September 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.
This is the largest exhibition of Ann Lowe’s work to date, featuring 40 iconic gowns, many that have never been on public display, and it will illuminate her evolution as a designer from the 1920s to the 1960s. The exhibition will also feature the work of contemporary couturiers and fashion designers whose current design practices, perspectives, and career paths reflect the trajectory of American fashion emanating from Lowe’s foundation. These include B Michael, Tracy Reese, Amsale Aberra, and Bishme Cromartie. Elizabeth Way, associate curator at The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, is guest curator of the exhibition.
This exhibition is included with General Admission; no separate ticket is required.
Born in Clayton, Alabama, into a family of African American dressmakers, Ann Lowe (ca. 1898–1981) learned the skill of dressmaking from her mother and grandmother. She developed not only expert technical skills by the time she was a teenager but also her distinctive style—feminine, elegant, and often incorporating her signature hand-made floral elements. Her extraordinary career took her through the Jim Crow South, from Montgomery, Alabama, to Tampa, Florida, and in 1928 to New York City. Lowe’s work made her an asset to wealthy society women around the country, yet she also experienced the tumultuous hardships of the fashion business and segregated America in a period of dramatic change.
Ann Lowe’s work places her among America’s significant fashion designers, and her life illustrates a legacy of Black women’s knowledge and skills that began as enslaved labor. Lowe modernized this legacy and expanded it to international visibility, positioning herself as a creative designer, a fashion insider, and a vital contributor to American culture.
Enhance Your Visit
Get the most of your visit to Winterthur with these activities, included with your General Admission ticket, which is good for two consecutive days!
Take a guided exhibition walk and learn about the life and legacy of Ann Lowe, an American fashion designer who created couture-quality gowns for America’s high society yet remained virtually unknown to the wider public.
Take the Yuletide house tour. Experience a celebration of American elegance in holiday style, inspired by Ann Lowe: American Couturier. This year’s Yuletide features custom fashion by local designers Shawn Pinckney and Asata Maisé Beeks, whose creations reflect the history of Winterthur and the design sensibilities of Henry Francis du Pont and Ann Lowe. Explore the house decorated in all its finery with our signature traditions, including the show-stopping Dried-Flower Tree, artistic Christmas trees inspired by Ann Lowe gowns, and a spectacular table set for Christmas dinner. Tradition, style, and surprise await you around every turn this holiday season at Winterthur.
Enjoy Lowe-themed shopping. Visit the Museum Store for items inspired by Ann Lowe, as well as unique home décor, gifts, jewelry, and the newly-released book, Ann Lowe: American Couturier, a definitive illustrated volume on the work and life of Ann Lowe. Order your copy today and pick it up at the Winterthur Store, or have it shipped to your door! Call 302.888.4822 to purchase.
Explore the galleries and garden. Take a stroll in the world-renowned 60-acre garden or explore one of our walking trails throughout the 1,000-acre estate. And, no visit is complete without our garden tram tour. Our guides share highlights of the garden and the history of Winterthur on this 30-minute narrated tour. Then, head inside to be inspired by the galleries, featuring two floors of the finest examples of American decorative arts.
Ann Lowe: American Couturier
Vivid new photography of Lowe’s couture gowns—including lush details of her exquisite handwork and signature floral embellishments—accompany essays that explore the trials and achievements of Lowe’s life, contextualize her work within fashion history, profile Black designers whose work reflects her influence, and offer a behind-the-scenes look at the extraordinary efforts to preserve Lowe’s gowns.
Order your copy today for $55.00 by calling 302.888.4822. Pick up at the Winterthur Store or have it shipped to your door!
Behind the Seams
Follow us @WinterthurMuse as we share exciting behind-the-scenes features of the making of the exhibition.
Listen in Style
“Ann Lowe was an exemplary creator in American fashion who happened to be Black. While this was, no doubt, an important part of her identity, it was only one part. Lowe was a spectacular and multidimensional American fashion designer, and I wanted the exhibition music to reflect other amazing Black artists like her who excelled in their genre. Her work was classical and generally structured, while also embracing organic elements, especially flowers. She was highly technical but prioritized beauty and elegance. I wanted the music to convey these elements of her work.” -Elizabeth Way, guest curator of Ann Lowe: American Couturier
Inspired by Ann Lowe: American Couturier, this playlist celebrates Black creative excellence in fields that are traditionally homogenous with barriers to people of color.
In the Press
Everyone Thought He Had Made the Famous Gown. It Was His Wife. The New York Times
Getting Dressed with Ann Lowe: The Art of Mounting Historic Garments, PieceWork Magazine
Behind the Scenes of Winterthur Museum’s “Ann Lowe: American Couturier” Exhibit with Elizabeth Way and Alexandra Deutsch, Black Fashion History Podcast
American Couturier, UD Magazine
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library— At The Height Of Fashion, The Story Of Ann Lowe, Antiques And The Arts Weekly
Preview the Ann Lowe: American Couturier exhibition soon to open at Winterthur Museum, Delaware News Journal
Curator discusses ‘Ann Lowe: American Couturier’ exhibit at Winterthur, Delaware News Journal
Ann Lowe: American Couturier at Winterthur, Chadds Ford Live
Winterthur honors Ann Lowe, unsung designer of Jackie Kennedy’s wedding dress, Delaware News Journal
This exhibition is made possible through support from the Terra Foundation for American Art, the Coby Foundation, Ltd., and the National Endowment for the Humanities.