‘By Her Own Design:’ the Life and Legacy of Fashion Designer Ann Lowe

fashion-designer-anne-lowe
The designer Anne Lowe (right) fitting one of her socialite customers. Image: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images.

Within the framework of American history are many untold stories about great individuals who’ve contributed to some of this country’s most significant moments. The revelation of such stories allows us to piece together a holistic narrative about our country’s past while establishing a blueprint for its future.

One of these hidden gems within modern history is the life and work of the African American fashion designer Ann Lowe.

Earlier this year, Lowe was honored by the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in its “In America” exhibition for her contributions to the landscape of fashion, including Jacqueline Lee Kennedy Onassis’s wedding dress for her matrimonial ceremony to John F. Kennedy. Now, more color is being added to her multi-dimensional legacy.

A historical fiction novel, By Her Own Design depicts the life and times of legendary designer. Born in 1898, Lowe went on to establish a name for herself designing stunning pieces for some of America’s most high society figures. The granddaughter of enslaved peoples, she became the first documented African American fashion designer.

By Her Own Design: A Novel of Ann Lowe, Fashion Designer to the Social Register, Piper Huguley, $11, amazon.com. Image: courtesy of Harper Collins.

Written by Piper Huguley, By Her Own Design establishes a layer of context to the highs and lows of Lowe’s rise to notability. With the inclusion of major points within Ann Lowe’s life, the novel is told through her first-hand perspective. Through this point of view, the reader is able to understand her motives for fashion design, her inspirations and her journey to escaping the Jim Crow South in hopes of a more fulfilling life.

Although Lowe is not around to tell her story by her own means, a narrative such as this allows us to step into the reality of what her work signifies.

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