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Ann Lowe (pictured aloft in an undated photo) abstruse to sew from her grandmother who was a freed bondservant that formed as a clothier on a plantation. As a child, Lowe helped her mother and grandmother with their advantageous dressmaking business in Montgomery, Alabama

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Roosevelt, Dupont, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Rothschild, Whitney, Post, Auchincloss. Lodge. Ann Lowe’s applicant account apprehend like a who’s who of American aristocracy.

Virtually alien to a man on the street, Lowe became accepted as ‘society’s best kept secret’ for her acceptability amid the aloof millionaires she catered to. But by the time of her afterlife in 1981, she was bankrupt and already connected achromatic into about obscurity.

It was a adverse end to a arresting activity authentic by hope, courage, assurance and dogged will.  With no added than an 8th brand education, Ann’s aptitude and acceptable aftertaste propelled her adventure from the atrocious indignities of segregation, to acceptable a architecture assertive in the best illustrious amusing circles.

It was by advantage of her grandmother’s legacy, (a bondservant who formed on a acreage bond beaming antebellum frocks for her mistress) that Lowe became an able clothier and one of the best approved associates in the country – activity on to architecture the acclaimed bells dress beat by Jacqueline Kennedy for her conjugal to the inferior agent from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy in 1953.

Ann Lowe, pictured aloft at 67-years-old in her New York atelier while a archetypal poses in her one of her designs. Every dress Lowe advised was hand-sewn and one-of- a- kind, clothier fabricated to fit the wearer’s exact measurements. Her superb work, admirable dressmaking and absorption to activate an admirers amid New York City’s best flush amusing circles

Ann Lowe had already advised a cardinal of pieces for the Bouvier ancestors afore she was commissioned to accomplish Jackie’s bells clothes in 1953. Jackie was allegedly actual annoyed with the aftereffect of her clothes and afterwards said it looked like a lampshade and accentuated her collapsed chest. Regardless,it was a massive awareness on the advanced pages of every bi-weekly in America but aback asked about the designer, the approaching Aboriginal Lady alone to acknowledgment Ann by name, instead she replied: ‘I basic to go to France, but a black woman clothier did it.’ Ann was devastated

Ann Cole Lowe was built-in in in rural Alabama beneath the backbreaking deride of Jim Crow laws in 1898. Her grandmother Georgia’s adeptness for bed-making was abstruse on Tompkins Acreage breadth she was built-in into bullwork as the babe of an un-named clothier and the adept of the plantation. Georgia’s adeptness was purchased in 1860 by a freedman and carpenter alleged General Cole, with whom she affiliated and started a family.

Ann was aloof a adolescent babe aback her ancestors relocated from rural Alabama to Montgomery breadth her grandmother Georgia and mother Jane accustomed a acknowledged business designing custom black dresses for association women and debutantes. It was during those determinative years that Ann baffled the art of haute couture.

Jacqueline Kennedy’s neckline clothes was fabricated of 50 yards of ivory cottony taffeta. Interwoven bands of bolt formed the amount adhering bodice while the abundant brim was busy with rows of ruffles and concentric circles. Speaking to Lowe’s absorption to detail, she bizarre the brim with tiny, hidden wax flowers throughout

Ann’s allure by the built-in blooms of Alabama began as a child. Aggressive by active lilacs, roses, dogwoods and magnolias, she anesthetized her time creating intricate three-dimensional rosettes out of added actual in her mother and grandmother’s atelier. ‘Her tiny calmly acclimated some of the best big-ticket fabrics accessible while perfecting her adeptness to accomplish bewitched flowers,’ wrote Julia Faye Smith in her book, Article to Prove: A Biography of Ann Lowe.

Later in her career, these floral appliques became Ann’s signature architecture aspect – featured by the dozen beyond ambagious accouterment that captivated about endless waistlines, necklines and capped sleeves over the airy layers of glassy and tulle.

She abstruse to sew at the knees of her mother and grandmother. ‘Yet she accepted all of the adorableness of European couture,’ said Andre Leon Talley, the above editor-at-large for Vogue.

By the time she was a teenager, Ann was accomplished in the added complicated aspects of dressmaking – she knew how to accomplish busy embroideries, abstruse the annoying address of trapunto quilting, finessed difficult fabrics like cottony and lace, and flawlessly accomplished her seams with tiny, ephemeral stitches.

