Judith Leiber: Holocaust Survivor To Handbag Icon

judith leiber bags

Craftswoman, designer, businesswoman. Judith Leiber’s remarkable sixty-five year career in the handbag industry saw her rise from humble beginnings as an apprentice in her native Budapest to the owner of her own internationally recognised, New York-based company. And her fascinating life story, as well as her iconic handbags, are now the subject of an exhibition at the city’s Museum of Arts and Design (MAD).

  Judith Leiber Resort 2017

Judith Leiber Resort 2017

  Judith Leiber Resort 2017

Judith Leiber Resort 2017

  Judith Leiber Resort 2017

Judith Leiber Resort 2017

A Holocaust survivor, Judith Leiber’s talent and sheer determination enabled her to achieve ultimate success in what had been a male-dominated industry. It was seeing the beautiful bags her father brought back for her mother from business trips to Western Europe that first sparked her interest, an interest that gave her a focus during the horrors of WWII. And while her initial designs were simple and quite traditional, the creative freedom she subsequently enjoyed when she set up her own business resulted in the more elaborate and whimsical styles we associate with Judith Leiber today.  

  Penguin minaudière with rhinestones, 1991 / Photo: Gary Mamay; Courtesy the Leiber Collection

Penguin minaudière with rhinestones, 1991 / Photo: Gary Mamay; Courtesy the Leiber Collection

  Watermelon minaudière with rhinestones, 1991 / Photo by Gary Mamay; Courtesy the Leiber Collection

Watermelon minaudière with rhinestones, 1991 / Photo by Gary Mamay; Courtesy the Leiber Collection

  Snake minaudière with blue and green enamel, 1989 / Photo by Gary Mamay; Courtesy the Leiber Collection

Snake minaudière with blue and green enamel, 1989 / Photo by Gary Mamay; Courtesy the Leiber Collection

The clutch of choice during awards season, and among a raft of high-profile clients, the designer’s bags are crafted from materials ranging from fine leather to Lucite and are encrusted with textured embelishments from seashells to Swarovski crystals, the metal-framed minaudière perhaps her most innovative and on-demand design.   

  Museum of Arts and Design (MAD)

Museum of Arts and Design (MAD)

‘Judith Leiber: Crafting A New York Story’ is part of MAD’s ‘The Art and Craft of Getting Dressed’ series, and runs until 6th August.