The legendary Harlemite Zelda Barbour Wynn Valdes (June 28, 1905 – September 26, 2001), was an African-American fashion designer and costumer based in Harlem who designed the original Playboy Bunny custome.In 1948, she opened her boutique, Chez Zelda on Broadway and 158th Street in Harlem, NY, which was the first in the area to be owned by an African-American.
In 1949, Valdes was commissioned by Hugh Hefner to design one of her curve hugging outfits to create the first Playboy Bunny custome made from rayon-satin, and was a strapless one piece. While it’s not clear (and I’m currently researching this) that she was the sole creator of the costume, Valdes had an ongoing relationship with the Playboy Club in New York where she staged fashion shows so it makes sense that she was involved in the design.
Valdes attracted many celebrities such as Dorothy Dandridge, Sarah Vaughn, Josephine Baker, Joyce Bryant, Ella Fitzgerald, Mae West, Dorothy Dandridge and Marian Anderson.
“I just had a God-given talent for making people beautiful,” Zelda said during a 1994 interview with The New York Times.
Photo credit: One of the first Playboy Bunny customes and entertainer Jackie Wilson.