Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Kohle Yohannan "VALENTINA American Couture and the Cult of Celebrity"

"No matter in what milieu, a woman should never look clumsy. When she is working, even in the kitchen, she must be dressed in what is suited just for this, created just for this. It can have as much chic, on its own terms, as what she wears to dinner - and she should feel just as gay and charming in it. The woman who imagines she can become chic suddenly at six o'clock by getting all dressed up for the evening- to this I say no. Chic is something that must be with her all day, all the time. It does not matter how frugal her wardrobe is, if it is planned, if everything in it expresses a reality of what her life is, and its occupations, then she will never look clumsy. This is the only elegance." 


"Stepping out of limousine in front of a bustling Manhattan supper club one evening in the 1940s, Valentina and George Schlee approached the cordoned-off front door with Noel Coward, Marlene Dietrich, John Galliher, and Clifton Webb in tow, filing past a gathering group of tourists who had stopped to catch a glimpse of the glamorous nightspot and equally glamorous clientele. Visibly stymied, a child in the crowd pointed and giggled at what must have been one of Valentina's more outlandish getups - a gaffe that her well-meaning, but embarrassed mother attempted to back pedal away from by saying approvingly that no doubt the lovely lady was "dressed for theater"

Bemused, Valentina stopped, then turned dramatically to face the on-looking crowd, and replied, with a bow,

"Madam, I am theater..."

With this, she raised one carefully groomed eyebrow, then turned back to the charmed laughter of her companions and the now-applauding crowd and disappeared into the club."

Valentina Sanina  Schlee and her husband, George Schlee, Russian émigrés, moved to New York in 1920s. Valentina opened up an atelier and later a high couture house, which became very successful. Valentina dressed the preeminent women of style of her day. Harold Koda noted rightly that Valentina understood the conflicting desires of women to stand out, while appearing to blend in.

She constructed a lot of outfits based on nuns' images: "I thought them the most beautiful women I had ever seen. The memory has remained to color everything I have ever done..."

Valentina is famous for her extravagant statements. Here are few of them. 

"Aware of her reputation for being prohibitively expensive, Valentina once told American heiress (and client) Doris Duke that "while Mainbocher unquestionably made the Duchess of Windsor look like a lady; for the same price, I could look her like a queen."

"In 1939 when George Balanchine's ballerina wife, Vera Zorina, balked at Valentina's offer to sell her a fabulously sumptuous $40,000 sable evening wrap, explaining that she didn't really have any need for it, as she had just bought a floor-length mink cloak the year before. Holding all things she deemed ordinary in violent disdain, a shocked Valentina replied,

"Meenk? Meenk?! Don't be rideeculous! Mink is for football!""

Harold Koda in the foreword to the book:

"From a business perspective, her contemporaries Norell and Mainbocher did not even begin to approach her success, and only Chanel can be seen as an equal in her faculty for self-invention and promotion. Finally, a woman who combined the aphoristic wit of Chanel, the technical virtuosity of Vionnet, the dramatic thetricality of Adrian, and the pragmatism of McCardell, is being given her due."

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