October 2, 2023

Ann Lowe: American Couturier

Costume Exhibition at Winterthur Museum
Sept 9, 2023 - January 7, 2024

“In 1964, The Saturday Evening Post referred to fashion designer Ann Lowe as ‘Society’s Best-Kept Secret.’ Although Lowe had been designing 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 decades, she remained virtually unknown to the wider public. Since then, too little recognition has been given to her influence on American fashion.

“Ann Lowe’s recently emerging visibility as a designer stands in contrast to much of her career and the countless unrecognized Black dressmakers and designers who have contributed to American fashion for generations, including her own grandmother and mother. She blazed a path for others to follow and her legacy is still felt in fashion culture.” [Continue reading exhibition text.]

Jacqueline Kennedy in her wedding gown
designed by Ann Lowe, 1953

My 2011 article published in Atlanta's Season magazine, "What Does a Fashion Icon Wear to Her Own Wedding/s," shares what Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy really wanted her wedding gown to look like! Here's an excerpt:

During the presidential state visit to France in the spring of 1961, “more than a million Parisians lined the parade route, chanting ‘Jacqui! Jacqui!’ as the Kennedys entered Paris,” Kathleen Craughwell-Varda recalled in Looking for Jackie: American Fashion Icons. As the charismatic wife of the U.S. president, Jackie Kennedy’s chic, elegant style—copied by women around the world—even won over the toughest fashion critics...the French!

However, the woman who revolutionized a stodgy fashion industry and headlined the best-dressed list for years had not worn the wedding gown of her choice. Jacqueline (Jock-leen) Bouvier was a young bride in 1953 when it was typical for the bride’s mother to plan the wedding, dictate or greatly influence what her daughter would wear (and frequently whom she would marry), and basically run the show.

Of course, the headstrong Jackie was not just any bride of the fifties. She was the future wife of one of the wealthiest men in the country and one whose father had great political plans for his oldest son’s future. So not only did the Newport wedding become a huge Kennedy-orchestrated, high-society spectacle (instead of the small affair the bride and her family wanted), but the bride’s gown reflected what the groom requested. “Jackie wanted to wear a sleek, modern gown, in keeping with the pared-down style she preferred,” Craughwell-Varda explained, “but Jack persuaded her to select something more traditional and old-fashioned.”

The bride’s mother chose Ann Lowe, an African American designer in New York City “who catered to society women.” From her workshop on Lexington Avenue, the designer created an elaborate gown of ivory silk taffeta with a portrait neckline, off-the-shoulder cap sleeves and big ruffled swirls on the full skirt. Jackie also wore the long rose point lace veil worn by her mother and grandmother attached to their wax orange blossom wreath. Perhaps the only time the glamorous Jackie looked “traditional.” (If Jackie had gotten to choose, don’t you think her gown would have been very Givenchy-ish? And with all that Kennedy money at her young fingertips, perhaps she would have gone directly to the master French couturier himself!)

Jacqueline Kennedy wearing Oleg Cassini,
appointed as her "exclusive couturier,"
Elysee Palace reception in Paris,1961

September 30, 2023

...and more love


September 20, 2023

A Wedding Classic Revisited


“On May 19, 2018, the royal nuptials of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex made history and broke traditions, with the bride Meghan Markle’s wedding dress almost serving as an allegory,” Fawnia Soo Hoo wrote in her recent article, “Meghan Markle’s Wedding Dress Nods to Hollywood and American Royalty,” for Vanity Fair.

I love that this “allegorical wedding, this extraordinary couple, and Meghan’s sensitive and intuitive creativity is being revisited in such a beautiful article. Fawnia chats with the gowns designer, Clare Waight Keller, about its inspiration and her collaboration with the bride, noting other memorable wedding gowns....

“There was that sense of playfulness and modernity and doing things in a different way,” Waight Keller says. “And I really feel that—for the dress, particularly—that sense of it could be something that really represented her, her spirit, her modernity, and the freshness....”

Click on the article here...


Also revisit the article I wrote a few days after that memorable wedding in 2018 and posted here: “A Day of Gracious Gestures and Love Power....

