Book Review for “By Her Own Design” by Piper Huguley.
Summary: “Raised in Jim Crow Alabama, Ann learned the art of sewing from her mother and her grandmother, a former slave, who are the most talented seamstresses in the state. After Ann elopes at twelve with an older man who soon proves himself to be an abusive alcoholic, her dreams of becoming a celebrated designer seem to be put on hold. But then a wealthy Tampa socialite sees Ann’s talent and offers her an amazing opportunity–the chance to sew and design clothing for Florida’s society elite. Taking her young son in the middle of the night, Ann escapes her husband and embarks on the adventure of a lifetime. Based on the true story of one of the most famous designers of the twenties through the sixties who has since been unjustly forgotten, [this] is an unforgettable novel of determination despite countless obstacles and a triumph celebrated by the world.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Historical, USA – Alabama, Florida, New York, Other Categories: Novel, Biographical, Christian, Diverse Authors, #OwnVoices.
Yes, this is yet another women’s biographical, historical, fiction book about someone we know little to nothing about. But this is one grievous oversight, especially considering the women for whom she designed dresses were pretty prominent, including a woman who went on to be the First Lady of the USA – Jacqueline Kennedy! Now, I tried to get the ARC for this book, but was sadly refused access. However, the subject matter was so fascinating to me that I just had to buy a print copy and read it the first minute I could. I’m so glad I did because Ann Lowe sounds like such a special person. Not only because she bucked racial prejudice, because she also apparently knew precisely how to design a dress to best suit any woman’s body. My being a woman who doesn’t have a very conventional figure, I really wish I could find someone like her today, although I don’t think I could ever afford to pay the prices that these bespoke dresses must have cost. I also don’t think I would have made it into her exclusive circle of clients. But you know, I’m not really a dress person, so no major loss there. However, I bet she could have designed the heck out of pants and blouses that would have flattered even my odd figure, if that had been the fashion of her own era.
You will notice that I’ve added that this book is probably considered Christian fiction as well. To be totally honest with you, I wasn’t sure I was going to add this, but Lowe was a woman of deep faith, and I don’t think I should ignore that. Mind you, if all Christian fiction was written like this book, I wouldn’t have a problem with it, because it wasn’t at all preachy. Now, one could also say that there’s a little romance in this book as well, but it is so short lived, that it was hardly a blip on the radar. Yes, Lowe married twice, and yes, others in the book find love (and Lowe did design many wedding gowns, including the one pictured below, worn by Jacqueline Kennedy), but that’s hardly the focus of this book, and I’m not including that as one of the categories here, because for me, it doesn’t fit, and that’s a good thing.
I have to say that what really got me loving this novel was Huguley’s writing style here. First of all, it felt very natural and easy, as if she was just talking to her readers. But more importantly, I couldn’t help but hear a southern accent in my head while reading. Usually, authors try to do this by way of including jargon or even accented spellings of words. However, Huguley hardly uses that at all here. Yes, sure, here or there it slips in, but for the most part I think it was how Huguley used her phrasing of the characters’ speech that gave me that twang as I read. If you ask me, that’s masterful, and this spilled over into the Huguley’s descriptions of the designs and fabrics as well.
All of this is to say that Huguley really brought Ann Lowe alive for her readers. Her faults, and her strengths, and even her faith made her into a truly three-dimensional character. Lowe is a woman that we all should admire, not just for her talent and artistry, but her ability to stand steady and push forward, even when all odds seemed against her. That’s something that any woman can identify with, and the fact that she had to do all this when racism and prejudice against her race seethed all around her. I’m very glad that Huguley finally brought her to our attention, and I’m warmly recommending this book with 4.75 stars out of five, rounded up to five for the graphic.
William Morrow – Harper Collins released “By Her Own Design” by Piper Huguley on June 7, 2022. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Blackwell’s, Foyles, The Book Depository UK and Book Depository US (both with free worldwide delivery), Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and Wordery US, Kobo US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you.