Ann Lowe: Gasparilla Gowns to Jackie Kennedy’s Wedding Dress
Ann Lowe: from Gowns to Jackie Kennedy’s Wedding Dress
Born in Clayton Alabama, to a family of seamstress during the Jim Crow era, Ann Lowe learned to sew from her mother and grandmother. As a young teenager Ann married a man by the name Lee Cohen and had a son whom she named Albert. After the birth of her son Lee instead that that Ann let go of sewing and focus on raising their son.
About 2 years later, when Ann was 16, her mother unexpectedly passed away while in the middle of sewing four dresses for the first lady of Alabama, which led to Ann finishing the task of sewing the four ball gowns. A short while later, Ann was approached by a wealthy Floridian socialite, Josephine Lee. Josephine, upon learning that Ann designed and sewed the dress she was wearing herself, hired her on the spot to be her in home dressmaker back in Florida. Ann took her up on her offer, grabbed her baby, and headed to Tampa.
After working for Josephine’s family for a year, Ann was accepted into a design school in New York. Despite having to sit outside of the classroom as she was the only black student, Ann quickly graduated in just a year after being accepted, about half the time the degree normally takes. She moved back down to Tampa, where she opened a dress salon, “Annie Cohen,” using the last name of her husband back in Alabama. With her store in Tampa, there was one particular event that young socialites sought out one of a kind dresses for; Gaspirilla. Gaspirlla is an annual event in which a pirate themed parade is held. Within this even there is a Gaspirilla court, and all the ladies of the Gaspiralla court wanted a dress designed by Ann Lowe. Ann’s dresses were all unique and one of a kind as she utilized intricate beadwork and floral designs made of small scrap fabrics to create each individual flower.
Ann may have only lived and sewn in Tampa for ten years, but the opportunity to move to Florida at the hands of Josephine Lee launched a career that would be marked with the designing and producing of dresses for women such as Jackie Kennedy and Olivia de Havilland. Ann Lowe went on to have a long and memorable career in New York City, but she will always be remembered here in Tampa for her timeless Gaspirilla gowns.