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May 4, 2023

By Her Own Design: A hidden haute History

Do you want in on one of society’s best kept secrets? For those on the Social Register of the 1960s and 70s, that secret was Ann Lowe. Read "By Her Own Design."

10 min read

Recently, our book club read "By Her Own Design" by Piper Huguley, a recounting of Ann’s story - a story of  determination against all odds, with a touch of fashion and iconic history thrown in This work of historical fiction, which is based on true events, took us on a transformative journey, filled with courage, resilience, and the pursuit of your dreams. If you’re looking for your next book club read,  you are in the right place!


By Her Own Design cover art

"By Her Own Design" spans more than five decades and two continents as it recounts the story of Ann Lowe, a granddaughter of slaves who overcomes a lifetime of trials to hone her talent and create some of the most famous designs of the twentieth century. The story begins in Alabama, where we are first  introduced to an adolescent Ann, a talented African American seamstress with a passion for fashion and design. Anne learns her trade from her mother and grandmother and dreams of creating new designs and  opening her own shop.

As Ann navigates the challenges of the era,  she ultimately meets and designs for iconic members of the social elite, including Jacqueline Bouvier and Olivia de Havilland, yet recognition for her skill eludes her time and again.  As the story unfolds, we witness Ann's resilience and determination, her unwavering belief in herself, and her relentless pursuit of perfection. "By Her Own Design" is a celebration of the indomitable spirit and the power of self-expression. Nearly lost to history, Piper Huguley helps shine a spotlight on this  talented designer and seamstress who persisted against the odds.


To help get the discussion going when your club convenes, here are a few questions about the book to get the evening started:

  1. How does Ann's passion for dressmaking serve as a metaphor for her larger aspirations in life?
  2. Explore the theme of race and gender inequality in the early 1900s as portrayed in the book. How does it resonate with our present-day struggles for equality?
  3. Ann faces numerous challenges in her journey. Discuss the role of friendship, FAMILY, and community in helping her overcome these obstacles.
  4. Was there any passage or section that particularly struck you? Why?
  5. Which of Ann’s obstacles do you think was the most challenging? Why?
  6. What choices would you have made if faced with similar difficulties?
“The way she had seen me and treated me, was the way we should all see and treat one another. For to be able to see someone, to see them as a human being, to see them for what they can contribute in this world, to be a light, to be a force, or an influence in someone else’s life, is all that we need.”
— Piper Huguley


And what’s better than a good book? Not much, but good company and good food don’t hurt, So let's indulge in a themed menu inspired by Ann’s world .  Whether you are preparing everything from scratch, ordering in, or having each guest bring a dish, here are a few ideas for the menu to get you started:

  1. Seamstress Salad: This could be either a fresh, fruit and nut filled chicken salad or a refreshing blend of mixed greens, colorful vegetables, and a tangy vinaigrette dressing. Symbolizing the diverse fabrics and threads that come together to create a masterpiece. Want to make your salad more iconic? Serve it these stunning coupe glasses.
  2. Collard Greens: a nod to the home cooking Ann grew up with
  3. Wraps: Delicate tortilla wraps filled with an assortment of flavorful fillings such as grilled chicken, roasted vegetables, and herbed cream cheese. An homage to wrap dresses.
  4. Mini bagel bites - filled with savories like salmon or beef wellington, these bite size snacks are easy for sharing and a reflection of Ann’s time in New York
  5. A dessert sampler including pastries, macarons, cheesecake and key lime pound cake with pastries and macarons reminiscent of Ann’s time in Paris, cheesecake bars for her time in New York, and Key Lime pound cake a call back to her time in Florida.

Whether you are drawn to stories of the underdog, the world of fashion, or iconic families, ‘By Her Own Design’ has something for everyone.  I hope your book club enjoys it as much as we did!

Looking to expand your reading list?  Check out our book clubs recent reads, including The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell, The Only Woman in the Room, and The Last Thing He Told Me.