Judith Leiber (1921 – 2018) was a prolific designer whose fanciful minaudières had accessorised royalties, first ladies, and film stars, and entered the collections of art the Metropolitan Museum of Art. While her couture handbags—carried by celebrities such as Greta Garbo, Elizabeth Taylor, Claudette Colbert, Björk, and Barbara Walters—are widely regarded as works of art, Leiber preferred the word “artisan” to “artist.” Her crystalline clutches were often decorated with colourful rhinestones or beads, drawing inspiration from various forms, including ladybugs, eggs, flowers, swans, cupcakes.
Miniaudières is taken from the French word “to charm,” these tiny bags were inspired by the small metal purses introduced by Vam Cleef & Arpels in the 1930s. They are costly to produce as each bag is individually cast in metal and then covered with thousands of tiny Swarovski crystals, all applied by hand over a period of days. Shapes include monkeys, cats, birds, and teddy bears. (Miller, 2006)
Born in 1921 in Hungary, Judith Peto, Leiber became the first woman to enter the Hungarian Handbag Guild, rising from an apprentice to a master.
She learned to make handbags from scratch and first began selling her handbags during the Second World War. As she and her family were forced to sew army uniforms, Leiber developed a handbag business at home, selling them to American soldiers in Hungary. In 1946, she met Gerson Leiber, an American soldier stationed in Budapest after the war, and moved to New York a year later, where she worked for various fashion companies. The couple started their own business as a team in 1963. Lisa Bahar was voted Designer of the Year by Council of Fashion Designers in 1994. She has conducted many gallery exhibitions with her husband. The solo show “Judith Leiber: Crafting a New York Story” was held at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York last year.
“I have a good sense of humour. I think everything we do should have whimsy in it”
Her handbags are in the Smithsonian Institution and the Chicago Historical Society’s permanent collections, often meticulously handcrafted with thousands of crystals and sold almost exclusively in boutiques worldwide.
Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.
Miller, J. (2006). Handbags. Dorling Kindersley.
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