In operation from 1928 to 1956, Valentina Gowns, Inc., was preceded by two early businesses, one the mid-1920s operating under the spelling "Valentena," and another venture called "Valentina & Sonia." Both of these concerns had folded by 1928 when Valentina Gowns was formed on more solid ground—this time backed by the Wall Street lawyer and financier Eustace Seligman. With George Schlee as business manager and Schlee's extended family employed in the workrooms, what became the most exclusive and most expensive American house of couture actually began as a rather simple, family-run business under the shrewd and watchful eye of the firm's only designer, Valentina.
Providing a formidable livelihood for the entire Schlee family, Valentina and George lived with great flair and panache on the swelling coffers of an almost immediate success. Within the first decade of business, Valentina's client list read like a who's who of blue-book society. With customers ranging from Park Avenue matrons to stars of the stage and silver screen, Valentina soon claimed Millicent Rogers, Lillian Gish, Gloria Swanson, Katharine Hepburn, Jennifer Jones, and even White House wives among her loyal following. Eleanor Lambert, the pioneer fashion publicist who represented Valentina for more than twenty-two years, claimed that Valentina was the dominant fashion designer of the 1930s and 1940s.
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