The bejeweled handbag designer Judith Leiber is synonymous with American glitz and glamour. Although her eponymous accessory label dates back to 1963, Leiber’s whimsical and intricately adorned bags still continue to be a fixture at glamorous evening events – even long after she created her final design in 2004.
The Hungarian-born designer’s legacy is currently in the spotlight, along with one hundred of her glittering creations, at the Museum of Art and Design in New York (MAD). The exhibition, ‘Judith Leiber: Crafting a New York Story’, also features wax models, letters, photographs and additional ephemera that charts the rise of the visionary, from her beginnings as a patternmaker and Holocaust survivor to the celebrated female entrepreneur she is remembered as today.
Grouse minaudière with rhinestones, 1980. Photography: Gary Mamay. Courtesy of the Leiber Collection
While Leiber is best known for her sparkling Swarovski crystal-encrusted pieces, the exhibition also highlights exquisitely crafted leather and textile bags, which showcase a different side of her craftsmanship abilities. Up close, visitors will also be able to spot art deco and art-inspired references in the bags’ hardware and design. Whether it’s a Sonia Delaunay-inspired envelope clutch in different skins from 1990, or her more fantastical minaudières taking the shape of a bunch of asparagus, an aubergine or an Emperor penguin, this detailed presentation promises to illuminate even Leiber’s most ardent fans.
‘Judith Leiber’s combination of craftsmanship and innovation sets her work apart from other handbag designers in both the United States and Europe during the twentieth century, a legacy that continues,’ says the exhibition’s curator Samantha De Tillio. ‘But beyond the handbags, her personal story speaks to so many. She was an immigrant who created a flourishing business – a story that has political and social relevance, especially today.’