Ann Moore displays a black-and-white photo in a 1953 issue of Vogue magazine of a woman modeling an elegant silk taffeta chlamys with beading and rhinestones.
With her slim figure and quiet elegance, the 96-year-old Moore could have been that model. Back then, though, there were very few black models who would have been considered for a photo shoot for a high-fashion magazine, at least not in the United States. It was even rarer to see black designers featured.
“People would say, ‘Are you a model?’” said Moore, a 1943 economics major at Spelman College. “I got that a lot, but I never considered it.”
She opted, instead, to work on the other side of fashion, as a designer. She said she felt most alive when creating fashions.
Today, Moore still keeps abreast of style trends, decades after hanging up her shears. Copies of Vogue and W magazines are stacked around her living room.
Three of Moore’s designs are on view as part of the “Fashion in Good Taste” exhibit in the Swan House at the Atlanta History Center. The exhibit spans the 1920s through the 1960s — each decade that the Swan House was occupied by the Inman family.
The three pieces are part of a larger donation of Moore’s that is part of a permanent collection at the history center.
“Her work is just so smart,” said Jessica Rast VanLanduyt, historic house manager and curator of the exhibit. “She was really at the top of her game as a couture designer.”
Moore was born in Daytona Beach, Fla., but grew up in Atlanta, where today she and a sister still live in their childhood home just a few blocks from the Atlanta University Center.
“I’ve learned a lot about her career, and she was ahead of her time,” said actress and screenwriter Joie Lee, a close family friend. “Her work is beautiful and prolific.”
Moore wanted to create clothing that was timeless. She specialized in using natural fabrics, nearly shuddering at the thought of using synthetics.
“They’re not worth the labor,” she said.
Moore began sewing as a young girl, making clothes for her dolls.
Although she majored in economics, she was drawn to fashion and looked for ways to marry the two.
Moore left Atlanta for Detroit, feeling good about the opportunities in a city without strict segregation. She studied in New York and Paris, where she was often one of a handful of African-American students in a mostly white class. She returned to Detroit, where she ran her own fashion house, Ann Moore Couturiere, for 20 years.
Courtney A. Hammonds, academic director of the fashion department at the Art Institute of Atlanta, called Moore’s designs “elegant but approachable.”
Hammonds praised Moore for starting her fashion house at a time when it was difficult for African-Americans, particularly women, to get financing.
“It can be challenging in the business,” he said. “Creatives have to have a strong team around them.”
Moore said she tried to do it all, “and it was too much, but I did the best I could.”
Both Jet and Vogue featured designs from her collections. Her clients included working women and socialites.
She also groomed younger designers and lectured at Wayne State and Eastern Michigan universities.
“The fashion industry is among the top three industries in America,” she said. “It’s more than glitz and glamour.”
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