Miss Zelda Barbour Wynn Valdes was a fashion and costume designer. This woman of color broke several barriers in the 1940’s. This was a time when you rarely seen a designer of color highlighted for their talent and contributions to society. Ms. Zelda Valdes was born in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania where she learned her skills from her grandmother who was a seamstress and worked in her uncle’s tailoring shop.
Ms. Zelda understood the dynamics and curvature of a woman’s body which led her to creating iconic hip hugging and beautifully draped gowns for leading ladies of which were singers and actresses. Some of the women she designed for were Dorothy Dandridge, Josephine Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Mae West, Ruby Dee, Sara Vaughn, and Eartha Kitt. This was an era where most women were very modest however these female entertainers wore low cut and sexy outfits which were symbolized as seduction.
Ms. Valdes was the first African American owned boutique named Chez Zelda located in Manhattan New York along with her sister Mary Barbour who was her assistant. This boutique is where she received numerous society women and entertainers. This was a huge milestone for Valdes. Another historical moment was in 1949 when Ms. Valdes was elected President of the National Association of Fashion and Accessory Designers (NAFAD) of the New York Chapter which was founded by Mary McLeod Bethune an educator and political activist.
Ms Valdes caught Hugh Hefner the founder of Playboy’s attention in 1958 where she designed the first Play Boy Bunny costumes which was unveiled in the Playboy’s Penthouse Magazine; and debuted in the first Play Boy Club in Chicago Illinois in 1960. Ms. Valdes next big project was designing costumes for the Dance Theater of Harlem in 1970 until 2001 at the age of ninety six. Miss Zelda Barbour Wynn Valdes was an extraordinary woman that broke numerous barriers leaving a legacy of Black History.
Miss Ann Jewel Moore is an African American Fashion Designer who moved from Florida to Atlanta Georgia at 3 years of age in 1922 with her family during the Great Depression. Miss Moore was intrigued with doll clothes and began creating them. Her grandmother taught her to sew on an old-fashioned sewing machine operated by foot pedals. This was the beginning of her inspiration to become a fashion designer. Later she attended Spellman College majoring in economics and studied fashion in New York and Paris. Miss Moore returned to the US and moved to Detroit Michigan and opened Ann Moore Courtier which was located across the street from Motown where she created custom designs. Ann Moore was most popular for her design the UbiquiSix, which is a six piece garment worn from day to evening, and her most favorite. This design along with several others can be viewed at the Atlanta History Center. She was definitely ahead of her time and thought outside of the box by creating versatility. She became very successful in Detroit as a fashion influencer for the culture of Motown in the 1960’s and 1970’s for a span of twenty years during a time that was difficult for a woman of color to excel in fashion. It was limited opportunities in the south at this time so many people of color migrated to the north for freedom of choices.
Ann Moore Courtier was featured in a 1953 issue of Vogue Magazine. Last year in 2019 for her 100th birthday her Alumni Spellman College honored her accomplishments in the fashion industry. She resides in Atlanta along with her sister and has strong opinions regarding fashion like “Women should leave something to the imagination.” She is also a phenomenal woman who had the courage to travel internationally and a trailblazer who went against the grain and became successful.
Since I’m a fashion designer and can only imagine the obstacles these women and others encountered I salute them for having the courage and tenacity to never give up on their dreams. My hope is that I will inspire someone to live their dreams no matter what. These fashion designers excelled with such style and grace and who I consider Black Excellence.
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