Olivia de Havilland in her Ann Lowe gown

Sometimes, you find helpful clues in very unexpected places. An Ann Lowe gown in a 1948 movie trailer? Read on…

 

In 1947, Ann Lowe designed a silk evening gown that was worn by Olivia de Havilland when she won an Academy Award. Lowe worked as a dressmaker at someone else’s dress salon at the time, and de Havilland’s team ordered the dress from the West Coast without the usual set of design consultations and fittings that custom gowns usually required, so the actress actually never met Ann Lowe.

Olivia de Havilland is still alive and living in France, but I was never successful in my efforts to contact her through her current management team to ask her about this dress and I don’t think she is one of those very nostalgic actors who likes to look back. Between her advancing age, her French home, and her resistance to revisit the past, I figured that I wouldn’t find out very much about this dress.

The Oscar ceremony was covered on the radio in 1947, there are some grainy newspaper images of de Havilland in her gown and newsreels also showed the major winners (although I haven’t been lucky enough to see one). There are a few blurry tinted photos available of this dress online and although some sources quote a Vogue article’s description of the gown, I went through EVERY SINGLE VOGUE between 1947 and 1948 and did not come up with a single mention. A few afternoons on the 8th floor of the UMass library (where all of the bound magazines from as early as the 1880s are kept) turned up absolutely nothing that clearly showed this dress in any of the other current events or ladies magazines of the day either.

And then one day, I was watching Turner Classic Movies and this trailer came on. Ann Lowe’s gown flashed by in ten seconds and I ran over to the TCM website and then youtube to see if I could find it again. It never would have occurred to me that the actress’s next movie trailer would uncover such a gem–and while some of the things I cover here are not always “Hidden Fashion History” I think this one definitely fits the bill.

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