To close out Women’s History Month, I wanted to highlight these two trailblazing Black women in the fashion world – Ann Lowe and Zelda Wynn Valdes. Both ladies rose from humble beginnings to design and dress some of the richest, powerful and most beautiful women in the country despite overt and stifling racism, sexism and classicism.
Ann Lowe was a fashion designer born in Clayton, Alabama in 1898. She is best known for designing the wedding dress for Jacqueline Bouvier’s marriage to John F. Kennedy. She also designed Olivia De Havilland’s Oscar gown in 1946 where she won for the Best Actress award for To Each His Own, though the dressed was attributed to Sonia Rosenberg. Though married twice with two children, she was fiercely independent and creative even leaving her last husband to pursue her calling as a fashion designer. Ms. Lowe opened a store on Lexington Avenue in 1950 and dressed many of New York’s high society including the Rockefellers, but sadly due to racial injustices never quite had her due. She retired from fashion in 1972 and died in 1981 in Queens, NY.
Olivia De Havilland
Zelda Wynn Valdes
Zelda Wynn Valdes was born in 1905 in Chambersburg, PA and was the first Black woman to open a store on Broadway called Chez Zelda in 1958. She is credited with designing the iconic Playboy bunny costume and dressed many of New York’s most sought after celebrities including Dorothy Dandridge, Ella Fitzgerald, Mae West and Joyce Bryant (aka “the black Marilyn Monroe”). Ms. Valdes is credited with giving Ms. Bryant her sex appeal which she became famous for, by dressing her in form fitting and sexy gowns. Ms. Valdes had a exemplary career in fashion and went on at age 65 to design the costumes for the Dance Theater of Harlem. She retired from fashion at age 83 and passed away in 2001.
Zelda Wynn Valdes in her studio