Zelda Wynn Valdes

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Zelda Barbour Wynn Valdes (June 28, 1905 – September 26, 2001) was an African-American fashion designer and costumer.

Valdes grew up in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.[1] She began her professional career working in her uncle's White Plains, New York tailoring shop.[2] Around the same time, Valdes began working as a stock girl at a high-end boutique. She eventually worked her way up to selling and making alterations, becoming the shop's first black sales clerk and tailor. Looking back, Valdes said "It wasn't a pleasant time, but the idea was to see what I could do."[1]

In 1948, Valdes opened the first African American owned boutique in Manhattan on Broadway and West 158th Street. She sold her dresses to movie star Dorothy Dandridge, opera diva Jessye Norman, and singer Gladys Knight. Valdes created the infamous playboy bunny costume in the 1950s.[3]

In the 1950s, she moved "Chez Zelda" to 57th street in midtown.[2][4]

Joyce Bryant wearing signature look from African American Designer Zelda Barbour Wynn Valdes. Image by Carl Van Vechten

Valdes's celebrity clients included Josephine Baker, Mae West, Ella Fitzgerald, Dorothy Dandridge, Eartha Kitt, and Marian Anderson.[2] According to Valdes, "I only fit [Ella Fitzgerald] once in 12 years. I had to do everything by imagination for her. She liked fancy clothes with beads and appliques. I'd just look at the papers and say, 'Gee, she's gotten larger.'"[1] Valdes also created a new sexier image for singer Joyce Bryant who LIFE Magazine dubbed “the Black Marilyn Monroe."[5]

Valdes also dressed the entire bridal party for the 1948 wedding of Marie Ellington and Nat King Cole.[2]

She was one of the founders of the National Association of Fashion Accessory Designers, an industry group intended to promote black design professionals.[2][6]

In 1970, Arthur Mitchell asked Valdes to design costumes for his new company, the Dance Theater of Harlem.[4] By 1992, Valdes would design costumes for eighty-two productions.[1] She closed her business in 1989[1] but continued to work with the Dance Theater of Harlem until her death in 2001 at the age of 96.[4]


  1. ^ a b c d e Gonzalez, David (1994-03-23). "ABOUT NEW YORK; Matriarch of Dancers Sews Clothing of Delight". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-07-04. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Deihl, Nancy (March 31, 2015). "A profile of Zelda Wynn Valdes: costume and fashion designer". Oxford University Press Blog. Oxford University Press. Retrieved July 4, 2016. 
  3. ^ Company, Johnson Publishing (2017-03-08). Ebony. Johnson Publishing Company. 
  4. ^ a b c Gainer, Nichelle. "Fashionable Game-Changer: Zelda Wynn Valdes". Ebony/Style. Johnson Publishing. Retrieved 28 April 2014. 
  5. ^ "Fashionable Game-Changer: Zelda Wynn Valdes". Retrieved 2016-07-04. 
  6. ^ "4 Decades Of Fine Local Fashions A Black Design Group Takes To The Runway Today For Its Big Annual Show, And Plans To Start Making Noise.". Retrieved 2016-07-04.