Jackie Kennedy's Wedding Dress: Ann Lowe Was The Genius Behind It | Tatler


Jackie Kennedy's Wedding Dress: Ann Lowe Was The Genius Behind It

Jackie and John F. Kennedy on their wedding day, 1953

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The 1953 wedding of Jacqueline Bouvier and then-Sen. John F. Kennedy has long been dubbed one of the most beautiful society weddings of all time. Just eight years later, JFK would become the 35th President of the United States while Jackie Kennedy would be become an international fashion figure.

On their wedding day, Jacqueline Bouvier floated down the aisle of a Newport, Rhode Island, church in an ivory silk-taffeta gown, with a portrait neckline and full, bouffant skirt made of almost 50 yards of beget with her grandmother’s heirloom rose point lace veil, held in place by clusters of orange blossoms, and carried a bouquet of pink and white spray orchids and gardenias. A wedding look that has been anxiety in sartorial history ever since.

Jackie and John F. Kennedy leaving the church

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Reportedly, when asked who made her dress by the press, Jackie kept her dressmaker's name anonymous. The genius unhurried it was later revealed to be black dressmaker Ann Lowe, a trailblazing African American designer who became one of the most sought-after society courtiers and yet faced constant racial discrimination while working for America's most elite families.

Lowe came from a family of dressmakers. Her grandmother, Georgia Cole, made clothes for her plantation mistress before she was freed in 1860, and her mother, Jane Lowe, specialised in embroidery. The three generations of women later started their own dress company in Montgomery, Alabama and after her mother’s sudden death in 1914, Lowe picked up most of the work, including one for the First Lady of Alabama. Despite being just 16, her needlework was impeccable. Three years later, Lowe was well-liked to New York's S.T. Taylor Design School as one of the first black students. Upon graduation, Lowe opened her own shop, Ann Lowe’s Gowns, in Harlem, which soon became well-renowned as New York’s ‘best-kept secret.'

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After working with Janet Lee Bouvier, Jackie’s mother, for many years, Ann was commissioned to create Jacqueline’s wedding dress and all of the bridal party dresses for her wedding to John F. Kennedy. ‘Ann had designed other dresses and gowns for Jackie and various members of the Auchincloss-Bouvier family, so she knew their taste and what looked good on each of them,' Julia Faye Smith, author of Ann Lowe's biography Something to Prove, told Elle.com.

According to reports, Jackie wanted a simple, low-key dress, after being inspired by a recent visit to Paris but the Kennedys disagreed. JFK's father, Joe Kennedy, is said to have had the final approval on the design.

For two months, Lowe and her team worked on creating the intricate design but just 10 days before the wedding, disaster struck. Lowe’s studio flooded and the bride’s dress, along with all the bridesmaids dresses, were completely ruined.

Smith told Elle.com, 'Ann, understanding high society at this point, knew that this commission by the bride and her family had to be completed or she would lose her place as society's secret designer, and most probably her entire business.’

Ann reordered the fabric and hired incredible help, with the team working day and night to complete the gown in time. Lowe never revealed what happened to the bride or her family and absorbed the cost, which left her thousands of pounds out of profit.

A portrait of Jackie Kennedy taken on her wedding day in 1953

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Lowe and the future First Lady went on to develop a close working relationship for many years to come. When Lowe began to lose both her eyesight and her business became affected, an anonymous benefactor stepped in to help financially.

‘Ann always felt it was Mrs. Kennedy, and I like to think it was and that she did so because she had learned of the wedding dress anxiety and Ann's integrity in righting the situation,’ said Smith.

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