It’s so nice to be able to write a good news story about a designer that lived a full life and enjoyed the spoils of her success prior to her death. So often we hear of extraordinary individuals whose lives are cut short by their own hand or tragic circumstances.
Judith Leiber passed away in April this year, at the age of 97. A good innings, as they say. She is known for her crystal minaudières, evening bags made of a metal shell often encrusted with Swarovski crystals, plated with silver or gold and with various forms, such as rabbits, french fries, cupcakes, flowers, ghetto blasters and snakes.
Above: Some of Judith Leiber's incredible bags.
These bags have become a status symbol for many women, not just celebrities but also Presidential First Ladies from Mamie Eisenhower to Hilary Clinton. Leiber famously created one for First Lady Barbara Bush that was made to look like her springer spaniel, Millie.
Above: The 'Millie' Bag Leiber created for Barbara Bush.
Judith Leiber’s story is particularly close to my heart as she was born in Budapest, just as my parents were. My Hungarian heritage means a lot to me. I greatly admire anyone who can move from one country to another, after surviving the horrendous circumstances of war, to start a new life without a word of the native language (and most often without a cent in their pockets); to then go on to achieve amazing success. The high percentage of Hungarian migrants (and other migrants of course) that manage to rise above their difficult beginnings, to create exceptional lives and contributions to society always fills me with massive respect.
On her arrival in New York in the ‘40s, Leiber worked for other designers before forming her namesake brand in 1963. Her iconic bags were a hit, spanning decades of fashion trends, models, celebrities, and dedicated fashionistas.
In 1994, Leiber received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the CFDA. In 2010, a Visionary Woman Award from Moore College of Art & Design. Examples of her work can be found in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, Virginia, has had a gallery of her work on display since it opened in 2008.
Today, Leiber’s bags are experiencing somewhat of a resurgence. While they never actually went anywhere, they're certainly coming back en vogue with a vengeance. They’ve been spotted on the arms of many high-profile ladies including Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian, Katy Perry and Madonna.
Leiber liked to say it was only necessary for a woman to carry a lipstick, handkerchief and $100 bill in her handbag… lucky, because that’s all that would fit into her playful clutches. I find that refreshing, and a great contrast from many of the oversized totes that have been popularised of late.
Above: A lipstick-shaped bag to carry your lipstick in.
The resurgence may also be driven by a backlash against the growing trend of minimalism in fashion. A bit of bling and glamour can always brighten up your day; and perhaps part of Leiber’s legacy will be to not always take fashion, and ourselves, too seriously.