Ann Lowe, first Black fashion designer, immortalized in Ohio State collection

Gerard Ortiz

As Black History Thirty day period receives underway, the accomplishments of famous Black fashion designer Ann Lowe are getting highlighted by The Ohio Point out University University of Instruction and Human Ecology’s (EHE) Historic Costumes and Textiles Collection. Commonly regarded as the to start with nationally regarded Black American couturier, Lowe is also the topic of a new guide and a latest presentation and approaching exhibit at the Nationwide To start with Ladies’ Library in Canton.

Lowe’s historic importance as the 1st Black designer to be regarded for her singular design and style cannot be overstated, said Gayle Strege, curator of the Historic Costumes and Textiles Collection.

“There ended up a great deal of Black dressmakers and designers, but they weren’t necessarily whose identify was on the label,” she stated. “That recognition of the dressmaker was left out, so it’s great to be equipped to deliver that all to light-weight.”

Lowe’s styles consist of a distinctive debutante dress that is housed at the Historic Costumes and Textiles Assortment. Lowe also built Jacqueline Bouvier’s wedding day gown for her 1953 nuptials to then-Senator and potential President John F. Kennedy. A copy of the wedding day dress will be on display screen at the Nationwide 1st Ladies’ Library beginning in May, stated Alison Caplan, the library’s director of education and learning.

Succeeding versus the odds

Ann Lowe is widely regarded as the first well-known Black American fashion designer.Lowe was born in rural Alabama in 1898. The granddaughter of slaves learned to sew and make dresses from her mom and grandmother. The spouse and children ran a seamstress business enterprise that made fashions for Alabama’s governor and point out dignitaries.

Lowe came to prominence as a designer in her possess appropriate in the mid-20th century. Her life and job have been documented in a number of textbooks, such as creator Piper Huguley’s new release, “By Her Very own Design and style: A Novel of Ann Lowe, Style Designer to the Social Sign up.” Huguley discussed Lowe’s achievements through a Feb. 1 virtual presentation hosted by the Initial Ladies’ Library.  

In a discussion with Caplan, Huguley described how her do the job of historical fiction pays homage to Lowe. The reserve chronicles Lowe’s styles for high-profile purchasers like the Kennedys, the Rockefellers, the du Ponts and Olivia de Haviland, the Academy Award-profitable actress. De Haviland donned a person of Lowe’s designs in 1946 when she won the Best Actress Oscar for “To Each individual His Individual.”

“I could instantly see on hunting at what Ann’s lifetime was that it could be designed into a novel,” Huguley stated. “It was obvious from the things that I noticed in the beginning that a historic fiction novel could be explained to about Ann Lowe.”

As the heroine of her own compelling story, Lowe frequently triumphed over adversity – which include succeeding in a hugely competitive sector as a woman and an African American in an period in which equally groups struggled to achieve equality. She also battled glaucoma and eventually retired in 1972 owing to vision troubles.

A thrift-retailer donation reveals a priceless artifact

Ahead of Lowe’s debutante costume was acquired by the Historic Costumes and Textiles Collection, the garment was in the possession of Columbus resident Jim Gessner for several decades. Gessner is the son of Florence Cowell Gayle, one of Lowe’s collaborators at Lowe’s A.F. Chantilly manner label. Gessner ran the small business that housed the label.

Just after the A.F. Chantilly New York store shut, Gessner held on to a range of dresses produced by Cowell Gayle and the debutante dress designed by Lowe.

“He took the Ann Lowe robe to 1st Neighborhood Church’s clothing resale shop and gave it to them,” explained Elizabeth McCallister, Gessner’s niece and Cowell Gayle’s granddaughter, who also life in central Ohio. “He experienced that costume in a storage unit for 50 decades.”

Luckily, staff members with the Higher Arlington thrift store recognized the exclusive high quality of the gold debutante costume with handmade floral embellishments that Gessner had donated. They contacted Ohio State about the probability of attaining it.

When Very first Group workforce achieved out to Strege, “I stated, ‘Yeah, and how did you get a person of her attire? They’re so exceptional,’” she stated. “She only designed a single-of-a-type attire, so there aren’t likely to be that quite a few out there.”

Lowe’s legacy endures

In addition to the Historic Costumes and Textiles Collection, Lowe’s patterns are housed in prestigious museums this sort of as the Smithsonian Institute’s Nationwide Museum of African American Record and Society in Washington, D.C., and the Metropolitan Museum of Artwork in New York Town.

The First Ladies’ Library obtained a replica of Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding day costume from the non-public selection of Monte Durham, host of the TLC fact clearly show “Say Certainly to the Costume.”    

“There’s no question that Jacqueline Kennedy’s gown is a masterpiece,” Caplan explained. “It was type of a showpiece that the Kennedys desired to be designed that would get the magazine protection that they needed to support propel (John F. Kennedy) into the highlight.”

In a devastating switch of fate, the bridal and bridesmaids’ attire that Lowe created for the Bouvier/Kennedy marriage ceremony ended up destroyed just 10 times ahead of the ceremony when a pipe burst in Lowe’s New York Metropolis workroom. Forging in advance with her trademark tenacity, the designer painstakingly recreated the dresses at her individual cost.

Dropping dollars was regrettably commonplace for Lowe and other Black designers of her working day. Irrespective of their wealth and privilege, numerous of Lowe’s clients devalued her operate, refused to sufficiently compensate her and almost never gave her appropriate credit score for layouts since of her race, Huguley stated.

“This is how somebody who was Black in the 1st 50 {05995459f63506108ab777298873a64e11d6b9d8e449f5580a59254103ec4a63} of the 20th century, how you had to comport your self,” she said. “It’s uncomfortable to search again on and for us to think about, but that was a historical truth.”          

Strege reported she is hopeful that the inclusion of Lowe’s types in the college’s collection, the First Ladies’ Library and other museums all around the nation will bring consciousness to Black fashion designers’ contributions.

“Because so several African Us residents have been written out of our heritage, it’s fantastic to have an example of her get the job done,” she mentioned. “To be ready to share that historical past is fantastic to deliver to light-weight.”

Lowe’s debutante gown can be viewed in a video clip on the EHE Education and learning and Understanding Design and style YouTube channel. (The gown is at present in storage for an forthcoming renovation of Campbell Corridor on Ohio State’s Columbus campus, the place the collection is located.)

For information about Ohio State’s Historic Costumes and Textiles Assortment, check out For a lot more facts about the First Ladies’ Library forthcoming show of the replica of Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding ceremony costume, pay a visit to


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