Zelda Wynn Valdes - Pioneer in Fashion and Costume Design
This is Zelda Wynn Valdes, she was a pioneer in fashion and costume design. Zelda grew up in North Carolina during the peak of the Jim Crow era. Valdes took immense pride in making women of all shapes and sizes look and feel like goddesses.
Initially learning how to sew by making outfits for dolls her talent was first realised in the creation of a bespoke dress for her grandmother, who believed she was too "tall and too big" to have a dress made for her. Her opinion was swiftly changed after seeing it, she was soo happy with the dress she was later buried in it.
Valdes found work as a tailor in her uncle's shop, and at the same time began working as a stock girl in a high-fashion boutique. She eventually worked her way up to selling and making alterations, becoming the shop's first black sales clerk and tailor.
The racial oppression at the time meant her skills were often overlooked and underestimated however this didn’t stop her. In 1948 Valdes opened Chez Zela making her the first to have a black owned business on broadway (know known as Washington Heights).
Dressing the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, movie star Dorothy Dandridge, opera diva Jessye Norman, and singer Gladys Knight. Combining styles for costume and fashion her signature low-cut, body hugging gowns, which unapologetically extenuated a woman’s curves created sexy-but-sophisticated dresses.
The notoriety of her designs attracted the attention of Hugh Hefner who commissioned an outfit for the playboy playmates which led to the creation the original iconic playboy bunny suit, embodying female seduction.
As one of the founders of the National Association of Fashion Accessory Designers, an industry group intended to promote black design professionals, Valdes went on to design costumes for the Dance theatre of Harlem at a request for Arthur Mitchell in 1970 where she continued until her death in 2001
Designing costumes for over 80 productions, she did away with the traditional pink ballet tights celebrating the different colours of the dancers, she made tights that matched their skin tone.
“‘I just had a God-given talent for making people beautiful,’ ” Valdes told a New York Times reporter in 1994.