ANNE LOWE: CELEBRATING THE LEGACY OF AN AMERICAN COURTIER

In the hushed corridors of high fashion, Ann Lowe stands as a beacon of timeless elegance and innovation. Her creations, woven with meticulous craftsmanship and a touch of magic, have graced the shoulders of First Ladies and socialites alike. Now, a new exhibit at the Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library, which is located in Delaware, promises to unveil the secrets behind Lowe’s enduring influence on American couture.

The exhibit is titled “Ann Lowe: Threads of Elegance,” the exhibition transports visitors into the enchanting world of this unsung fashion genius. As the doors swing open, the ethereal presence of Lowe’s designs beckons from the pedestals, drawing admirers into a realm where every stitch tells a story.

Anne Lowe’s whimsical creations. (Photo Credit: Winterthur Museum)

Ann Lowe’s journey to becoming a couturier extraordinaire was marked by resilience and passion. Born in rural Clayton, Alabama in 1898, Lowe’s early fascination with fabrics and design was nurtured by her mother and grandmother, a former slave and skilled dressmaker. Lowe was only a teenager when she developed not only her expert technical skills, but also her distinctive style—feminine, graceful, and elegant. Her beautiful creations often incorporated her signature hand-made floral elements which society women adored.

Her remarkable career took her through the Jim Crow South, from Montgomery, Alabama, to Tampa, Florida, and in 1928 to New York City, the fashion capital of the United States. Although Lowe’s work made her an asset to wealthy society women around the country, as a young black woman she also experienced the chaotic hardships of the fashion business and segregated America in a period of dramatic change.

Lowe’s creations place her amongst America’s exceptional fashion designers, and her life illustrates a legacy of Black women’s knowledge and skills that began as enslaved labor. With the odds against woman of color at the time, Lowe fought hard and positioned herself as a creative designer, a fashion insider, and a vital contributor to American culture. This legacy of creativity and determination set the stage for Lowe’s rise in the fashion world.

The Winterthur exhibit expertly curates Lowe’s life’s work, showcasing her evolution from an apprentice to a trailblazer who challenged racial and gender barriers in the early 20th century. Each garment on display is a testament to Lowe’s ability to blend sophistication with simplicity, creating pieces that resonate with grace and charm.

Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding dress when she married John F. Kennedy in 1953. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

A highlight of the exhibit is Lowe’s groundbreaking creation for Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding in 1953. Despite the prevailing racial prejudices of the time, the First Lady’s iconic wedding dress was a testament to Lowe’s unparalleled talent. The Winterthur Museum has spared no expense in recreating the magic of that historic gown, allowing visitors to marvel at the intricate details that captivated the nation.

Jacqueline Kennedy in her Ann Lowe-designed wedding dress. (Photo Credit: Elle Magazine)

In 1964, The Saturday Evening Post referred to couturier Ann Lowe as “Society’s Best-Kept Secret.” Although Lowe had been creating couture-quality gowns for America’s most prominent debutantes, heiresses, actresses, and society brides—including Jacqueline Kennedy, Olivia de Havilland, and Marjorie Merriweather Post—for years, Lowe remained practically unknown to the public. The designer has been given far too little recognition for her influence on American fashion, but this exhibit will surely breath new life into Lowe’s whimsical creations.

Elizabeth Mance wears an Ann Lowe design in a wedding photograph circa 1968. Lowe can be seen behind the bride and her father being escorted into the church. (Photo Credit: Elle Magazine)

As you wander through the exhibit, it’s impossible to ignore the influence Ann Lowe had on shaping American fashion. Her designs were a symphony of elegance, transcending the trends of the moment and becoming timeless classics. From glamorous ball gowns to chic day dresses, each piece is a masterclass in the art of couture.

The Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library have gone above and beyond to create an immersive experience. The exhibit space is adorned with floral arrangements reminiscent of Lowe’s favorite blooms, creating an ambiance that mirrors the grace and beauty of her designs.

Ann Lowe, photographed for the December 1966 edition of Ebony magazine. (Photo Credit: Elle Magazine)

Beyond the couture, the exhibit delves into Lowe’s personal life, offering glimpses into the challenges she faced as a woman of color in a predominantly white, male industry. It’s a poignant reminder that her success was not only measured in the stitches and seams but also in the resilience that defined her journey.

Ann Lowe: Threads of Elegance” is not just an exhibition; it’s a celebration of an artist who broke barriers and left an indelible mark on American fashion. As you step into the Winterthur Museum, be prepared to be transported into the world of Ann Lowe—a world where elegance knows no bounds, and creativity is truly timeless.

Ann Lowe: American Couturier can be purchased at the Wintherur Store online. (Photo Credit: Wintherur Museum.)

If you cannot make it to the exhibit, you can purchase her book which features vivid new photographs of Lowe’s creations—including intricate details of her exquisite handwork and signature floral embellishments. The book also includes essays that explore the trials and achievements of Lowe’s life, contextualize her work, as well as profile Black designers whose work reflects her influence. There are also behind-the-scenes looks at the astonishing efforts to preserve Lowe’s gowns.

Lowe, photographed for the December 1966 edition of Ebony magazine. (Photo Credit: Elle Magazine)

So tell us, which historic designers have had the greatest influence on your designs?

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Antonia Sardone

Antonia Sardone is a new contributor to the University of Fashion. She is also a freelance fashion consultant, stylist and writer. Antonia Sardone graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology with a degree in Advertising Communications, Marketing and Fashion Journalism. She is an industry veteran having worked for WWD for over fifteen years and has strong relationships with designers worldwide. Today, Antonia Sardone continues to write reviews for WWD as well as work with many contemporary designers on a variety of projects from helping to re-launch their websites to writing their brand books. She enjoys raising her children to be creative individuals, as well as styling, writing and traveling.