|By Her Own Design / Piper Huguley|
NY: William Morrow, c2022.
This is a novel based on the life of Ann Lowe, a Black designer who sewed for high society; she's probably best known for Jacqueline Kennedy's wedding dress. However, 'best' known is still not widely known, and when author Piper Huguley discovered her story she decided to write a novel to spread her story.
Huguley has written three earlier novels, all romance, and that shows in this book. The first half of the book, as Ann is growing up and experiencing her two marriages (she was first married at 12 years old), is rich and dense with detail and emotion. The genesis of her desire to be a designer, and the development of her sewing skills at the feet of her mother and grandmother, is all laid out, explaining Ann's devotion to her dreams of being an artist. The relationships between Ann and her mother, grandmother, and sister are deeply drawn, followed with the appeal of her two husbands and then her love for her only son -- all these elements are compelling reading.
Once Ann has shaken off the relationships that are holding her back, though, and sets a course for her new life in New York, the story moves more quickly, skimming over a lot of the many storied years Ann spent running various shops and designing for a multitude of famous people. There are highlights of some of the most dramatic moments of her later life - the Kennedy wedding dress and a closely averted disaster, the loss of family members, a retrospective gala for her in her later years -- and each moment is certainly affecting. But the second half focuses less on her personal life than the beginning.
Still, I really enjoyed this book. The writing brought this woman to life, and evokes an era in which her success was much more unlikely than otherwise. Huguley captures small things that really illuminate the wider world, and Ann is a great character to follow through the many changes across the 20th century. And even better, if you're intrigued, you can look into more about the real Ann Lowe and see some of her work after you've finished the novel. I think this is a great introduction to her life and story, and would recommend for any fashion lovers.