennedy wearing her wedding dress designed by Ann Lowe in Ebony Magazine, December 1966
Lowe enjoyed a successful career, making a name for herself amongst America’s wealthiest, however she continually suffered from financial troubles. She lost her salon in 1962, and was then admitted to hospital with glaucoma, but during this time an anonymous angel paid off all her debt, allowing her to open another salon on Madison Avenue, Ann Lowe Originals, and continue her fashion legacy until the early 1970s.
Ann Lowe deserves to be revered for her unwavering determination to “prove that a Negro can become a major dress designer” in a time period and industry that was unaccommodating to black women.