One would think the designer of the dress an actress wore to accept her Academy Award would gain instant fame. One would think that the designer of Jackie O’s wedding dress would be high publicized and lusted over. One would think the designer of choice for the Rockefellers, Roosevelts and Vanderbilts would be highly regarded among fashion industry. By all means, this designer should be a legend or at least a household name. Unless this woman was black. Ann Lowe, great-granddaughter of a slave and plantation owner, and the aforementioned designer, never got the recognition she deserved. In 1947, Lowe designed the dress Olivia de Havilland wore to accept her Academy award. However, Ms. Lowe was not accredited for designing it; the label on her dress read “Sonia Rosenberg.” In 1953, before Givenchy, Chanel, Oleg Cassini and Oscar De La Renta dressed Jackie for her major life events; there was Ann Lowe who created her wedding dress. While all the previous designers were given the opportunity to grow their business because of the publicity that came with dressing Jackie O, Lowe was all but ignored in the press. “Jackie herself told others the dress was created by ‘a colored woman dressmaker’ and the Washington Post reported ‘…the dress was designed by a Negro, Ann Lowe.’” Lowe eventually did make it to a salon in Saks Fifth Avenue. While it was difficulty and even after she lost an eye to glaucoma, she opened her own shop on Madison Ave in the late 1960’s. Ms. Ann Lowe passed away in 1981 at the age of 83.
Fast forward to today. One of First Lady Michelle Obama’s most iconic dresses was her DNC speech dress. A pink and blue sleeveless dress designed by (and accredited to) Tracy Reese, one of the only black women to run her own label. Because of what the path Ann Lowe paved, and a clear example of the resilience of our people, not only was Ms. Reese accredited for making such an incredible dress, but Ms. Reese was able to gain considerable business from the publicity surrounding her dress. The dress was originally custom made for the FLOTUS, but after many calls was mass produced and sold at Nordstrom. While she didn’t live to see the icons that are Tracy Reese and Michelle Obama, I’m sure Ann Lowe is proud of what black fashion has accomplished and has the potential to become in the future.
Jackie Kennedy's Wedding Dress Designed by Ann Lowe
Olivia de Havilland's Academy Awards Dress Designed by Ann Lowe