Glitter bug: New York celebrates Judith Leiber's way with crystals

Penguin minaudière with crystals, 1991
Left, Penguin minaudière with crystals, 1991. Photography: Gary Mamay. Courtesy of the Leiber Collection). Right, Judith Leiber. Courtesy of Judith Leiber
(Image credit: Gary Mamay)

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

(Image credit: Gary Mamay)

Grouse minaudière with rhinestones, 1980. 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.’

Crystal-encrusted minaudière after Faith Ringgold’s Street Story Quilt, 1987

Crystal-encrusted minaudière after Faith Ringgold’s Street Story Quilt, 1987. Courtesy of the Leiber Collection

(Image credit: Gary Mamay)

Installation view of ‘Judith Leiber: Crafting a New York Story’

Installation view of ‘Judith Leiber: Crafting a New York Story’

(Image credit: Gary Mamay)

Snake minaudière with blue and green enamel, 1989. Buddha minaudière with crystals, 1987.

(Image credit: Gary Mamay)

Sonia Delaunay–inspired multi-skin envelope, 1990.

Sonia Delaunay–inspired multi-skin envelope, 1990. Courtesy of the Leiber Collection

(Image credit: Gary Mamay)

Asparagus minaudière with crystals, 1996. And Watermelon minaudière with rhinestones, 1991.

Left, Asparagus minaudière with crystals, 1996. Right, Watermelon minaudière with rhinestones, 1991. Courtesy of the Leiber Collection

(Image credit: Gary Mamay)


‘Judith Leiber: Crafting a New York Story’ is on view until 6 August.  For more information, visit the MAD museum website


The Museum of Arts and Design
Jerome and Simona Chazen Building
2 Columbus Circle
New York NY 10019


Pei-Ru Keh is a former US Editor at Wallpaper*. Born and raised in Singapore, she has been a New Yorker since 2013. Pei-Ru held various titles at Wallpaper* between 2007 and 2023. She reports on design, tech, art, architecture, fashion, beauty and lifestyle happenings in the United States, both in print and digitally. Pei-Ru took a key role in championing diversity and representation within Wallpaper's content pillars, actively seeking out stories that reflect a wide range of perspectives. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children, and is currently learning how to drive.