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Anne Cole Lowe, an African -American woman, the great granddaughter of a slave and plantation owner, was born in Clayton, Alabama in 1898. Her mother and grandmother were celebrated seamstresses, known for sewing for the first ladies of Alabama.
She and her mother moved to New York, where her mother operated a small dressmaking shop. In 1912, Anne married at the age of 14. When she was 16, her mother suddenly died forcing her to take over the business. However, 1917, she enrolled in a fashion school in New York City. After graduating, she opened a small studio in Tampa,FL. She later returned to New York where she worked as a commissioned designer for some of the major houses in the Fashion District. She was never mentioned or given credit for her designs. Anne Lowe was known as society's best kept secret. She designed for society's top families such as the du Ponts, Roosevelts, Vanderbilts, and Rockefellers. Her clothing was compared to Parisian couture, but she charged much less to create the same thing. They all wanted her to create their gowns for debutante balls and weddings. Most notably, she designed and made the gown actress Olivia de Haviland wore when she received her Oscar for "To Each His Own." Anne's name was never mentioned. But, her quiet claim to fame came when she designed the wedding gown that Jackie Kennedy wore when she married John F. Kennedy. She was, also, commissioned to make the 10 bridesmaid's gowns and hats. Her skills as a professional seamstress was put to the test when, 10 days before the wedding a water line broke, flooding the store and ruining the gown. She worked around the clock to recreate the gown and complete all 10 bridesmaid dresses. Although the wedding received much attention, Anne didn't.
In 1962, while undergoing surgery to remove one of her eyes due to glaucoma, Anne's shop was seized by the IRS because of back taxes. Upon her release from the hospital, she learned that her debt had been paid by an anonymous benefactor. It is suspected that the first lady, Jackie could have paid it.
In her 70's she opened a store inside of Saksk Fifth Ave., then her own studio, Anne Lowe Origianls, making over 2,000 dresses for New York's society. She was awarded the Couturier of the Year Plaque and appeared in the National Social Directory and the 1968 Who's Who of American Women. She retired in the 1970's.
In 1981, Anne Cole Lowe died at the age of 83. She is well knwn for her trapunto work, a detailed needle technique. Her fashions can be seen in a permanant collection at the New York Metropolitan Museum of ARt, Washington,D.C.'s Black Fashion Museum, and the Smithsonian. In 1997, the John F. Kennedy Library & Museum had the Textile Conservation Center of the American Textile Histroy Museum in Massachusetts to restore the Kennedy gown.
Ann Lowe: The First Lady of Style
Anne Cole Lowe
The Fashion Spot
Jackie Kenedy's Bridesmaid dresses