Hello and welcome to the latest edition of #NewTitleTuesday, where we take a look at a new fiction release that hits the shelves this week. Today marks the debut of Piper Huguley's BY HER OWN DESIGN, a fictionalized history of a real-life person, Ann Lowe, a dressmaker who worked with some of the most famous and influential people in America but who was all but invisible herself.
Ann Lowe was born and raised in 1918 in rural Alabama to a poor Black family. Growing up, she learned sewing from her mother and her grandmother and found she had a gift for it, but with her opportunities severely limited due to Jim Crow laws, she got married at an early age, worked her way through design school, and eventually moved to Florida, where she became a professional dressmaker and seamstress after a chance encounter at a local department store where her work caught the eye of an influential member of local society. Growing in renown, Ann eventually moved to New York City, where she designed and made dresses for celebrities (including and politicians' wives, including designing and making the famous wedding dress of Jacqueline Bouvier for her marriage to a young John F. Kennedy.
Despite the breezy rags-to-riches storyline that this narrative might seem to imply, real life is always much more complicated. Lowe's husband was an abusive alcoholic, and she constantly had to always fight against both overt and subtle racism throughout her career - even as she outshone her fellow students in design school, her desk was placed in a closet. She was forced to deliver her dresses through side and back doors of the society elite she created them for - never in public though the front door. Even as the quality of her work and the cut of her dresses gained wide recognition, she could never claim credit for them as a Black woman herself, remaining behind the scenes, and often lived on the edge of bankruptcy. But through roadblocks and setbacks, Lowe nevertheless persisted, with strength, determination, and world-class sewing and design skills. For example, while working on the dresses for the Bouvier wedding party, Lowe's studio was flooded and all her dresses ruined a mere eight days before the wedding. But Lowe and her staff worked through the nights and delivered the stunning dresses on time.
Huguley creates a captivating novel from Ann Lowe's life story, and delivers an enchanting slice of the genre of historical fiction that focuses on the stories of people just to the side of more famous historical figures. Huguley, however, proves that Ann Lowe is a big enough character who deserves the spotlight all on her own. BY HER OWN DESIGN is an excellent novel if you like richly textured biographical/historical fiction featuring strong women like Marie Benedict or Melanie Benjamin. Place your holds, and enjoy!