The dress Jacqueline Bouvier wore to be married to John F. Kennedy became iconic — yet its creator, Ann Lowe, died in her old age broke and unknown. Lowe, an African-American designer was a favorite of the society set at the time of the wedding in 1953 — twice creating the iconic wedding dress in ivory French taffeta and pink silk faille, after a broken water pipe destroyed the original 10 days before Bouvier’s big day, The New York Post reports.
In spite of having died in relative obscurity at 82, America’s first black high-fashion designer is once again being recognized — with three of her gowns exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution’s new National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C., and several others to be displayed in New York City in December, at an exhibition at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Two children’s books about the designer are also in the works.
Lowe was born in Alabama in 1898, the granddaughter of an enslaved dressmaker, who later opened her own business after the Civil War. Ann learned to sew from her grandmother and mother, taking over the business at age 16, when her mother died. Two years later, in 1917, she moved to New York City to train as a couturier — almost losing her place in the course because of the color of her skin.
Eventually, Lowe became known as society’s “best-kept secret,” designing for socialites and Hollywood stars. But that was really just the beginning of her storied career and tumultuous life.