Valentina Sanina – Schlee American fashion icon of the 30s and 40s
Valentina Sanina was born and raised in Kiev, Ukraine, then – Russian Empire.
Sanina's precise birth date remained a mystery for a long time – she consistently lowered her age (while making sure she looked her declared age), so some documents show 1904 as her year of birth.
Sanina had dreamt of becoming an actress from early age, so, after finishing a Kiev school, she attended drama lessons and very soon found herself on stage.
During the Revolution and the Russian Civil war she befriended Vertinsky, who dedicated several of his most well known works to her.
But Sanina chose Georgy Schlee, a famous theater entrepreneur, married him and left the crumbling empire, traveling via Greece, Turkey, Italy and France to America, to New-York, where she arrived in 1923.
Here, she found a keen interest in fashion, and in 1928 opened her own shop Valentina's Gowns on Madison Ave.
The breakthrough came in 1933, when she was contracted for stage dresses of Judith Anderson, and the New York press were of the common opinion that her gowns eclipsed Anderson's performance!
After that, she received a number of orders for Lynn Fontaine, Catherine Cornell, Greta Garbo, Gloria Swanson and Katharine Hepburn. Naturally, the actresses were followed by women from high society, including members of the New York magnate families: the Vanderbilts and the Whitneys.
As a designer, Sanina-Schlee succeeded thanks to her principles and professionalism. For example, she never took of her mask of imperturbability in public, and always disregarded the caprices of fashion, appearing only in reserved and elegant outfits that invariably earned her a spot in the "best dressed" lists in New York.
Even more, she would say: "Simplicity will survive any whims of fashion – women of style still wear the dresses they bought from me a decade ago".
Her Valentine fashion house enjoyed great popularity in America and across the Atlantic for many years.
As for her personal life, Schlee was not too successful: her husband had a liason with Greta Garbo, who lived in the same apartment building and was Valenina's best friend, and later abandoned his wife.
To avoid meeting in the hall or the hallways, Schlee and Garbo developed and strictly observed a veritable time schedule of leaving/returning to their apartments.
By the end of the 50s Schlee closed down her fashion house and retired. She died of Parkinson's decease she had been suffering for decades, aged 90.
Kohle Yohannan Valentina: American Couture and the Cult of Celebrity, 2009
Васильев А. Судьбы моды. – М.: «Альпина», 2012, с. 451 – 454