Valentina exhibit opens in NYC

March 26, 2009 3:14:09 PM PDT
You hear it asked all the time on the red carpet. "Who are you wearing?" One of the very first designers to cater to celebrities was Valentina. And now, a new exhibit featuring her is open in New York. Before Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein or Donna Karen, there was Valentina.

And she was very much ahead of her time. Valentina didn't just design dresses, she designed her own public persona, which was also available for public consumption.

"Valentina, in many ways, was the American Dream come true in the fashion world," Kohle Yohannan said. "She came from Russia, and she conquered the couture marketplace and A-list high society."

Yohannan has written about Valentina and helped curate a show at the Museum of the City of New York that features many of her designs.

Valentina came to the states in 1923. By the 1940s, her clothes had become popular. She was all about the material - a twist here, a knot there. She hardly used ornamentation unless it was for an actress' or opera singer's costume. And while stars wore her clothes, Valentina worked the media so that she was the star, photographed in her own designs. Phyllis Magidson, associate curator of the costume collection, calls her a great manipulator.

"You were seeing madame Valentina wearing one of her gowns in her living rom," she said. "And it was this whole cult of the persona."

"She was extremely shrewd," Yohannan said. "She was beautiful and perfectly put together, so she sold her image. Women wanted to look like her, they didn't just want to buy her clothes."

And they did. Her couture gowns sold for $1,500.

But the often body-skimming designs, which would work today, didn't survive the 1950s. But she did what designers of her day couldn't, she mingled with the very people she designed for, the elite.

"She kind of elevated the celebrity status of fashion designers of America," Yohannan said.

So if you're looking for a little dose of fashion, check out the Valentina exhibit. It closes May 17.

For more information, visit MCNY.org/exhibitions/current/Valentina.html.

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WEB PRODUCED BY: Bill King


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