BHM Spotlight: First Black Designer on Broadway Created Playboy’s Bunny Costume

Zelda Barbour Wynn Valdes created the iconic Playboy Bunny costume.

Beyonce’s mom, Tina Knowles, is well known for her House of Dereon clothing line and the beautiful outfits she has made for Destiny’s Child.  But, she may not be so famous if her daughter wasn’t a musical phenom.

Anyone ever heard of Zelda Barbour Wynn Valdes? My point is made.  She is the first African American to open a store on New York’s still elite street, Broadway, according to the Huffington Post. In 1948, she opened her boutique “Chez Zelda” in the coveted location.

The entertainment world loved her designs that were known for the uncanny ability to seemingly sculpt women’s bodies and accentuate all of their attributes.  Some of the 1940s and 50s biggest celebs to wear her fashions include: Dorothy Dandridge, Josephine Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, and Mae West.

Jackie Wilson in the center of Playboy Bunnies at a Motion Picture Pioneers Association dinner at the Playboy Club, November 19, 1962.

So who more than Hugh Hefner could envision how her skills could create and define the image of Playboy. He commissioned Zelda to design the “first-ever Playboy Bunny costumes.” She set the tone for his company that made history with her designs.  She told the New York Times in 1994.

When she opened her boutique on Broadway, she was also the New York chapter president of the National Association of Fashion and Accessory Designers (NAFAD).  The organization representing black designers was founded by Mary McLeod Bethune.

When the phenomenal dance company, the Dance Theatre of Harlem, began in 1970, Arthur Mitchell himself, enlisted Valdes as their head costume designer.  She worked in that position for 18 years until her retirement at the age of 83.  She told the New York Times during an interview in 1994:

“I just had a God-given talent for making people beautiful.”

In 2001,  Valdes died at the age of 1996.

Read more here about this designer extraordinaire.  Ms. Valdes, we salute you!

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