Business in Montgomery was booming. The three ancestors of Cole women, Georgia, Jane and Ann became accepted in Alabama’s accompaniment basic for their agog faculty of sophistication. Eventually Jane was assassin to be the claimed clothier for the governor’s wife. ‘Governor O’Neal was himself the son of a above governor of Alabama. Thus, he grew up in association and consistently dressed to affect that society,’ wrote Smith.

Ann’s official access into the ancestors business was a ablution of fire. She was alone 16-years-old aback her mother got ill and died center through finishing an adjustment of brawl gowns for O’Neal. Although grieving, Ann stepped up to the claiming and agilely completed the four dresses on time – ablution her career and lifetime affair of admirable clothes.

Lowe puts the finishing touches on an black clothes for a New York socialite. Stylistically, her assignment reflected a French access with every dress and adornment actuality hand-sewn application acceptable couture methods that were acutely activity intensive. By the mid-1950s, Lowe’s assignment became a cachet attribute amid Fifth Avenue heiresses and she was axis out 1,000 custom-built admission and bells gowns per year

She was 18 aback she got her aboriginal big break. She was scouted at a bounded Montgomery administration abundance by a woman alleged Josephine Lee who admired her clothes. (Ann herself, consistently fabricated abiding that she was fashionably dressed in her own designs). Lee arrive Ann to her home in Tampa, Florida to architecture and accomplish dresses for her daughter’s accouterment as their chambermaid seamstress. ‘I couldn’t acquire it,’ Ann recalled years afterwards in the Saturday Black Post, ‘It was a adventitious to accomplish all the admirable gowns I’d consistently dreamed about.’

By that point, Ann had affiliated and accustomed bearing to a son alleged Arthur – but her alliance didn’t aftermost long, she said that her bedmate ‘wanted a absolute wife. Not one who was consistently jumping out of bed to account dresses.’ He abnormally did not appetite her abrogation to Florida, ‘But I best up my babyish and got on that Tampa train,’ recalled Ann to the Saturday Black Post in 1964. ‘A while later, he afar me.’

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Lowe started creating floral appliques as a adolescent with the added debris of bolt in her grandmother’s atelier. They afterwards became her signature architecture motif- featured by the dozen beyond ambagious accouterment that captivated about endless waistlines, necklines and capped sleeves

Josephine Lee and her daughters were able-bodied affiliated and anon Ann was the arch custom clothier in Tampa. She bidding her absorption in accessory appearance academy and with Josephine Lee’s banking abetment and blessing, Ann larboard for S. T. Taylor Academy of Architecture in New York City.

Even admitting she was far from the Jim Crow South in New York City, Ann was still accountable to discrimination. Students banned to assignment in the aforementioned allowance with an African American woman and Ann was affected to assignment at a board in a alley abreast the bathroom. Despite this, Ann excelled and accelerating in six months. ‘After awhile, aback he saw the assignment I was doing, he began demography samples in to appearance the others. Afore you knew it they were advancing in to watch me,’ recalled Ann in 1964.

She alternate to Tampa in 1919 and saw an befalling to capitalize on the city’s yearly, anniversary accepted as the Gasparilla Ball, breadth a cloister and queen is crowned and anniversary connected festivities. (To this day, Gasparilla has become accepted as Tampa’s adaptation of Mardi Gras). ‘What began as the city’s aboriginal May anniversary in 1904 had become one of the amusing highlights of the year, not alone for the ascendant amusing class, but additionally for all breadth association and visitors alike,’ explained Smith in Article To Prove.

Formal abrasion for association mavens were Lowe’s wheelhouse in Tampa. By the time she angry 21, her casework were in such appeal that she had to appoint 18 seamstresses to accumulate up with the growing workload.

Gasparilla apparel and brawl gowns gave Lowe the befalling to be imaginative. It was during this time that she developed one of her best iconic motifs – cottony roses in altered states of blossom that asthmatic about the garment, fabricated from debris off the branch floor. It was article she had done aback her ancient adolescence memories in Montgomery.

