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

from GETTY IMAGES

“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...

from GETTY IMAGES

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....

from GETTY IMAGES
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


May 6, 2023

A Gown of History

In honor of the coronation of King Charles III, looking back at his mother’s ceremonial gown: “The Story Behind Queen Elizabeth II's Dazzling—and Highly Symbolic—Coronation Gown”…an article by Emily Chan for Vogue. [reprinted below]

As preparations were underway for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953, Her Majesty only had one couturier in mind to design her gown for the historic occasion: Norman Hartnell. The British dressmaker had of course created her beautifully embroidered wedding dress—made from duchesse satin that the Queen famously purchased with ration coupons—for her marriage to Prince Philip in 1947.

“One October afternoon in 1952, Her Majesty the Queen desired me to make for her the dress to be worn at her Coronation,” Hartnell recalled in his 1955 autobiography, Silver and Gold. “I can scarcely remember what I murmured in reply. In simple conversational tones, the Queen went on to express her wishes. Her Majesty required that the dress should conform in line to that of her wedding dress and that the material should be white satin.”

Soon afterwards, Hartnell submitted eight designs to fulfill the brief, the first of which was based on Queen Victoria’s coronation gown—a white satin dress with gold embroidery. Other sketches featured the Tudor rose and oak leaves, alongside one design based around the Madonna. Elizabeth opted for the eighth design, which incorporated the national emblems of the United Kingdom: the rose (England), thistle (Scotland), shamrock (Northern Ireland), and daffodil (Wales)—although the latter was changed to the leek, the official national emblem of Wales.

The Queen requested several other modifications to the design, including that the embroidery be done using pastel-colored silks, rather than just silver. Her Majesty also asked for national symbols of Commonwealth countries to be added, including the acacia (Australia), fern (New Zealand), maple leaf (Canada), protea (South Africa), lotus (India), and wheat, cotton, and jute (Pakistan).

The finished coronation gown featured a sweetheart neckline and a delicate lattice design, with the emblems—decorated with seed pearls, sequins, and crystals—separated by heavily embellished scalloped borders comprising gold bugle beads, diamant├ęs, and pearls. Hartnell also included a surprise for Her Majesty: a four-leafed shamrock on the left side of the skirt as a symbol of good luck.

All in all, the coronation dress weighed a hefty 30 pounds, or 13 kilograms, which combined with the Robe of Estate—which was made of deep purple velvet and an ermine trim, and took 3,500 hours to make—and St Edward’s Crown, was quite the weight for Her Majesty to bear. To finish off her historic outfit, the Queen asked French shoemaker Roger Vivier to create a pair of gold pumps featuring a jewel-encrusted heel and fleurs-de-lis pattern on the upper that matched the motif on both St Edward’s Crown and the Imperial State Crown (worn at the end of the ceremony). When it came to her jewelry, Elizabeth wore a dazzling diamond necklace and earrings that were originally made for Queen Victoria.

A long-time repeat wearer, the Queen actually went on to wear the Coronation gown a further six times, including at the opening of parliament in New Zealand and Australia in 1954. It’s an attitude towards fashion that the late monarch has certainly passed down to her son, King Charles III, as he is crowned at Westminster Abbey on Saturday.


March 20, 2023

A Once Shimmering Wedding Gown Lost at Sea


“If it was worn as a wedding dress,” explained the Museum of Kaap Skil in the Netherlands about an extraordinary vintage gown on display, “the bride would have been the dazzling centrepiece of the marriage ceremony.”


All brides want to have a lovely ‘glow’ on their wedding day, but the gown of this particular bride in question is from the 17th century and was lost at sea for 350 years. More from the museum:

“At first sight, this appears to a brown-coloured gown [image above] but this would not have been the original colour. The dress was most probably made of lightly coloured silk (possibly white or cream) and the whole surface was covered with silver decorations. These consisted of small silver discs woven into the silk in the shape of love knots.

With the woven silver discs and embroidered patterns of silver thread it must have been, literally and figuratively, a dazzling dress!”

