Valentina Sanina Schlee was a she, was of Russian origin, and was widely known by her first name. Her business lasted from the late 1920’s up to 1957. Valentina dressed everyone from Pola Negri to Greta Garbo in her graciously linear designs and was her own most ethereally-effective model far past the age at which most models withdraw from the runway. In the 1930’s she was a contemporary of such designers as Jo Copeland, Charles James, Hattie Carnegie, and Claire McCardell.

Valentina never stopped designing for herself, and what suited her — severe, monochromatic, beautifully cut clothes made in the finest fabrics — also suited her very elite clientele. In 1940 she moved to 21 E. 67th Street, taking over a space that had just been vacated by Elizabeth Hawes. At this time, a Valentina dress started at about $250. She frequently posed for photographs wearing her own designs. She disliked silk flowers (except in the hair), fur (unless it was sable, her big line was “Mink is for football”, possibly meaning that it was acceptable only for something as casual as watching a sporting event), wearing little prints simply because it was spring, and high-heeled shoes.

In the 1950’s Valentina was known for couture clothes that managed to look effortless in spite of all the careful workmanship and wonderful materials. In 1951 Vogue opined in its February 1 issue, that Valentina never ‘makes a thing that isn’t as timeless as a pair of kid gloves.’ In 1957 she closed her couture house.

Valentina was renowned for her interesting but unorthodox constructions and her hoods; her clothes were timeless, outside fashion, and followed her belief in the free movement of the body. Besides designing for private clients, she established a reputation for stage design and created costumes for such plays as The Philadelphia Story and High Spirits. Her clients included Katharine Hepburn, Gloria Swanson, Gertrude Lawrence, Irene Selznick, and most notably Greta Garbo, with whom she had a famous feud which continued well into the 1980s. Valentina died in 1989.

Written by bombshell*frocks

from an early 1940s gown - Courtesy of louise
from an early 1940s gown
Courtesy of louise
from a 1950s coat - Courtesy of bombshell*frocks
from a 1950s coat
Courtesy of bombshell*frocks

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