We often speak about our home, our state, and our community that provides an incredible amount of inspiration for our work. We are not alone: friend and occasional collaborator, Billy Reid, also headquarters in the same community. It has been mentioned (and is remarkable) that Alabama has the third largest membership in the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), numbering at two; we rank just behind New York and California. And just as there is a rich history of textile production in our community, there is a somewhat unknown or unrecognized group of designers that have emerged from our home state.
Alabama native Ann Lowe was a high society dressmaker in New York during the 1950s and 60s. Ann, an African American born in Clayton, Alabama in 1898, was the granddaughter of a former slave. Both Ann’s mother and grandmother were skilled dressmakers – an artistry that Ann picked up quickly, taking over her mother’s dressmaking business at the age of 16. She eventually built a thriving business in the Tampa, Florida area before moving to New York City in 1928. Her rich designs were popular among those on the Social Register and she primarily worked for the Roosevelt, DuPont, and Rockefeller families. She also famously designed Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding dress. Some of her exquisite gowns are now housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Fashion Institute of Technology.
(Ann Lowe with one of her designs, in the December 1966 issue of Ebony Magazine)
Precious Lashley, native of Birmingham, Alabama, and graduate of the Tuskegee Institute, began working as an independent designer in the 1950s. Eventually, she founded a school of dressmaking and her own label; both named Lynn Stuart – a combination of her children’s names. In 1978, Lashley received a design award from the New York Couture Club and founded Precious, Inc., a ready-to-wear line of women’s apparel. This label was carried nationwide at major retailers like Marshall Field’s, Chicago Apparel Center, and J.C. Penney. Her designs were featured in Women’s Wear Daily, Vogue, and Ebony.
Shoals native Inez Holden created a line of knitwear under the name Bubbles Ltd. Her garments were popular in the 1980s and were sold nationwide at stores like Nordstrom and Bloomingdales. (Stay tuned for more about Ms. Holden and her clothing line soon…)
At Alabama Chanin, we strive to honor the work of our predecessors. I hope the intricate details of Ann Lowe’s work are reflected in our own stitchwork; I believe that our artisans display a work ethic like that of Precious Lashley; I think that our focus on local manufacturing is a tribute to the example set by Inez Holden. We look forward to seeing what the future of Alabama fashion has to offer.