It’s hard to say what a post-COVID red carpet will look like, but it will probably involve someone holding a bedazzled Judith Leiber handbag. Lizzo’s 100% chocolate bag at the Brit Awards, Beyoncé’s money roll at a Tidal event, Miley Cyrus’s red heart at amfAR: all Leiber. “She was able to pair these great whimsical images with elegance,” Ann Stewart, curator of the Leiber Collection, said of the designer, who died in 2018. “[She] just created these objects that people want to collect and carry. She loved it when people would carry the butterfly to the farmers market, or the watermelon or the lemon slice to a garden party. It just really made perfect sense to her.”
Many of the objet-like bags were archived when Leiber retired in 1998, as were some colors of Swarovski crystals created just for her. But now retail site Moda Operandi is dusting off some of the iconic styles, and for the next month they will be available for special order on the site. “We have all of the molds that they’ve ever made since the beginning of the collection,” said Jana Matheson, CCO of Judith Leiber.
Leiber didn’t invent the idea of the metal clutch handbag, but her creation of the Chatelaine design in 1967 in a non-precious metal was a tour de force in accessibility. “She always told the story that she wanted to create a metal handbag that the ladies didn’t have to go to the bank and take out of the safety deposit box,” said Stewart. “She felt like these kinds of bags were reserved for royalty, and she wanted to create a metal bag that would be for the everyday lady.” The crystal embellishment, now a Leiber trademark, was a happy solution to a fabrication accident on that first metal creation. “She sent it off to her fabricators in Italy, and when it came back…the plating process had not been perfect,” said Stewart. “She knew that she needed to disguise the problem, but she also wanted to enhance the beauty, so she went down to the accessories district and grabbed the Swarovski crystals and some jewelers adhesive and created the beautiful design of the crystals that are on the Chatelaine. It was the most popular of her bags, and she really made lemonade out of lemons.”
The full offering of Leiber bags over the years has been eclectic—if not a bit eccentric—and the result is an archive of iconic pieces that have often been collectors items for museums and first ladies alike. “All of the first ladies from Mamie Eisenhower through Laura Bush, except for Rosalynn Carter, carried Judith Leiber bags to the inaugural ball of her husband,” said Stewart. “And all of them were collectors of Judith Leiber, and a few were dear friends of hers and collected very many.”
For longtime collectors and newcomers alike, the pieces available to order from Moda will ship by mid-January, just in time for the hope of a 2021 with a bustling—and safe—social calendar.
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