Black History Figure Of The Day: Zelda Wynn Valdes

It’s day 8 of Black History Month 2016 and the enlightenment continues. Today I want to share the story of Zelda Wynn Valdes, African American fashion and costume designer born in 1905.

“She was the first African American to own a store on Broadway when she opened her own boutique, Chez Zelda in 1948. Zelda also served as the chapter president of the National Association of Fashion and Accessory Designers and was the head costume designer of the Dance Theater of Harlem. She was commissioned by Hugh Heffner to create the first Playboy Bunny costume and her bold sexy creation sealed her spot in fashion history.” Source

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“Valdes had an established clientele especially among notable female entertainers and other prominent women within the black community. She counted among her entertainment-world clients Josephine Baker, Mae West, Ella Fitzgerald, Dorothy Dandridge, Eartha Kitt, and Marian Anderson. She also dressed the wives of famous black celebrities, including Nat “King” Cole and Sugar Ray Robinson. Unlike some other designers who exclusively created “costumes” versus “fashion”, Valdes moved between the two modes and her clients appreciated that as they ordered clothes for performance and also for their private wardrobes.

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Zelda Wynn Valdes was one of the founders of the National Association of Fashion Accessory Designers, an industry group intended to promote black design professionals in a time when the fashion industry reflected the segregation of American society. It’s important that we not let the fact that Zelda Wynn Valdes was working within a segregated business environment restrict knowledge of her achievements. She dressed some of the most famous women in the world, for their private lives and for major performances, and her talent deserves an equally large stage. Fashion is an aspect of culture — whether we think about it in financial or aesthetic terms — that affects most citizens in developed economies. That a fashion designer with such a long career and such renowned clients is virtually unknown today indicates that the prevailing narrative of American fashion is incomplete.” Source

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