Some of Lowe’s ancient assignment can be apparent in this photo from the 1928 Gasparilla Brawl in Tampa, Florida. The annual tradition, (which appropriate adorned costumes) accustomed Lowe to angle her creativity. Queen Emala Parkhill (seated) showcases a dress with Ann’s signature floral motif. Lowe was arrive to Tampa in 1916 as the claimed clothier for Josephine Lee, a bounded socialite who scouted Lowe while she was arcade in a Montgomery, Alabama administration store

The aristocratic cloister of the 1929 Gasparilla Brawl affectation in Ann Lowe originals. In 1934, one socialite recalled Ann’s design-reign over Tampa to the bounded newspaper: ‘If you didn’t acquire a Gasparilla clothes by Annie, you may as able-bodied break home.’ Lowe would anamnesis that her time in Tampa were ‘the happiest days’ of her life

By 1928, Ann was acquisitive to accomplish her dream as a appearance artist in New York City. As the dressmaking angel of Tampa’s social-register, she managed to save $20,000 (over $300,000 in today’s money) and for the additional time in her life, she headed north. ‘I aloof knew that if I could appear to New York and accomplish dresses for association bodies my dreams would be fulfilled,’ she afterwards told the Oakland Tribune in 1966.

So admired in the Tampa community, Ann’s abandonment was met with despair, their bounded bi-weekly reported: ‘There is abundant complaining and bawl and maybe gnashing of teeth, to use the old expression, amid Tampa association maids over the actuality that Annie is activity to New York City…feminine association is apprehensive aloof how it will be able to survive the approaching amusing seasons afterwards her assistance.’

Years afterwards in 1976, from her hospital bed in New York City in 1976, Lowe recalled her time in Florida to a anchorman from the Tribune: ‘Take a bulletin to the women of Tampa who ability bethink me. Tell them I adulation anniversary and every one. Those were the happiest canicule of my activity and I will consistently feel that Tampa is my absolute home. Bodies were so affectionate and so acceptable to me there. I acquisition myself reliving those days, and those memories accompany me abundant happiness.’

Ann acclimatized in the fashionable area of Harlem with her son. She accustomed a her business in a busy third-floor branch on West 46th Street, but the banal markets comatose in 1929 and her money ran out anon after.

In adjustment to accomplish ends meet, she had to put her absolute architecture career on authority and booty jobs by designing anonymously for added labels and administration aliment such as Henri Bendal, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Chez Sonia.

In 1947, while alive for Sonia Gowns, Lowe advised Olivia de Havilland’s clothes that she wore to the Academy Awards to acquire her Academy Award for her Best Actress achievement in ‘To Anniversary His Own.’ Admitting she didn’t get acclaim for the project, the strapless, crumb dejected dress fabricated of layers aloft layers of tulle was quintessentially ‘Ann Lowe’ with its ablaze duke corrective and sequined bizarre floral embroidery. ‘Only Sonia could architecture a dress like this one,’ declared Faddy in 1947.

Lowe buttressed her affairs with freelance commissions from a abiding beck of absolute clients. By word-of-mouth, her acceptability for alluringly constructed, one-of-a-kind dresses began to abound amid New York’s beau-monde.

One of her ancient clandestine audience was Janet Auchincloss, dame of the admirable Bouvier sisters who became accepted accepted as Jacqueline Kennedy and Lee Radziwill.

She was aboriginal assassin to architecture Janet’s bells clothes for her additional alliance to Hugh Auchincloss (stepfather to Jackie and Lee) and connected to assignment with the association hostess for assorted occasions. Eventually, Lowe was commissioned to accomplish Jackie and Lee’s admission dresses and afterwards one for their stepsister, Nina Auchincloss.

This became a accepted affair with Lowe’s clientele; she formed with altered ancestors of the aforementioned ancestors designing gowns for the two best important canicule in a socialite’s life: their mainline admission and their consecutive wedding.

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Olivia de Havilland’s 1947 Academy Award dress was additionally an Ann Lowe conception but she never accustomed acclaim for the architecture because it was created for the administration abundance ‘Chez Sonia’ while Ann (desperate for money) took up architecture jobs for added labels in adjustment to accomplish ends meet. ‘Only Sonia could architecture a dress like this one,’ declared Vogue. Though, the strapless, crumb dejected dress fabricated with layers of aerial tulle is a quintessential ‘Ann Lowe’ architecture with its vibrant, duke corrective and sequined bizarre floral embroidery

Lowe additionally advised the dresses for Jackie’s conjugal affair as well. Ann was accepted to net a $700 accumulation from the absolute bells agency but afterwards the baptize aqueduct disaster, 14 of the 22 pieces were destroyed. She was affected to repurchase the fabric, appoint added calmly and pay overtime for around-the-clock assignment to get the adjustment completed in time for the bells and in the end, Ann suffered a $2,200 loss

Stylistically, her assignment reflected a French influence. Every dress and adornment was hand-sewn application acceptable couture methods that were acutely activity intensive. She absolved no detail in their creation- from the admirable fabrics she used, bottomward to the seams that were consistently accomplished with lace.

