I had the pleasure of working with Judith Leiber on several occasions, each visit was a total joy. In addition, she always invited me to visit her showroom/workrooms when I was in New York. They were like a museum truly something to behold. The pride level of the talented craftsmen quite frankly was something I have only seen duplicated in the Ateliers of Paris Haute Couture. I think everyone only thinks of her beaded bags, which are exquisite works of art, but she also did skin bags, leathers and suede as well as fabric bags for day in addition to her overwhelmingly prolific collection of minaudière. She would open a cabinet in her showroom that revealed a wondrous collection of very special pieces and always say, “choose whatever you like!” If only, it was totally against store policy (Saks Fifth Avenue) to accept gifts from designers or vendors. Unless the designer asked me to wear something from the collection we were featuring at a show (I was a sample size in those long ago days!!!), I bought what I wore at all times. I do own several Judith Leiber bags both day and evening and treasure each of them.
Two bags from her fan collection (I included these at the end of yesterday’s post as a teaser, did you guess who I would be featuring today, of course, you did!) Each season there were animal bags, a themed collection, and her classics, always something extraordinary to add to your collection or start a new one. She would also do special orders, perhaps just a color change. You will see her bags on every red carpet as well as in the hands of royalty and our own First Ladies. She was a major star with no star ego, a true icon in the industry.
Judith Leiber in her workrooms in the early years. The following is an excerpt from the Museum of Arts and Design and the Leiber exhibition that is closing this weekend.
“Judith Leiber spent sixty-five years in the handbag industry, from an apprentice in Budapest to the owner of an internationally renowned handbag company based in New York City. As the only female pattern-maker, and with the unusual ability to make a handbag from start to finish, Leiber brought a distinctly European training and skill set to the United States, where handbags were made with assembly-line skill division. This allowed her not only to succeed as a designer but also to revolutionize the meaning of handbag craftsmanship for the American consumer.
Leiber’s handbags run the gamut from finely crafted leather pieces and textile-based bags to the fantastical Swarovski crystal–encrusted creations for which she is most well known. Inspired by a life-long admiration of art, travel, and opera, Leiber’s bags include Art Deco–influenced hardware; materials such as Lucite and seashells; references to the artwork of Piet Mondrian, Georges Braque, and Sonia Delaunay; and collaboration with Faith Ringgold on a collection of handbags inspired by her quilts.
As Leiber’s reputation flourished, designers and suppliers sought her out, offering interesting materials, particularly textiles. Thus, many of her handbags are constructed with obis from Japan, Parsi ribbons from India, and fabrics from Iran and Africa. From the earliest days of her company, Leiber pushed the boundaries of handbag design—innovation that is epitomized by her famed sparkling minaudières, a technique that began as a solution to a damaged metal frame, and was then catalyzed by the design of her imaginative animal and food clutches to become fashion staples for First Ladies and celebrities alike.”
I love this photo of Mrs. Leiber surrounded by a few of her creations. On one of her visits she was invited to attend a dinner in her honor at the home of one of our very good clients who collected Leiber bags…did I just say the Leiber showroom was like a museum, well I stand corrected, this client’s home was Leiber everywhere in specially designed museum quality cases, it was something out a movie and by the way quite tasteful. Mrs. Leiber was overwhelmed. The client, I might add, supplemented her collection, after that dinner, with Mrs. Leiber’s guidance.
Another book to add to your fashion library, lucky me, mine is autographed by the wonderful creator herself!
One of my favorite designer stories came from James Galanos. We were discussing selling many pieces to a single client and he told me that one of the California boutiques that sold his garments, actually bought most of the Collection each season, and that is saying something, had a client who had purchased multiple gowns that particular season and also ordered a Judith Leiber bag to go with each. He was aghast at the expense. My comment was “was the client involved with charities” answer, yes, very much so. “did the client employ staff at her many homes, entertain there, have flowers, chefs, etc.” again, the answer, yes. “did the couple travel”…yes, yes, yes! My answer to Mr. Galanos “the client is supporting the economy, we are just a small portion of that”. His answer, “I never thought of it that way, but Nena, you are right!” Wow, coming from one of the major fashion icons, oh my… In other words, the people who can afford expensive items, clothes, cars, property, etc. make our economy, I guess that is what capitalism is all about. Needless to say, I’m not in that category (one can live in hope) but I was lucky to be surrounded by beautiful things in my years in retail and can appreciate quality.
Gerson and Judith Leiber in front of the wonderfully talented Gerson’s paintings.
Information on the Leiber Museum….www.leibermuseum.org
“In 2005, Gerson and Judith Leiber built a gallery to house their works of art and to chronicle their careers, offering an unparalleled retrospective of their creations over the past many decades.
The Leiber Collection, a magnificent Renaissance styled Palladian edifice, sits majestically in a sublime sculpture garden that borders six additional gardens, each designed by Gerson Leiber, in a style befitting the local geography. Considered by many to be the best-kept secret of the Hamptons, you are in for a real treat as you peruse the exquisite jewel of a museum and explore the charming gardens.
Come visit us on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 1 – 4 pm”.
A YouTube video one of several, this a very dramatic life story of a major influencer and unique talent. Mrs. Leiber retired in 1998 having designed over 3,500 handbags! The company’s current creative director and co-owner is Dee Ocleppo Hilfiger.
For further reading here is a link to the incredible Judith Leiber story in Harper’s Bazaar.
There are other Judith Leiber fragrances, I chose to feature this one because of its name, love it!Karl Lagerfeld with his ever present fan with his then friend Yves Saint Laurent (whose 81st birthday we would have celebrated this week)
Another photo of Karl Lagerfeld with his fan
So much a part of his aesthetic that his fragrance bottle is fan shaped.
Two looks from a John Galliano Dior Haute Couture collection. As you can see fans are every where in every culture and in every era.
All photos from Pinterest credits unknown.