The name Judith Leiber is synonymous with small, bejeweled evening bags called minaudières. Small by design, a minaudière is meant to be carried easily in the hand, containing only a few essential items. In Leiber's world, the essentials are a handkerchief, a lipstick and a one hundred dollar bill. Our minaudière, designed in the shape of three books held together with a buckled strap, is only about 3 inches tall and 5 inches long.
Though Leiber is now closely associated with the minaudière, she didn't originate this style of small, rigid evening bag. According to handbag historians, the minaudière was developed during the late 1920s when Charles Arpel (of Van Cleef & Arpels) noticed socialite Florence Gould using a cigarette case to hold her necessities. Arpel elaborated on this practical idea, creating small, decorated cases for the same purpose. This short video showcases several Van Cleef & Arpels minaudières.
Leiber's minaudières came about because of a manufacturing accident. Trained as a handbag maker in her native Budapest, Hungary, Leiber moved to New York in 1947 when she married an American serviceman. She worked for many years at a variety of handbag firms, opening her own company in 1963. Leiber's early work was carefully manufactured and stylish. A breakthrough came in 1967, when Leiber designed a small, gold-plated chatelaine. The prototype bag was poorly plated, so Leiber covered the base and sides with rhinestones. A precursor of the minaudière, this bag was a hit and the beginning of Leiber's success with small, glitzy evening bags.
Leiber minaudières often take extremely whimsical forms, including dogs, cats, vegetables and fruits. Other designs are inspired by architecture, art history, and even iconic cities. The foundation of each minaudière is a rigid form, first sculpted in wax and then cast in metal. The metal form is gold-plated, and then hand-painted with the desired design. The design is completed when crystals, precious or semi-precious stones are hand-set on the outside of the minaudière. Depending on the complexity of a particular design, individual minaudières can be covered with as many as 13,000 individual crystals. Interiors are also luxurious; they are typically lined with kidskin and include a tiny pouch containing a comb and mirror.
Though Leiber's work doesn't need a label to be recognized, the designer worked her initials (JPL for Judith Peto Leiber) into the design of our book minaudière.