Painting of Anne of Denmark
by John de Critz the Elder that shows
 the silhouette of 17th century gowns...
the shape of the shipwrecked treasure!

..........................................

To learn more of the story, this from Ashley Strickland of CNN

In 1660, a ship carrying a treasure trove of luxury goods sank off the coast of Texel, the largest island in the North Sea.

Nearly four centuries later, little remained of the wooden unidentified Dutch merchant ship. But as the silt and sand covering the wreck washed away, broken chests began to appear in 2010. Four years later, divers retrieved the chests and brought them to the surface.

Inside were remarkable objects, the likes of which had never been seen before, according to researchers at the Museum Kaap Skil in the Netherlands, where the exclusive collection of items are on display.

The chests were full of clothing, textiles, silverware, leather book bindings and other goods that likely belonged to people from the highest social classes centuries ago.

Some of the most stunning items include two virtually intact lavish gowns — a silk dress and another one interwoven with pieces of silver that was likely a wedding dress. Few textiles or clothing from the 17th century remain preserved today, and it's even more rare to find them in shipwrecks because fabric decays so quickly.

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Click here for a seven-minute video of museum experts speaking about the two gowns found in the shipwreck.

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Wedding scene from Outlander
For more on shimmering wedding dresses, visit my webpage from 2016 featuring the 18th-century era gown created by Outlander costume designer Terry Dresbach for Claire Randall to wear for her wedding with Jamie Fraser. (Hint: bits of iridescent mica were woven into the fabric to catch the candlelight!)

March 8, 2023

Every Day is Women's Day



If there was ever a time to champion and empower feminine values—solidarity, true relatedness, care, compassion and the unique overwhelming power arising from the intensity of love—now would be the time...to benefit all humankind. 
-Patricia Albere
Founder of Evolutionary Collective


February 22, 2023

Made-for-Hollywood Fairy Tale

The wedding gown of famous brides—especially ones about to become a princessoften becomes the centerpiece of the fairy tale remembrance, even more than the wedding ceremony or the couple themselves. It's a memory and an image that we keep returning to...well past any whiff of a once "fairy-tale" romance!

Recently, Vanity Fair magazine returned to the iconic gown of Grace Kelly in Fawnia Soo Hoo's article, "Why Grace Kelly's Wedding Dress Embodies a Made-for-Hollywood Fairy Tale."

With sublimely intricate details, like seed pearls accenting needle lace motifs and a pleated silk faille cummerbund atop the skirting, Grace Kelly’s wedding-dress style continues to be interpreted—even by royals and celebrities—over six decades later. “The reason Princess Grace’s wedding gown still resonates today with so many brides has at least as much to do with who wore it, as the dress itself. The design is lovely and timeless, but the way the dress sits at an intersection of Hollywood and royalty makes it particularly evocative and very much an aspirational fantasy piece for many brides,” says Lorenzo Marquez, author, podcaster, and cofounder of fashion and culture website, Tom + Lorenzo.

 “Kate Middleton was particularly smart to evoke the dress without copying it, underlining her own status as a commoner marrying a prince, but also avoiding any comparisons to previous brides in the British royal family,” Marquez added. 


A lovely book by my costume-history colleague, Kristina Haugland of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Grace Kelly: Icon of Style to Royal Bride, shares the story behind the creation and sentiment of the gown and its accessories...which were all given to the museum by the new princess soon after her wedding. The gown was last on display in 2006.

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January 30, 2023

Costume History as Human History

One of the reasons I've always enjoyed studying, reading about, and speaking on the topic of costume history is because "what we wear" tells a story about "who we are"—bringing an intimacy to the human story with all of its creative spirit! As King Louis XIV of France said: "Fashion is the mirror of history."

Costume historian Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell is one of those storytellers who integrates this fashion and human narrative in a delightfully enlightening way! The latest book by this prolific author, Skirts: Fashioning Modern Femininity in the Twentieth Century, was recently featured in a lecture for The National Arts Club

Click here to be taken to Kimberly's entertaining talk, slide show, and Q & A. Enjoy!