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What does the Playboy bunny, Mae West and the Mermaid have in common? Zelda Wynn Valdes

“I just had a God-given talent for making people beautiful” ~Zelda Wynn Valdes

June 28, 1905 (Chambersburg, PA) to September 26, 2001 (NYC) Illustration by Jeanne Detallante

Zelda Wynn Valdes

I cheated a little on my fashion Friday last week, since I was knee deep in taxes, but I'm back in full swing highlighting designers for Black History month.

Born in 1905 in Chambersburg, PA of a Cuban father and an African American mother, fashion designer, Zelda Wynn Valdes was known for her curve loving silhouettes which high lighted the female body. She opened the first African American owned boutique on Broadway in 1948, "Chez Zelda" and designed for the likes of Joyce Bryant, Dorothy Dandridge ( the saucy lead in Carmen Jones), Josephine Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Marion Jones and Mae West.

If you google Zelda, the first thing that comes up is that she was commissioned by Hugh Heffner to create the very first Playboy Bunny outfit, but her career spans decades. At 65 she became the costume designer for the Dance Theater of Harlem; the first Black classical ballet company founded by Arthur Mitchell. Although she closed her business in 1989, she continued to design for the Ballet until her death in 2001 at the age of 96.

Zelda was a woman who was very protective of her privacy, with a strong sense of duty, dignity and honor. As a woman of her times, she was the embodiment of the "discrete elite:" people of color who advocated “normality” within the white world so they would be recognized for their qualities and their education, beyond the parameters of their color. But she remained an active force in her community. In 1949, Zelda became the president of the the National Association of Fashion and Accessory Designers, a coalition of black designers intended to promote black design professionals. She also directed the Fashion and Design Workshop in Harlem donating her time and resources to inspire budding African American fashion designers.

See you next Fashion Friday.

I'm working on a series in which I'll be focusing on the history of specific colors and how they apply to the fashion and culture of their times. (Yes, I'm a nerd who LOVES color!!!!) As always, please share with friends and feel free to comment on my blog posts. denise PS: Speaking of my love of color, save the date of Sunday, March 24. I'll be hosting a Intuitive painting workshop in my home studio with the talented painter and musician, Vessna Scheff. We'll be doing a little collaboration which will include a fun color workshop.

Image of the irrepressible Dorothy Dandridge.

Zelda Wynn Valdes is believed to have started the trend of the fit and flare gown (the mermaid design). She is more than likely the inspiration behind Marilyn Monroe’s style.

Do I even need to say who this is!!? I had no idea that Zelda was the creator of many iconic Mae West gowns and her signature look.

One of the first Playboy Bunny costumes. Jackie Wilson is signing his autograph on the cuff of a Playboy Bunny.

Zelda with Arthur Mitchell during rehearsal for the Dance Theater in Harlem.

Singer and actress Joyce Bryant in classic Zelda.

Lena Horne in her Zelda. This photograph was taken by Wendy Hilty during the cover shoot for Horne's 1958 album Give the Lady What She Wants.

“Edna Robinson (Sugar Ray Robinson’s wife) recommended me to Ms. Fitzgerald when she was going to sing at the Apollo Theater in New York,” said Zelda Wynn Valdes. “I was able to measure her once, but thereafter she was so busy that she didn’t have the time. She would order – always in a rush – and I would study photos of her and guess her increasing size. She always said they fit and she’d order more, always three at a time. I never had more than three to four days to finish the gowns. I am pleased to say that I never missed a delivery.” "I only fit her once in 12 years. I had to do everything by my imagination for her. She liked fancy clothes with beads and appliques."

And just one more of Joyce Bryant. WOW!!!!

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