Her Story: Zelda Wynn Valdes

Zelda Wynn Valdes

Zelda Wynn Valdes (1905-2001) was an iconic American fashion designer and trailblazing business owner.

As a young woman, Zelda Wynn Valdes started working in her uncle’s tailoring shop in outer New York, while also working in a high-end fashion boutique as a salesgirl. In 1948, she opened her own shop on Broadway in New York City, making her the first African-American to own a store on the highly coveted street.

Zelda Wynn Valdes was known for creating gowns that fit perfectly- regardless of the shape of the wearer, Valdes could create a design that accentuated any woman’s body type. She became one of Hollywood’s most sought after designers, creating dresses for Josephine Baker, Mae West, Ella Fitzgerald, Eartha Kitt, and the wedding of Maria and Nat King Cole. 

Zelda Wynn Valdes was commissioned by Hugh Hefner to design the original Playboy Bunny costumes which have become an iconic symbol in pop culture. She was also the New York chapter president of the National Association of Fashion & Accessory Designer (NAFAD), a coalition of black designers that was founded by Mary McLeod Bethune. 

In 1970, Zelda Wynn Valdes was approached by Arthur Mitchell to serve as the head costume designer for his then newly-established performance company, the Dance Theatre of Harlem. She designed until her death in 2001. 

During her lifetime Zelda Wynn Valdes created a trove gorgeous high-fashion designs and costumes. She broke barriers and changed the aesthetics of feminine beauty forever.

Zelda Wynn Valdes

About The Author


Mother, Photographer, Wisecracker.... not necessarily in that order.

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