Women Clothing

Ann Cole Lowe was an African American fashion designer for wealthy clientele from the 1920s to the 1960s. Lowe is best known for designing the ivory silk taffeta wedding dress worn by Jacqueline Bouvier who married John F. Kennedy in 1953. She also designed a dress that Olivia de Havilland wore when she accepted the Academy Award for Best Actress for To Each His Own. At the time, she was not recognized for her work; however, in 1964, the Saturday Evening Post finally gave her overdue recognition calling Lowe “society’s best kept secret.”

Born December 14, 1898, in Clayton, Alabama, Lowe developed an interest in fashion designing and sewing from her mother and grandmother who were seamstresses. They established a dressmaking business in Montgomery, Alabama where they catered to members of high society matrons.

In 1917, Lowe moved to New York City and enrolled in S.T. Taylor Design School. She had to attend class in a room alone because of racial segregation but she exceled demonstrating her outstanding artistry to her white peers. After graduating in 1919, she moved to Tampa, Florida and opened her first dress salon. Lowe returned to New York in 1928 and moved to Manhattan Avenue in Harlem. During the 1950’s and 1960’s, she worked on commission for stores such as Henri Bendel, Montaldo’s, I. Magnin, Chez Sonia, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. In 1950, she opened a second salon called Ann Lowe’s Gowns, in New York City on Lexington Avenue. She was very particular about who wore her designs. She only designed gowns for high class families of the Social Register.

In 1961, she received the Couturier of the Year award and in 1962, she lost her salon in New York City after failing to pay taxes. An anonymous friend paid Lowe’s debts which enabled her to work again. In 1963, she declared bankruptcy and in 1968, she opened a new store called Ann Lowe Originals on Madison Avenue. She retired in 1972 and died at her daughter’s home in Queens on February 25, 1981, after an extended illness.