PROFILE: Ukrainian fashion designer Valentina Sanina Schlee

Ukrainian fashion designer Valentina Sanina Schlee left her mark on the history of her art and led a life among the most famous actresses of her time.

For centuries, Russia and then Soviet ideology tried to destroy Ukrainian culture and appropriate its heritage. This affected many cultural figures, whose true nationality Russia deliberately ignores, portraying them on the international stage as Russians.

Such was the case of world-renowned designer Valentina Sanina Schlee, who was born and raised in Ukraine. Schlee is referred to as a Russian by the Russian media. Only because at the time of his birth, Ukraine was occupied by the Russian Empire. For example, an article on the Fashion Channel global portal from May 20, 2022 calls her the “Russian (Coco) Chanel”.

Valentina was born in kyiv on May 1, 1899. She dreamed of an acting career. Because of the 1917 Revolution, she was forced to immigrate. However, that did not end his dreams. She showed the world what Ukrainian women are capable of. Subsequently, she created the clothing brand “Valentina”, which still exists today.

Valentina has been worn by the most famous beauties and fashionistas of the United States, and now their dresses are kept in museum collections. For historians of fashion and theatrical art, the name of the Ukrainian woman has long been a symbol of originality and brightness. Her style defined fashion for three decades and retains its influence to this day.

Valentina’s personal life was no less interesting and mysterious. She was friends with many actresses of her time and competed with Greta Garbo for her husband’s attention. At one time she was the muse of Russian singer and songwriter Alexander Vertinsky.

Immigration to New York and creation of a fashion house

In 1923, Valentina and her husband George Schlee reached New York, where Valentina began to make headway in the world of American fashion, while George built a career as a theater impresario. Before that, they went through a thorny path of immigrants in Greece, Italy and France. Interestingly, in Paris, Valentina won seed money for her future venture at the Bat Cabaret.

In the United States, a Ukrainian woman began to attend parties related to events in American theatrical and cinematographic life. The fashion designer always came to them in dresses of her own production, which certainly attracted the attention of Broadway and Hollywood actresses.

Subsequently, in 1928, Valentina opened her first clothing store on Madison Avenue. The fashion designer wowed everyone by never following trends but trying to create clothes that could be worn for years. She has largely followed Coco Chanel’s principle: “Fashion passes, but style remains”.

During the 1930s and 1950s, Schlee became one of America’s most famous and successful fashion designers. Valentina introduced fashion for hairnets, ball caps, belts, flats and more. Rumor has it that Valentina chose a crystal cross pendant, presented by Alexander Vertinsky, as a symbol of her clothing brand. There were rumors that he was in love with a Ukrainian woman and dedicated romances to her, but she refused him.

Warm friendship and struggle for a loved one with Greta Garbo

Sanina Shlee’s clients included not only wealthy women, but also famous women. Gloria Swanson, Katharine Hepburn, Paulette Godard, Claudette Colbert and Greta Garbo were among those who visited the Valentina fashion house.

The story of her relationship with Garbo, Hollywood’s biggest star at the time, is quite unusual. It is known that almost a third item in Garbo’s wardrobe came from the fashion house Valentina.

One day, during another fitting session, George Schlee walked into the room and found Greta practically naked. From that moment, the actress began a close friendship with the Schlee couple, which ended in an affair between George and Garbo.

During a trip to Paris in 1964, George suffered a heart attack and died. Valentina had to organize the funeral, to which Greta Garbo never came. However, every year Valentina organized a memorial dinner, inviting Greta. In addition, she liked to spend holidays with her husband’s mistress. Despite the betrayal, Valentina continued to communicate with her rival.

In 1954, Valentina left the fashion industry for good. Her husband bequeathed almost all of his money to Garbo, so the fashion designer spent the next few years quite modestly. Valentina’s funeral took place on September 18, 1989 – the 84th birthday of Greta Garbo.

Valentina has become an integral part of international fashion history. His creations are kept in private collections, exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and sold at auction.

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