Mount Mary University Digital Collections


Valentina wearing a capelet featured in the Digital Fashion Archive, Object ID #1995.348
Source: Wikipedia
Born in Kyiv in 1899, Valentina Nicholaevna Sanina Schlee (1899-1989) fled her homeland during the Russian Revolution and eventually immigrated to the United States. After early success in New York as a boutique owner, Valentina went to Paris to study the technical aspects of dressmaking.
Lynn Fontanne (second from left) at the 1941 Academy Awards, wearing a gown designed by Valentina (either Object ID #1983.184.ABC or Object ID #1983.185)
Source: Mount Mary University Archives
Over time Valentina evolved from a dancer, actress, and model into one of the world's most successful and expensive designers. Valentina opened a small couture dress house in New York in 1928 and subsequently worked with some of the most well-known stage and cinema stars such as Lynn Fontanne, Greta Garbo, Gloria Swanson, and Katharine Hepburn. Before she closed her couture business in 1957 Valentina also dressed prominent New York society women including members of the Whitney and Vanderbilt families. But Valentina was always her own best model and publicist, wearing clothes with a bravado that made other women want to buy them.
Valentina's designs are striking in their simplicity, combining shape, color, and fabric for maximum impact. Valentina was known for simple but dramatic dresses that eschewed frivolous decorations, and was famous for her turbans and millinery. Her clothes combined the intricacy of the bias cut of Vionnet with the graceful flow of styles by Alix Grès. Like those by the two French designers, all of her clothing was made to order. 
Many of the Valentina garments in the Fashion Archive were donated to Mount Mary by her great-niece, Nina Frantzen, in 1995. Others were donated by Mrs. Suzanne Knapp, Charles Kleibacker, and the Milwaukee Repertory Theater Company.
To learn more about Valentina, check out the book Valentina: American Couture and the Cult of Celebrity at Haggerty Library.