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Review of Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer 
Ann Cole Lowe

blumenthal_fancy party gownsFancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer 
Ann Cole Lowe
by Deborah Blumenthal; 
illus. by Laura Freeman
Primary    Little Bee    40 pp.
1/17    978-1-4998-0239-9    $17.99    g

While the fashion world continues to recognize her work, many do not know the name Ann Cole Lowe. Blumenthal and Freeman have teamed up to place the spotlight on this African American designer. As a young child, Ann learned dressmaking from her mother and grandmother. When her mother died suddenly, sixteen-year-old Ann steadfastly continued the tradition, finishing an order for ball gowns her mother had begun for the Alabama governor’s wife. Lowe proved to be an exceptionally talented dressmaker, eventually designing for some of America’s most powerful families. With the repeated refrain, “Ann thought about what she could do, not what she couldn’t change,” Blumenthal encapsulates the designer’s resolve. To ensure the line doesn’t imply passivity, Blumenthal includes an anecdote about Lowe’s insistence on walking through the front door, rather than the workers’ entrance, of a Newport mansion to deliver Jacqueline Bouvier’s now-famous wedding dress. Freeman has filled the pages with a plethora of vivacious patterns and saturated colors, fitting for a book about a woman so gifted with fabric. The one (intentional) exception is the illustration on the page where the text reads, “But it was 1917, and Ann had to study in a separate classroom, all alone, because she was African American”: here the empty white space that surrounds Lowe evokes a palpable sense of isolation. Audiences will take pleasure both in the vibrancy of the dresses and in the dedication of the couture artist who created them. Appended with suggestions for further reading and an author’s note.

From the January/February 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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About Eboni Njoku

Eboni Njoku is a children’s librarian at the Anacostia Neighborhood Library Branch of the DC Public Library.

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