It was while flipping through an old Vogue magazine from the 1940s that design historian Kohle Yohannan first became enthralled by Valentina. "I came across a compelling, fearless designer who managed to make simplicity daring," Yohannan said. "That's when I decided to write a book on Valentina. I was determined to mine her out of the lost history of American greats."
It took a while for him to turn that "aha!" moment into reality – writing two other books and restoring his house, a 19th-Century castle in Yonkers, N.Y., came first. But Yohannan's "Valentina: American Couture and the Cult of Celebrity" has now been published by Rizzoli ($75), concurrently with the exhibition of the same name.
The 280-page book, with 250 color and black-and-white images, explores in detail the life of this self-made woman, including her complex relationship with Greta Garbo. So often did Valentina and her husband appear in Garbo's company that "they were talked about in various combinations of two and three—but it's all speculative," Yohannan said.
The two women closely resembled one another, confusing matters even more. But there was a key difference between them, the author said. Though mesmerizing in the movies, Garbo was famously dressed-down and insular in her daily existence. "What Garbo had on screen, Valentina had in real life," Yohannan said. "With Valentina, there was no downtime."