The radiant bride, in designer-sculpted shimmering white silk....

In addition, Ive written about Harry and Meghans spiritual union in a section of a book I've been working on for many years, using this lovely quote from a friend of the bride: 

Meghan’s friend Vicky Tsai, after attending the wedding ceremony, confirmed: “It felt like a moment where the world paused and celebrated love.”

August 26, 2023

Women's Equality Day

The first Woman's Rights Convention
July 1848, Seneca Falls, New York

Between August 18 (when the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1920) and August 26  (when it was signed into law, giving women the vote...a date now known as “Women’s Equality Day”), I posted a five-part essay titled “Second-Class Citizen” on MEDIUM…sharing a little this ‘n that of women’s history.

July 31, 2023

The Princess, The Feminist & The Grown-Up Bride


Royal Wedding, 31 July 1981, Lady Diana Spencer and Charles, Prince of Wales

In my book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: For Better or Worse, How Princess Diana Rescued the Great White Wedding, I looked at the social and historical influences of the wedding of Lady Diana Spencer and Charles, Prince of Wales, in 1981. The event was a cultural phenomenon. For the first time in history, nearly a billion people came together at the same moment to witness the same marvel, televised in ‘living color’—could such a spectacle not help but shake up our global psyche? We gathered around our clunky television sets as if anticipating some long-ago promise fulfilled.

With its reassuring sense of order and thrilling dose of pageantry—courtly rituals and symbolic pomp, ceremonial uniforms and polished splendor—this royal wedding was like a soothing balm for a society reeling from the rebellious upheavals of the 1960s and ‘70s. The wedding came at the beginning of a decade that saw Reaganomics, Thatcherism, pseudo-Christian politics, and a “greed is good” mentality attempt to put a lid on those earlier outspoken youthful voices, female voices, Black voices railing against a tone-deaf, out-of-touch, vengeful society. These latest patriarchal forces may have quieted those voices of dissent, but the revolutionary spirit remained, laying groundwork for the next uprising of heart energy. 

Weddings, especially royal ones, can indeed be profound bringers of change. Although Charles’ and Diana’s wedding played its part in gilding the last two decades of the twentieth century with a superficial gloss, it had a more enduring role, something of the heart—evident even before the glittering wedding dust had settled. The regal ceremony stirred the wonder of some deeply feminine ethos around the world with its fairy-tale longings and a beautiful, lit-from-within bride…a heart-centered young woman (a future revolutionary) becoming a real princess of a legendary kingdom at a time when a new wave of feminism was rising—which seemed to punctuate its own irony with a mythological purpose. (Was an ancient archetype for a new age rising as well?)

[Continue reading this book-in-progress excerpt on MEDIUM...posted with a rare photo from my former shop.]

July 19, 2023

Was It the Death of the Heart?

Diana, Princess of Wales, commemorative statue
in the Sunken Garden at Kensington Palace in London

“When the royal family enfolded Diana, they thought they had got a rather dim girl from the landowning Norfolk aristocracy—not exactly the stuff of revolution. They could not have known that she would be transformed into an international superstar who would make their lives hell.” This from an article, “Diana’s Britain,” by the editors at Newsweek magazine published the week after the princess’ funeral. Some feminists of the time were also fooled by “the mouse that roared.” British journalist Beatrix Campbell wondered how more conservative Britain could become when this pretty, inexperienced girl from old landed gentry married into the stale confines of royalty. Calling her wedding gown “a shroud,” she feared Diana would disappear within a dusty patriarchal construct. But Campbell and others began to see it differently.


June 13, 2023

One Woman's Story {Ruby Ross Wood}

Ruby Ross Wood exemplies the growth of the American business woman—a self-made success before she could vote and a pioneer in establishing interior design as a career in what is now a multi-million dollar business annually.

The Road to Good Taste: The Design Life of Ruby Ross Wood” is a new exhibition at the Atlanta History Center. It presents the life and work of one of America's most influential interior designers. From her early days as a journalist to opening her own firm, Ruby Ross Wood's work was always characterized by eclectic combinations of furniture, bold color choices, and impeccable taste."

Ruby Ross Wood, c1939