Zelda Barbour Wynn Valdes was an influential fashion designer perhaps best known for helping to create the iconic Playboy Bunny costume. She was also the first Black person to open a store on Broadway in New York City, and designed clothing for some of the top stars of the ’40’s and ’50s.
In 1948, the Pennsylvania-born Valdes opened her Chez Zelda boutique on Broadway and West 158th Street before relocating to Midtown. The move proved fruitful as Valdes worked with a bevy of stars including Joyce Bryant, Dorothy Dandridge, Josephine Baker, Ella Fitzgerald and Mae West among others. Later in her career, she designed for R&B legend Gladys Knight and opera vocalist, Jessye Norman.
A year after opening her store, Valdes was named President of the New York chapter of the National Association of Fashion and Accessory Designers. As a result of her role with NAFAD, Valdes worked in exclusive circles and word of her designs caught the attention of Playboy’s Hugh Hefner.
Hefner commissioned Valdes to design the Playboy Bunny costume after the magazine’s promotions director, Victor Lownes, came up with the idea. The costume made its formal debut in February 1960.
In 1970, Valdes started working with founder Arthur Mitchell and the Dance Theater of Harlem. She worked for the celebrated dance company for 18 years, retiring in 1988. She died at the age of 96 in 2001.