Although February is known for Valentine’s Day, my favorite part is celebrating Black history. This month, I am highlighting the successes of people of color in the fashion industry, whether it is fashion designers, models, stylists, etc. Today’s feature topic will be Zelda Wynn Valdes.
Very few people know of Zelda Wynn Valdes. I found out about her in an issue of Ebony magazine about 13 years ago. She was born in 1905 with a natural talent for sewing and creating garments that highlighted the female body.
During the 1940s and 50s, her designs were worn and loved by Hollywood’s biggest starlets.
What many people do not know is that Valdes designed the original Playboy Bunny outfit. Hugh Hefner was so impressed with her ability to glamorize Hollywood’s elite that he commissioned her to design the iconic costume.
Models wearing the original Playboy Bunny outfit, designed by Valdes. Pictured with singer, Jackie Wilson
In 1948, Valdes opened her own boutique called “Chez Zelda” on Broadway in New York City. She was the first African American to own a store on that street. She was also the New York chapter president of the National Association of Fashion and Accessory Designer (NAFAD), a coalition of black designers that was founded by Mary McLeod Bethune.In 1970, she was approached by the Dance Theater of Harlem to be the head costume designer. She spent 18 years with the dance company before retiring in 1988 at the age of 83.
Dancers from the Dance Theater Harlem wearing Valdes's designs
Valdes with dancers from Dance Theater of Harlem
When asked about her many accomplishments in the fashion industry during a 1994 interview with the New York Times, Valdes simply stated, “I just had a God-given talent for making people beautiful.” Valdes died at the age of 96 in 2001. Zelda Wynn Valdes, a true innovator of fashion.
Until Next Time!