In Fancy Party Gowns I loved learning about one of those fascinating people from the corner of history–someone who changed a little bit of the world but who isn’t widely known. This is a book about a fashion designer, Ann Cole Lewis, who created a career for herself out of designing and producing high end dresses. She made the gown that Olivia de Haviland wore to receive her Oscar in 1947 and the wedding dress that Jacqueline Bouvier wore in 1953 when she married John Kennedy. Ann managed her career while, at the same time, managing anti-African American sentiment that tripped her up time and again.
I loved the way Deborah Blumenthal used refrains in the text of the book. When Ann faces challenges, like the death of her mother or the disastrous destruction of her work, “Ann thought about what she could do not what she couldn’t change.” When she faces discrimination, it’s “because she was African American. And life wasn’t fair.”
The art is wonderful. Not surprisingly, there are wonderful fabric colors, textures, and patterns on every page. It dwells lovingly on tiny details related to sewing, like the handful of buttons strewn across the bottom of one page. I especially love the endpapers, which show some of the dresses Ann designed.
This is a book to read with The Hundred Dresses! One is fiction but this nonfiction story will give context and power to the idea of designing dresses.
Fancy Party Gowns: the Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lewis, by Deborah Blumenthal, illustrated by Laura Freeman. little bee: 2017