Ann Cole Lowe (1898 – February 25, 1981) was an American fashion designer and the first Black American to become a noted fashion designer. Lowe’s original designs were a favorite among high society matrons from the 1920s to the 1960s.
In 1917, Lowe and her son moved to New York City where she enrolled at S.T. Taylor Design School. School was segregated, Lowe was required to attend classes in a room alone.
After graduating in 1919, Lowe and her son moved to Tampa, FL., and opened her first dress salon, “Annie Cohen”. The salon catered to members of high society and quickly became a success. Having saved $20,000 from her earnings, Lowe returned to New York City in 1928. Ann worked on commission for stores such as Henri Bendel, Chez Sonia, Neiman Marcus, and Saks.
In 1946, she designed the dress that Olivia de Havilland wore to accept the Academy Award for To Each His On, although the name on the dress was Sonia Rosenberg her pseudonym.
In 1953, she designed the ivory silk taffeta wedding dress worn by Jacqueline Bouvier when she married Senator John F. Kennedy. Mrs. Kennedy was not the only affluent client of Lowe. When asked who made her wedding dress, she replied “a black dressmaker”. Ann Lowe was chosen by Janet Auchincloss, the mother of Jacqueline Bouvier, who had previously commissioned Ann to design the wedding dress she wore when she married Hugh D. Auchincloss. Ann also designed for the Rockefeller’s and Vanderbilt’s.
Her clients never paid hundreds of dollars for their original lavish gowns instead convinced Ann to pay as little as possible. After paying her staff, she often failed to make a profit on her designs. Lowe later admitted that at the height of her career, she was virtually broke. In 1962, she lost her salon in New York City after failing to pay taxes. That same year, her right eye was removed due to glaucoma. While she was recuperating, an anonymous friend paid Lowe’s debts which enabled her to work again. Soon after, she developed cataract in her left eye which was saved after surgery. In 1968, she opened a new store, Ann Lowe Originals, on Madison Avenue. She retired in 1972.
A collection of five of Ann Lowe’s designs are held at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum on Art.
Her infamous turquoise and dark green laced dress hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.