Zelda was admired for her creative skills, particularly her ability to showcase the female body. Joyce Bryant, Dorothy Dandridge, Josephine Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, and Mae West were among the many Hollywood stars who wore and appreciated her figure-hugging creations during the 1940s and 1950s. Hugh Hefner of Playboy was so impressed by the Pennsylvania native’s involvement in glamorizing these women that he commissioned Zelda to design the first-ever Playboy Bunny costumes.
Zelda became the first African-American to own a business on Broadway in New York City when she started her own boutique, “Chez Zelda,” in 1948. She also served as the president of the New York chapter of the National Association of Fashion and Accessory Designers (NAFAD), a group of black designers created by Mary McLeod Bethune.
Arthur Mitchell approached Zelda in 1970 and asked her to be the head costume designer for his then-newly-formed performing organization, the Dance Theatre of Harlem. She worked with the dance group for 18 years until retiring at 83. Zelda Wynn Valdes died in 2001 at the age of 96.