Valentina: American Couture and the Cult of Celebrity


"Valentina: American Couture and the Cult of Celebrity," currently at the Museum of the City of New York, is the first exhibition to showcase the rare gowns, accessories, photographs and printed materials of the legendary couturier. To commemorate the event, design historian and curator Kohle Yohannan authored a book under the same title.

During this subdued period in fashion, legendary couturier Valentina Sanina Schlee’s perspective seems timely—"Fit the century, forget the year." Known only by her first name, Valentina outfitted Katherine Hepburn, Greta Garbo and the cast of the Broadway musical, "The Philadelphia Story," in her day.

A Russian immigrant of Ukrainian lineage, hers is a true rags-to-riches story. She became one of the most influential designers and A-list socialites on the New York scene in the '30s, '40s and '50s, elevating the stature of American designers to international prominence. Lush with striking imagery of legendary actresses and Valentina herself, clad in long, flowing gowns, extravagant capes and an array of imaginative head wraps, the book is an engaging examination of an emerging icon in the making.


Valentina's philosophy is interwoven in introspective text and eloquent, bold quotes such as, "No matter how broke you are, always travel first class—otherwise you'll never meet the right kind of people." In addition to her story, entire sections of the book are devoted to Garbo and her ascent into high society.

The exhibit includes pieces from the Valentina family, and coveted museum collections, while Yohannon's book deconstructs the mystique and spectacle that made Valentina a catalyst for spectacle in the desirable couture and her flare for making a grand entrance.

The book is available from Amazon or Powell's.

Valentina: American Couture and the Cult of Celebrity
Through 17 May 2009
Museum of the City of New York
1220 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10029 map
tel. +1 212 534 1672