Zelda Wynn Valdes
Zelda Barbour Wynn Valdes (June 28, 1905 – September 26, 2001) was an African-American fashion designer and costumer.
Valdes grew up in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. She began her professional career working in her uncle's White Plains, New York tailoring shop. 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."
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.
Valdes's celebrity clients included Josephine Baker, Mae West, Ella Fitzgerald, Dorothy Dandridge, Eartha Kitt, and Marian Anderson. 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.'" Valdes also created a new sexier image for singer Joyce Bryant who LIFE Magazine dubbed “the Black Marilyn Monroe."
In 1970, Arthur Mitchell asked Valdes to design costumes for his new company, the Dance Theater of Harlem. By 1992, Valdes would design costumes for eighty-two productions. She closed her business in 1989 but continued to work with the Dance Theater of Harlem until her death in 2001 at the age of 96.
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