Ann Lowe, first Black clothier, immortalized in Ohio State assortment

Ann Lowe, first Black clothier, immortalized in Ohio State assortment

As Black Historical past Month will get underway, the accomplishments of legendary Black clothier Ann Lowe are being highlighted by The Ohio State College School of Training and Human Ecology’s (EHE) Historic Costumes and Textiles Assortment. Broadly thought to be the primary nationally acknowledged Black American couturier, Lowe can also be the topic of a brand new ebook and a current presentation and upcoming exhibit on the Nationwide First Girls’ Library in Canton.

Lowe’s historic significance as the primary Black designer to be acknowledged for her singular type can’t be overstated, mentioned Gayle Strege, curator of the Historic Costumes and Textiles Assortment.

“There have been a variety of Black dressmakers and designers, however they weren’t essentially whose title was on the label,” she mentioned. “That recognition of the dressmaker was disregarded, so it’s good to have the ability to convey that every one to gentle.”

Lowe’s designs embody a particular debutante gown that’s housed on the Historic Costumes and Textiles Assortment. Lowe additionally designed Jacqueline Bouvier’s wedding ceremony gown for her 1953 nuptials to then-Senator and future President John F. Kennedy. A copy of the marriage gown will likely be on show on the Nationwide First Girls’ Library starting in Might, mentioned Alison Caplan, the library’s director of schooling.

Succeeding in opposition to the chances

Ann Lowe, first Black clothier, immortalized in Ohio State assortmentLowe was born in rural Alabama in 1898. The granddaughter of slaves discovered to stitch and make garments from her mom and grandmother. The household ran a seamstress enterprise that created fashions for Alabama’s governor and state dignitaries.

Lowe got here to prominence as a designer in her personal proper within the mid-Twentieth century. Her life and profession have been documented in a number of books, together with creator Piper Huguley’s new launch, “By Her Personal Design: A Novel of Ann Lowe, Style Designer to the Social Register.” Huguley mentioned Lowe’s accomplishments throughout a Feb. 1 digital presentation hosted by the First Girls’ Library.  

In a dialog with Caplan, Huguley described how her work of historic fiction pays homage to Lowe. The ebook chronicles Lowe’s designs for high-profile shoppers just like the Kennedys, the Rockefellers, the du Ponts and Olivia de Haviland, the Academy Award-winning actress. De Haviland donned one in every of Lowe’s designs in 1946 when she received the Greatest Actress Oscar for “To Every His Personal.”

“I might instantly see upon what Ann’s life was that it might be made right into a novel,” Huguley mentioned. “It was clear from the issues that I noticed initially {that a} historic fiction novel might be instructed about Ann Lowe.”

Because the heroine of her personal compelling story, Lowe typically triumphed over adversity – together with succeeding in a extremely aggressive business as a girl and an African American in an period during which each teams struggled to attain equality. She additionally battled glaucoma and in the end retired in 1972 resulting from eyesight challenges.

A thrift-store donation reveals a priceless artifact

Earlier than Lowe’s debutante gown was acquired by the Historic Costumes and Textiles Assortment, the garment was within the possession of Columbus resident Jim Gessner for a number of a long time. Gessner is the son of Florence Cowell Gessner, one in every of Lowe’s collaborators at Lowe’s A.F. Chantilly vogue label. Jim Gessner ran the enterprise that housed the label.

After the A.F. Chantilly New York store closed, Gessner held on to a collection of attire made by Cowell Gessner and the debutante gown made by Lowe.

“He took the Ann Lowe robe to First Group Church’s clothes resale store and gave it to them,” mentioned Elizabeth McAllister, Gessner’s niece and Cowell Gessner’s granddaughter, who additionally lives in central Ohio. “He had that gown in a storage unit for 50 years.”

Luckily, staff with the Tri-Village Buying and selling Submit thrift retailer acknowledged the distinctive high quality of the gold debutante gown with handmade floral gildings that Gessner had donated. They contacted Ohio State about the potential of buying it.

When First Group staff reached out to Strege, “I mentioned, ‘Yeah, and the way did you get one in every of her attire? They’re so uncommon,’” she mentioned. “She solely designed one-of-a-kind attire, so there aren’t going to be that many on the market.”

Lowe’s legacy endures

Along with the Historic Costumes and Textiles Assortment, Lowe’s designs are housed in prestigious museums such because the Smithsonian Institute’s Nationwide Museum of African American Historical past and Tradition in Washington, D.C., and the Metropolitan Museum of Artwork in New York Metropolis.

The First Girls’ Library acquired a copy of Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding ceremony gown from the non-public assortment of Monte Durham, host of the TLC actuality present “Say Sure to the Gown.”    

“There’s little doubt that Jacqueline Kennedy’s gown is a masterpiece,” Caplan mentioned. “It was form of a showpiece that the Kennedys needed to be created that will get the journal protection that they needed to assist propel (John F. Kennedy) into the highlight.”

In a devastating flip of destiny, the bridal and bridesmaids’ attire that Lowe created for the Bouvier/Kennedy wedding ceremony have been destroyed simply 10 days earlier than the ceremony when a pipe burst in Lowe’s New York Metropolis workroom. Forging forward together with her trademark tenacity, the designer painstakingly recreated the attire at her personal expense.

Dropping cash was sadly commonplace for Lowe and different Black designers of her day. Regardless of their wealth and privilege, a lot of Lowe’s shoppers devalued her work, refused to adequately compensate her and barely gave her correct credit score for designs due to her race, Huguley mentioned.

“That is how somebody who was Black within the first half of the Twentieth century, the way you needed to comport your self,” she mentioned. “It’s disagreeable to look again on and for us to consider, however that was a historic actuality.”          

Strege mentioned she is hopeful that the inclusion of Lowe’s designs within the faculty’s assortment, the First Girls’ Library and different museums across the nation will convey consciousness to Black vogue designers’ contributions.

“As a result of so many African People have been written out of our historical past, it’s nice to have an instance of her work,” she mentioned. “To have the ability to share that historical past is sweet to convey to gentle.”

Lowe’s debutante gown might be seen in a video on the EHE Training and Studying Design YouTube channel. (The robe is presently in storage for an upcoming renovation of Campbell Corridor on Ohio State’s Columbus campus, the place the gathering is situated.)

For details about Ohio State’s Historic Costumes and Textiles Assortment, go to For extra details about the First Girls’ Library upcoming exhibit of the copy of Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding ceremony gown, go to


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