Pioneering Designer Ann Lowe Gets Her Due in This Year’s Met Exhibition
With this year’s exhibition at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lowe’s work is being given the platform it deserves. A handful of the 10 Lowe dresses in the museum’s collection will feature in part two of the “In America” exhibition, titled “An Anthology of Fashion,” including a mint green silk gown topped with a structured black lace coat and a ravishing 1941 wedding dress that serve as the centerpieces of director Julie Dash’s romantic reimagining of the museum’s Renaissance Revival room. “High-born insiders knew who Lowe was, but no one else,” the Daughters of the Dust director told Chloe Malle in Vogue’s April issue, explaining her plans to present an image of the designer for the exhibition behind a veil. “You’ll see the form, but she’s never totally revealed.”
Lowe, who was born in rural Alabama in 1898, spent barely a few years in the state’s segregated schools before leaving to pursue dressmaking. (Her grandmother and mother were both seamstresses and taught her the trade.) At the age of 16, following her mother’s untimely death, Lowe took over the family business and spent a brief stint studying in New York, before first making her name as a designer to the great and good of Tampa. Still, she always had her sights set on New York as the city where her dreams of being one of her generation’s greatest designers would be realized. Upon returning in 1927, she began her steady ascent.
It was in the years following the Second World War, as society women began to embrace a sleek new form of femininity, that Lowe began to truly thrive. (Indeed, it’s reported that, upon seeing one of Lowe’s gowns for the first time, the creator of the New Look himself, Christian Dior, demanded to know who had made it, as he was so impressed by its craftsmanship and design ingenuity.) She regularly designed for some of Manhattan’s most storied retail destinations, including Henri Bendel and Neiman Marcus. In 1946, she created the dress Olivia de Havilland wore to accept her Oscar for To Each His Own, albeit under the name of the store from which de Havilland purchased the gown, Sonia Rosenberg.
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