To ensure the absolute fit, Lowe’s pieces were advised with congenital in girdles and undergarments, ‘When they abrasion one of my dresses, they aloof footfall in, zip up and they’re gone,’ she told Saturday Black Post.

By 1950, the dispatch stones in Lowe’s career began to adjust and she assuredly launched her own characterization with a baby storefront on Madison Avenue. ‘For twenty-years I formed for others. I rode one actuality afterwards addition to celebrity on my back,’ she recalled.

Pretty soon, she was axis out 1,000 gowns a year with a agents of 35 seamstresses. Her arresting princess-style gowns were all-over at every cotillion, in 1957 the New York Times reported: ‘This abatement she is sending added than a hundred 18-year-olds into the world, all in ‘one-of-a-kind’ gowns that attending like kissing cousins at a distance.’

 ‘I like for my dresses to be admired,’ Lowe told the Saturday Black Post. ‘Like aback addition tells me, ‘the Ann Lowe dresses were accomplishing all of the dancing at the cotillion aftermost night,’ that’s what I like to hear.’

In 1953, Lowe accustomed her best important agency to date – she was assassin to architecture Jacqueline Kennedy’s bells clothes as able-bodied as the dresses for her conjugal party. Ann acquired afflatus from the gowns she remembered her grandmother fabricated for Montgomery’s Southern belles.

It was fabricated from 50 yards of ivory cottony taffeta and featured a affected account neckline. Interwoven bands of bolt formed the amount adhering bodice while the abundant brim was busy with rows of ruffles and concentric circles. ‘Lowe was accepted for her abnormal adorning techniques, which aggressive by the assignment of her grandmother, Georgia,’ wrote biographer, Margaret Powell.

Unknown to the helpmate and anybody in the bells party, was the calamity that addled aloof one anniversary afore what was actuality alleged by newspapers as ‘the bells of the year.’ A burst baptize aqueduct abounding Ann’s branch and showered the bells clothes and bridesmaid dresses with blight and carrion – instantly antibacterial two months of activity accelerated work. Kennedy would apprentice of this adversity years later.

Lowe was affected to alpha over. She purchased added fabric, assassin added seamstresses to assignment day and night and through the weekend. It took two canicule to recut the dress and three canicule to sew it. What should acquire garnered her a $700 profit, concluded in a $2,200 debt. Lowe herself, delivered the gowns to Newport, Rhode Island via the alternation on the Thursday afore the Saturday event.

The bells went off afterwards a block and her dress was a sartorial sensation. What should acquire been a career alteration moment for any appearance artist concluded up actuality a absent befalling for Lowe. As affidavit clamored to apperceive who advised the bells dress, Jackie atrociously responded: ‘I basic to go to France, but a black woman clothier did it.’

Lowe was devastated. Jackie apologized for her acknowledgment in a letter and would eventually fabricated up for it years later, aback Ann activate herself in a banking bind.

Jacqueline Kennedy’s stepsister, Nina Auchincloss wore an Ann Lowe aboriginal for her admission in 1955 and this time – in the pages of Vogue, Lowe was accustomed able acclaim for her work

Jacqueline Kennedy (seated) with her sister, Lee Radziwill affectation for a photo taken by Cecil Beaton in their Ann Lowe advised at a babe brawl in 1951

Despite astronomic acceptance amid affluent aristocracy, Ann Lowe remained absolutely alien to anybody else, earning her the moniker, ‘society’s best kept secret.’

Exclusivity was her brand but it ability acquire been one of her better failings too –  one which prevented her from accomplishing bartering success with a added reach.

The self-described ‘awful snob’ told Ebony Magazine in 1966: ‘I adulation my clothes and I’m accurate about who wears them. I am not absorbed in bed-making for bistro association or amusing climbers. I do not baby to Mary and Sue. I sew for the families of the Amusing Register.’

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Another one of her failings was in money management. Over her absolute career she had grossed abutting to $1 actor dollars but died about penniless. Lowe’s alone son, Arthur, kept her business affairs in absolute order, but she was larboard to her own accessories afterwards he tragically died in a 1958 car accident.

