This book tells the little-known story of Ann Cole Lowe, born in 1898, an African-American fashion designer who overcame a great deal of hardship and prejudice to become a leading star in the fashion world, even designing the wedding dress for Jacqueline Bouvier when she married John F. Kennedy.
Ann grew up in Alabama sewing alongside her mother, who, however, died when Ann was just 16. But Ann kept up with her mother’s orders, and even attended design school in New York in 1917. But, as the author reports, she had to sit all alone in a separate room since she was black.
Eventually Ann was able to start her own business. One of the more memorable vignettes in the book is about the time Ann came to the Bouvier mansion in Newport, Rhode Island in 1953 to bring the wedding party dresses for soon-to-be Jacqueline Kennedy. The butler told her she would have to use the back entrance:
“Ann said that if she had to enter through the back door, the bride and bridesmaids wouldn’t be wearing her dresses for the wedding. She entered through the front door.”
Ann continued to design dresses for prominent women, but struggled financially, and in 1960 was forced to close her salon. She died in 1981 at the age of 82.
Illustrations by Laura Freeman are done in a style fashionistas will recognize known as “fashion illustration” or “fashion sketching.” They not only show a representation or design of a garment but are considered as a form of art. One sees less of it now with the greater use of photography, but designers still use this form of art for the initial representation of their ideas. [While Freeman’s illustrations of some of Lowe’s finished gowns show women of color wearing them, Lowe’s designs were mostly purchased by wealthy white society women.]
Evaluation: I always loved beautiful gowns as a girl. I would have loved this book, as it combines an inspiring story with a “princess” element that will have broad appeal.
Published by Little Bee Books, a division of Bonnier Publishing, 2017