were classy and very, very glamorous clothes.”Thanks to Ms
. For 43 years, Hazel Lowe
’s Boutique was a one-stop destination for women who knew Ms
. BY MAUREEN O’DONNELL Staff Reporter November 24, 2014 7:06PM The stylish Hazel Lowe
, who loved wearing hats, owned Hazel's Lowe's boutique in the Calumet Heights neighborhood.
BY MAUREEN O’DONNELL Staff Reporter November 24, 2014 7:06PM
The stylish Hazel Lowe, who loved wearing hats, owned Hazel's Lowe's boutique in the Calumet Heights neighborhood. Her customers included gospel queen Albertina Walker, singer Natalie Cole, pastors' wives, and well-heeled patrons from the nearby Pill Hill neighborhood.
Updated: November 24, 2014 9:02PM
Bejeweled and behatted, Hazel I. Lowe’s customers were her best advertisement.
They emerged from her shop ready for a wedding or black-tie ball ? or maybe, stopping traffic.
For 43 years, Hazel Lowe’s Boutique was a one-stop destination for women who knew Ms. Lowe would deck them out from shoes to chapeau. She dressed the Rev. Johnnie Coleman, founder of Christ Universal Temple; singer Natalie Cole; business leaders; and wives of pastors and bishops.
She helped turn a gospel queen into a glamour queen. “Albertina Walker shopped there all the time,” said Henrietta Leak, wife of funeral director Spencer Leak Sr. “She had fabulous clothes. If you ever wanted a one-of-a-kind dress, that’s where you would go, to Hazel Lowe.”
“Albertina just lived in the store,” said Kermit E. Hart, 95, Ms. Lowe’s companion and business partner.
Ms. Lowe died Oct. 23 at the South Side’s Villa at Windsor Park. At 97, she had only been retired for two years, Hart said.
Hazel Lowe’s Boutique catered to upwardly mobile women in the Calumet Heights neighborhood. Patrons also came from nearby Pill Hill, named for all the doctors who lived there.
These were African-American women with style and the money to fund it. Often, they felt more welcome at Hazel Lowe’s, 1720 E. 87th St., than at a Gold Coast atelier. It didn’t hurt that she kept champagne in the refrigerator. “If someone just wanted to talk to her, she made it comfortable for them,” Hart said.
“You would not meet yourself coming and going in her merchandise,” said customer Dorothy Bordeaux. “The type of clothes Hazel sold were not your usual, meek, run-of-the-mill. Everyone wanted to know, ‘Where did you get that?’ They were classy and very, very glamorous clothes.”
Thanks to Ms. Lowe, “You could tell if I was going to a party or to pray,” said Bettye Brooks, wife of Pastor Cato Brooks Jr., of Tree of Life Missionary Baptist Church in Gary, Indiana. She bought a royal blue gown from Ms. Lowe to attend the second presidential inauguration of fellow Arkansan Bill Clinton. “It was beautiful, and then she dyed my shoes to match.”
When Ms. Lowe would go on New York buying trips, “She would always find one little special something [for me], and she’d say, ‘Now, you don’t have to buy it, but I thought about you,’ ” Brooks said. “And I almost always loved it.”
Leak once purchased a $1,200 crystal minaudiere from Ms. Lowe that she still mourns after a mix-up landed it in the trash.
“It looked like a Judith Lieber,” Leak said, referring to a designer of couture clutches that resemble fine jewelry. “I bought this purse and I put it in a bag in my kitchen, and I told my son, ‘You have to take out the trash.’ Of all the bags in the kitchen, guess which one he threw out?”
“My purse is in the landfill,” Leak said. “I boohooed. Nothing but jewels, crystals ? it was a total crystal bag.”
Leak is hanging onto Lowe outfits that might come back in style, including “a two-piece leather suit trimmed in rhinestones,” she said.
In the 1960s, Ms. Lowe worked as a buyer and creative designer for Spiegel, the catalog giant that hired and promoted African-American woman at a time when many retail doors were closed to them. Wigs were coming into vogue, and she was one of the first to push for them to be included in the catalog, a move that “sent her right to the top,” Hart said.
She opened the boutique in 1971 and ran it until 2013, when she began suffering from strokes, he said.
Ms. Lowe was known for her largesse at Christmas, handing out containers at the store’s back door filled with all the fixings for dinner. “She had a chicken in every basket,” Hart said.
They met in 1961 at a Count Basie concert in Chicago. “You would think she was a movie star,” he said.
Services have been held. A native of Belize City, Ms. Lowe immigrated to Chicago to join an uncle, a Belizean mahogany dealer with high-end clients such as the Wrigley family. The lustrous wood played a key role in Belize’s economy and history. Mahogany is the country’s national tree, which appears on the Belizean flag. “She always said to me, when I pass, I want a mahogany casket,” Hart said. “They are expensive, but there was nothing too good for her.”