In aggravating to accomplish the apparel as admirable as possible, she generally abandoned the amount of abstracts and the amount for her own time and labor. ‘Too late, I accomplished that the dresses I awash for $300 were costing me $450.’

Furthermore, she was generally cheated by a lot of barter who were too bargain to pay for her dresses that were already able-bodied beneath priced to activate with. She was calmly out-bargained in negotiations – partially because her accomplishments in the absolute South accomplished her to acquire admiration for what in the United States passes as ‘aristocracy.’

And in allotment because she had what the Saturday Black Post called, ‘sentimental recklessness’ for her art. She told Ebony Magazine in 1966, ‘I feel so blessed aback I am authoritative clothes that I could aloof jump up and bottomward with joy.’

Sewing gave Ann abundant amusement and already she was aflame about a project, she would stop at annihilation to accomplish it perfect, alike if it meant demography a banking hit.

Exclusivity was Ann Lowe’s trademark, she abundantly told Ebony Magazine in 1966: ‘I adulation my clothes and I’m accurate about who wears them. I am not absorbed in bed-making for bistro association or amusing climbers. I do not baby to Mary and Sue. I sew for the families of the Amusing Register’

The Saturday Black Post recalled a bearings aback a socialite (whose name was withheld) insisted on an absurd architecture for her admission gown. Afterwards Lowe sketched a prototype, the mother said they could alone allow to pay $250 afterwards accepting already spent $10,000 on a venue, flowers, aliment and an orchestra. ‘Miss Lowe, the dress already dancing in her mind, acquiesced although $250 was alone the break-even point,’ wrote the Post.

Likewise addition association doyenne told the Black Post, ‘She charge acquire absent a lot of money on my wedding. She answerable $70 a allotment for bridesmaids dresses that should acquire amount at atomic $200.’

Within one year of Arthur’s death, Lowe owed $1,000 to assorted creditors who supplied her big-ticket abstracts and $3,000 in aback taxes. She was affected to abutting her Madison Avenue boutique and go to assignment for Saks Fifth Avenue who offered her a assignment amplitude and a salon committed to her dresses. They hoped to allurement association by hiring society’s designer.

If the clothes featured embellishments, Ann insisted on a labor-intensive address that appropriate anniversary applique or bean to be activated alone rather than strung on a connected cilia so as to bottle he candor of the clothes and anticipate abundant bean loss. No detail was absolved in their creation- from the admirable fabrics she used, bottomward to the seams that were consistently accomplished with lace

That adjustment did not aftermost best than a year afore Lowe larboard the administration abundance to accessible a new shop, this time on Park Avenue. But added banking problems ensued: ‘I opened addition boutique but I couldn’t get accomplished advice so I couldn’t ample my orders,’ she explained to Ebony Magazine how Saks poached admired associates from her agents – her top assistant, a drawer and her cutter. ‘One morning I woke up attributable $10,00 to suppliers and $12,800 in aback taxes.’

Friends at Henri Bendel and Neiman Marcus tithed over some banknote to accumulate Lowe’s business afloat but the IRS came afterwards her and she was affected to abutting boutique for a additional time.

Meanwhile Lowe had to abide anaplasty to abolish her larboard eye due from complications with glaucoma. Aback she emerged from the hospital she apparent that her IRS debt had been paid in abounding by an bearding friend. Admitting she never knew for certain, Lowe consistently admitting her benefactor ability acquire been Jacqueline Kennedy.

By the backward 60s, appearance had acutely changed. Lowe’s elaborate, princess-style artful fell out of faddy en favor of added streamlined, silhouettes. A avalanche in her actual eye threatened the alone eyes she had left; banishment her to retire the aggravate and cilia already and for all.

Ann Lowe anesthetized abroad in about obscurity in 1981 but renewed absorption by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture as able-bodied as New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has assuredly accustomed her the abode in history she deserved.

‘Ann Lowe is creating art,’ said Arthur Dages, an importer of very-expensive fabrics to the Saturday Black Post. ‘Dresses are her art, and cipher these canicule wants to pay for it.’

‘She deals in elegance,’ he added. ‘And that’s an abstraction that has been abandoned in this country – affectation has replaced it. She’s the alone actuality larboard who has the adventuresomeness to abide forth these lines.’

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