Judith Leiber designer of purses

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, and cupcakes.

Dorothy Twining Globus, former director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, on Leiber bags: “Sensuous and tactile, they ask to be picked up”. Most of Ms. Leiber’s evening bags, particularly the glittering metal creations, were designed to hold a bare minimum of necessities.

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)

Birthplace

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. 

Biography

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.

New York

When Leiber went to work as a pattern maker in a purse factory, she was taken aback by the task’s speed and ineloquence. There were a lot of pieces flung around. Workers merely had a rudimentary understanding of their trade. Leiber and her husband launched her own company in 1963, after working for a second purse company. She did things her way. Her New York factory employed 100 people and created thousands of pieces per year.

“I have a good sense of humour. I think everything we do should have whimsy in it”

Judith Leiber

Exhibition activities

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.

Recognition

Ms. Leiber received most of the fashion industry’s major prizes. She was voted accessories designer of the year in 1994 by the Council of Fashion Designers. The Leibers sold their business in 1993, for a reported $16 million, to Time Products.

Today, the brand has found fresh relevance and expanded its reach, with Rihanna, Kim Kardashian West, and Gigi Hadid wearing it on their arms and in their Instagram feeds.

Sources

Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.

Miller, J. (2006). Handbags. Dorling Kindersley.

REISCHEL, D. (1986, Nov 14). Leiber bags have their own personalities: [home edition]. Los Angeles Times (Pre-1997 Fulltext) Retrieved from https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1986-11-14-vw-29323-story.html

Waller, T. (2019). Judith leiber adds contemporary jewelry collection: Women’s wear daily. Wwd, , 3. Retrieved from https://wwd.com/accessories-news/jewelry/judith-leiber-launches-first-contemporary-jewelry-collection-1203116422/

Advertisements

Fashion Design Books – Amazon

* This website may contain affiliate links, and I may earn a small commission when you click on links at no additional cost.  As an Amazon and Sovrn affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

More Fashion Designers

  • Zandra Rhodes (b.1940) British fashion and textile designer

    Zandra Rhodes (b.1940) British fashion and textile designer

    Zandra Rhodes studied lithography and printing at Medway College before going on to the Royal College of Art to study textiles, graduating in 1964 during the height of the pop movement. She made a paper wedding dress that cost less than two shillings, motivated by this trend and the work of painter Roy Lichtenstein in particular (about 7 new pence). In 1967, paper clothing was all the rage: it was the ultimate representation of disposable apparel.Read More →

  • Judith Leiber  (1921 – 2018) American designer of handbags

    Judith Leiber (1921 – 2018) American designer of handbags

    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.”Read More →

  • Dame Mary Quant (b.1934) British Fashion Designer

    Dame Mary Quant (b.1934) British Fashion Designer

    Mary Quant, a pivotal figure in British fashion design, studied art and design at Goldsmiths College of Art from 1952 to 1955 while also taking evening classes in clothing construction and cutting. In 1955, in Knightsbridge, London, she established her first shop Bazaar on King’s Road, followed by the second shop Terence Conran designed in Knightsbridge.Read More →

  • RIP – Issey Miyake, the Japanese fashion designer, dies 84.

    RIP – Issey Miyake, the Japanese fashion designer, dies 84.

    Issey Miyake died on August 5, 2022, in a Tokyo hospital of liver cancer. He founded the Miyake Design Studio in 1970.Read More →

  • Paul Poiret (1879 – 1944) – King of Fashion

    Paul Poiret (1879 – 1944) – King of Fashion

    In the early decades of the 20th century, Paul Poiret was a crucial figure in the French fashion industry, notably by adding a deep oriental flavour and rich colours to contemporary clothing. Read More →

  • Hattie Carnegie (1886 – 1956) Austrian Clothing Designer, Jeweller

    Hattie Carnegie (1886 – 1956) Austrian Clothing Designer, Jeweller

    Her family settled in the USA when she was in her teens and took the Carnegie name. In 1909, with a friend, she opened a tiny dress and hat shop, New York, known as Carnegie—Ladies’ Hatter.Read More →

  • Coco Chanel: A Classic of the 20th Century

    Coco Chanel: A Classic of the 20th Century

    From gold buttons to comfortable tailored trousers and comfortable cardigan sweaters, there is no more significant influence on clothes than Coco Chanel.Read More →

  • Jean Patou (1880 – 1936) 🎩 Fashion Designer

    Jean Patou (1880 – 1936) 🎩 Fashion Designer

    One of Patou’s most famous customers was the French tennis champion Suzanne Lenglen, whom he dressed both on and off the court. This lean and active young woman epitomised the 1920s “new woman.” She created a furore in 1921 when she wore Patou’s knee-length pleated skirt, which revealed much of her legs when she ran. The headband she wore while playing tennis was widely copied by women throughout the 1920s for day and evening wear.Read More →

