Valentina: A forgotten legend

So, I’m currently knuckling down hard to final year work. But when I came across the image above I rediscovered a designer I simply couldn’t RESIST but write about, the designer in question is Valentina.
As part of one of my themes this year I am working on trying to use as few seams as possible in my designs. Whilst searching this on Google I stumbled across Valentina, a designer I had heard of but completely forgotten about (and no this isn’t me misspelling Valentino!)
Valentina was  a Russian emigree. Her full name was Valentina Nicholaevna Sanina Schlee but she went by the name “Valentina”. She went to America to pursue a career in dance, but without speaking English this proved to be very difficult. She then chose to puruse a career in looking glamorous, or modeling as one might say! Valentina was undoubtedly an exotic beauty as these pictures prove.
Valentina is a designer of great interest as she was working at a time when Paris totally dominated couture, yet she was working in America and receiving renown for a similar design style to that in Paris (interesting at a time when America was really trying to forge its only distinct style away from the look dictated by Paris) She was the first “celebrity” couturiers in the U.S.A , becoming as renowned as the celebrities she dressed. One of the women whom she dressed was Greta Garbo, who infact had an affair with her husband George Schlee. She was the first designer to really promote the idea of “persona over product” herself appearing on the cover of American Vogue to promote her clothes.
Her work is similar to the likes of Vionnet and Madam Gres. Especially in the 1930s she focused heavily on bias cut and garments which were almost moulded to the body. Looking at her garments from this period you can see the superior construction used. She created often quite simply cut garments but they were always executed to the highest of standards. The look was quite minimalistic without being too basic. The smallest of seemingly insignificant details tended to turn her dresses into something fantastic. I particularly love these two dresses which feature revealing sections. Whilst the 1930s was undoubtedly the decade of the back these show off different areas which would have probably seemed quite daring in the 30s.
What I find fascinating also is the price of her clothes, even in the late 40s her clothes cost between $800 to $1,200 a piece. Her designs were those which event he wealthy would have had to save up for!  Valentina made couture garments in the true sense of couture. Her dresses were really made to fit the wearer, often she would ignore their wishes and chose to make garments which she knew would suit them. She stated, “clothes have little independent existence of their own.” Valentina made her garments so that they enhanced the wearer, and it was clear that the lady was wearing the clothes rather than the other way around.
This is a quotation from her which I really liked and is  very inspiring for my current work;
“To simplify a dress, I make as few seams as possible. And I am forever standing away looking at it, asking myself what I can take away from it rather than what I can add to it.”
She also often designed ensembles which could fit a wide range of sizes. These normally were  created with waist ties which meant the wearer could determine the exact look they wanted for the ensemble. She tended to create garments which were without padding or boning. Her clothes were essentially “unstructured” so that they could mould to the wearer.
For anyone interested to find out more about the designer there is a book Valentina: American Couture and the Cult of Celebrity. The image here is from the exhibition which the book accompanied.
Most of these images come from the Met Museum website, do take a look, some fantastic images available!
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