Saturday, March 7, 2009

"Fit the century, forget the year." --Valentina Sanina Schlee

Today I had my first visit to The Museum of the City of New York. I have been saying for quite a while that I really need to take advantage of the cultural opportunities that I have at my fingertips, and I have to say that while this wasn't the first place on my list, it's a great museum. Specifically, I went because my Aunt came into town for the weekend and thought that we might find the Valentina exhibit (both of us being avid shoppers and all) interesting; so off we went to 103rd and 5th Ave.

Now I knew the name Valentina, but had no idea where she came from and to what extent she influenced fashion. Valentina Sanina Schlee was a Russian dancer that came to the United States in the 1920s with her husband. After several failed partnerships in fashion, she achieved breakout success with her simple yet sophisticated couture designs. She designed for both Broadway stages as well as wealthy socialites and actresses of the 1930s and 40s; her clients included Greta Garbo, Lynne Fontanne, and Mrs. Randolph Hearst to name a few.

Her creations were by no means accessible to anyone without money--prices went from $250-$1400! That's a lot of money in 2009, let alone in 1935. But her custom made pieces, for those who could afford them, were worth every penny. The exhibit shows off her stunning collection of evening gowns, costumes and even a few daytime outfits. What is most interesting is that many of the dresses could be worn on the red carpet today with no changes. Her designs have the unique capability of accenting all of the best features of the womanly form with exquisite draping, darting and seaming; that is what makes a Valentina piece timeless.

If you have any interest in the history of fashion and find yourself free in NYC for an afternoon, I highly recommend that you check it out. As you look around, think about the dresses, jackets and hats that you have worn over the years and see if you can find her influence in them.

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