  • Claude Montana (b.1949) French Fashion Designer

    Claude Montana (b.1949) French Fashion Designer

    Montana’s career in fashion began almost accidentally; he moved to London in the early 1970s “to escape studying,” having no plans and no work visa. Raising money by selling rhinestone-studded papier mache jewellery, he met a Vogue editor by happenstance and had his work featured in the magazine. Read More →

  • Geoffrey Beene (1927-2004) an American Fashion Designer

    Geoffrey Beene (1927-2004) an American Fashion Designer

    Geoffrey Beene (1927 – 2004) was an American fashion designer; born Haynesville, Louisiana. He was a premed student at Tulane University when he found himself sketching gowns when he became bored during his lectures. Along with Bill Blass, he was regarded as the Godfather of American sportswear. Read More →

  • The Art of Zandra Rhodes (Hardcover) 1995

    The Art of Zandra Rhodes (Hardcover) 1995

    Zandra Rhodes is known for her creativity and talent worldwide, and it is images and impressions from all around the world that has so often inspired her art. Images have met her eye and been interpreted through her own very personal vision, boldly pushing their way into the highest levels of fashion, from an aerial view of a Mexican sombrero to the wiggle of the Great Wall of China.Read More →

  • Calvin Klein (b.1942) American fashion designer

    Calvin Klein (b.1942) American fashion designer

    Klein’s excellent, modest tailoring and beautiful sportswear lines, as well as his casual separates created in the finest linens, silks, and cashmere, had earned him a name by the mid-1970sRead More →

  • Jean-Paul Gaultier (b.1952) French Fashion Designer

    Jean-Paul Gaultier (b.1952) French Fashion Designer

    Before launching his label in 1976, Gaultier worked for Cardin, Jacques Esteirel, and Patou. From the onset, Gaultier was dubbed the ‘enfant terrible de Paris’.Read More →

  • Mainbocher (1890 – 1976) – Simplicity without Boredom

    Mainbocher (1890 – 1976) – Simplicity without Boredom

    When designing his 1945 spring collection, Mainbocher – the noted French designer who worked in New York after the fall of Paris in WWII. Declared that he had attempted more than ever to make clothes “that would embody the right amount of novelty, were stimulating for today,Read More →

  • American Fashion (Hardcover) – Council of Fashion Designers America

    American Fashion (Hardcover) – Council of Fashion Designers America

    American Fashion is the definitive book on the country’s fashion culture, spanning eight decades and featuring the work of more than 100 designers. American Fashion is a visual journey through classic and fresh photographs by the century’s most outstanding photographers and illustrators, followed by essays defining nearly a century of fascinating culture, commissioned by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA).Read More →

  • Emilio Pucci (1914 – 1992) Italian fashion designer

    Emilio Pucci (1914 – 1992) Italian fashion designer

    A leading figure in Italian fashion in the 1950s and 1960s, Pucci studied for a year at the University of Milan. In 1935 he travelled to the United States where he also studied, returning to the University of FlorenceRead More →

  • Alexis Mabille Launches Furniture Line

    Alexis Mabille Launches Furniture Line

    Buoyed by his thriving business as a designer of restaurants, including Le Boeuf sur le Toit in Paris and Cipriani in Saint-Tropez, Mabille has produced a mix of one-of-a-kind pieces and limited-edition items under his own Beaubow Editions imprint.Read More →

  • Spotlight On: Irish designer Aisling Kavanagh

    Spotlight On: Irish designer Aisling Kavanagh

    My love for designing was unearthed as my grandad was a tailor and I was fascinated watching him create these impeccably tailored suits. every stitch, every detail, cut and construction showed true craftsmanship. I learned the value of good design principles, the importance of the right cut, and the quality of the finish.Read More →

  • 270 Metres of Lace in Grace Kelly’s wedding gown

    270 Metres of Lace in Grace Kelly’s wedding gown

    The formal wedding gown was made of 278 metres of the finest materials, and at the time was described as the most lavish ever worn by a bride.Read More →

  • Alexis Kirk (1936 – 2010) American Jewellery Designer

    Alexis Kirk (1936 – 2010) American Jewellery Designer

    Kirk self-identified as Armenian despite being born in Los Angeles and raised in New England. One of his Armenian ancestors, Vemian, was a jeweller to the Turkish court. Some of his works are on display at Istanbul’s Topkapi Museum. His grandfather worked for Lalique Glass in Paris as a chief artist.Read More →

You may also be interested in

Masterpieces of French Jewelry – Encyclopedia of Design

By Judith Price French jewellery became a symbol of prestige in a changing social climate. America moved from a frontier nation to an industrial nation. Masterpieces of French Jewelry is a fascinating look at the most remarkable pieces that have made their way into famous American collections, with over 80 stunning images.

Suzanne Belperron French Jewellery Designer – Encyclopedia of Design

Suzanne Belporren was a French jewellery designer. Her career flourished in the 1920s and 1930s. Belperron produced numerous designs of sculptured jewellery for René Boivin’s Paris shop. She subsequently opened her own Paris shop called Herz-Belperron. Her designs often featured glass encrusted with gemstones.

More design articles

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.