A Day For Valentina

Valentina Sanina Schlee—known to friends and admirers alike as simply “Valentina”—was a Russian émigrée designer who dressed some of the biggest stars of the first half of the Twentieth Century and is credited with pioneering that tricky domain historians coin “American couture.” Greta Garbo, Katharine Hepburn, and most old money Manhattanites were fans, and in the days before dressing Hollywood starlets was every American designer’s raison d’etre, Valentina’s costume creations for Broadway star Judith Anderson notoriously upstaged the plays themselves, eventually winning her the privilege to outfit the entire cast of The Philadelphia Story. Not only was she talented, progressive, and beautiful, word has it that Valentina was and highly quotable, too. She once deadpanned that she “hated fashion” because of its trendy pace; she also quipped that all women would be advised to “fit the century, forget the year.” See? Even before “fast fashion” as we know it actually existed, Valentina despised it.

With those wise aphorisms, the impending Oscar season, and the Fall 2009 collections on our mind, we think a trip down memory lane in honor of Valentina’s undervalued 109-year old design legacy, is long overdue. Thank God for Hamish Bowles, whose hosting the lavish fete for Valentina’s proper museum retrospective, right at the advent of Fashion Weekhe’s making sure it all goes down tomorrow night at the Museum of New York City, where he co-hosts the opening of “Valentina: The Cult of American Celebrity.” Fittingly, the exhibit goes public on Valentine’s Day.


The Museum of the City of New York is located at 1220 Fifth Avenue. Valentina is on view through May 17. A book by Kohle Yohannan, Valentina: American Couture and the Cult of Celebrity, is being published concurrently with the exhibition.