JUDITH LEIBER: Crafting a New York Story

Photo by Jenna Bascom. Courtesy of the Museum of Arts and Design.

JUDITH LEIBER AT MAD

April 4-August 6, 2017

by Harrice Miller

The first time I met Judith Leiber was in the early 90s when we were both doing Personal Appearances at Saks. She looked so real, so like a kindly grandma, I was struck with the dissimilarity between her appearance and the wildly glamorous and bedazzling jeweled purses she designed. Decades later, at the opening of her exhibition, “Judith Leiber: Crafting a New York Story”, at the Museum of Arts and Design, Judith, now 96, sat regally with Gerson Leiber, her artist husband of many years at her side, like a queen whose adoring subjects were stopping by to pay their respects.

Judith with friends in Greece. Courtesy of Judith Leiber.

Photo by Jenna Bascom. Courtesy of the Museum of Arts and Design.

 

Photo by Jenna Bascom. Courtesy of the Museum of Arts and Design.

The exhibition illustrated, through a series of extraordinary, iconic purses, the story of her rise as a handbag apprentice in her hometown of Budapest during World War II, to the last bag she designed before her retirement, in the shape of a jeweled peacock in 2004. In 65 years in the handbag industry, Judith revolutionized the concept of craftsmanship, with her bags ranging from beautifully fashioned leather and textiles to the Swarovski crystal-encrusted figural bags we know today to be her signature look. From the founding of her company Judith Leiber Handbags in 1963 until 2004, she designed more than 3,500 bags. She began first with leather examples and designed her first metal bag in 1967. 

Exhibit image by Sarara Couture. This was the first metal bag Leiber created and it was based on a Chatelaine made in 1967.

Rare 1968 metal bag, by Judith Leiber. Image courtesy of Sarara Couture.

Judith’s handbags have been carried by First Ladies, Hollywood actresses and opera singers, including Mamie Eisenhower, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Greta Garbo, Mary Tyler Moore, Claudette Colbert and Beverly Sills. Current wearers of Leiber bags include; Chanel Iman, Kelly Osborne, Sarah Jessica Parker, Chrissy Teigen, Diane Kruger among many others. They are cherished the world over by collectors who are attracted to their often whimsical shapes including fruits, vegetables, animals, birds, foo dogs, books, musical instruments, sea creatures, Fabergé-inspired eggs and even a Buddha!

Photo by Jenna Bascom. Courtesy of the Museum of Arts and Design.

 

Handbags, wax models, personal letters, and archival photographs create an atmosphere that personalizes the woman behind her creations. Judith’s inspiration stemmed from her love of travel, art, textiles, and materials, creating a body of work that MAD envisioned as exploring the gendered significance of the handbag in the 20th century and in the importance of immigrant entrepreneurship to the fabric of New York.

Photo by Jenna Bascom. Courtesy of the Museum of Arts and Design.

The exhibition was curated by MAD’s Assistant Curator Samantha De Tillio, with the support of Curatorial Assistant and Project Manager Angelik Vizcarrondo-Laboy. Be sure to visit the Leiber Collection, the museum is located in the East Hampton hamlet of Springs, NY.

Relevant links:

http://www.leibermuseum.org

Purse Perfection: Judith Leiber on Faberge, Rhinestones, and Her Favorite First Ladies

The Costume Jewelry Collection of Barbara Berger: Taking on the World of Fashion Jewelry

Trifari, 40s Fruit Salad Bracelet.PHOTO CREDIT: © Pablo Esteva

What attracts us wearers and collectors of jewelry to costume pieces? Many important costume jewelry collections are owned by those who can certainly afford the real thing, Barbara herself was the daughter of a diamond merchant/jeweler.   One is free to re-imagine themselves when they wear it. That is why I wear it and the bigger the better. I personally have always thought why wear jewelry if you can’t enjoy it or see it?  I love ethnic designs/statement pieces and Iris Apfel has always been an icon to me. I came to find out this adoration of the statement piece and Iris, I also shared with Barbara as well. Costume jewelry lets the design and intention really shine. As Barbara pointed out, “the construction is often similar to that of fine pieces”, She painted an image to me during her talk, that she feels there seems to be no bounds to it and that it sort of is freeing or liberating. 

Elsa Schiaparelli, 1938.Ostrich pendants. Circus collection.PHOTO CREDIT: © Pablo Esteva

Barbara Berger has put together one amazing collection and David McFadden, Chief Curator, and Harrice Simons Miller, Guest Curator along with Dorothy Globus, Curator of Exhibitions have organized one stunning show.  Harrice Simons Miller is a consultant to Christies and was brought in to appraise and catalog Elizabeth Taylor’s costume jewelry as well. She wrote the first book I ever bought about collecting and valuing costume jewelry. Collectors may also remember her fab book on Kenneth Jay Lane jewelry!

Miriam Haskell, late 50s example from the Berger collection. Also featured in Miriam Haskell Jewelry by Cathy Gordon and Sheila Pamfiloff. It is a sort of Haskell holy grail piece. PHOTO CREDIT: © Pablo Esteva

Barbara’s life work and passion spoke for themselves at the opening and her discussion with the curators at MAD museum New York. This collection has never been shown in the United States.  I was there, practically running in, as the doors opened on the show.  The full scale of her archive reaches beyond 4,000 pieces and growing. The exhibition houses 450 well chosen iconic examples including jewelry by: Lanvin, Miriam Haskell, Valentino, Coppola e Toppo, Pucci, Kenneth Jay Lane, Countess Zoltowska/Cis, Oscar de La Renta, Mimi Di N. Balenciaga, Maison Gripoix, Marcel Boucher, Trifari, Pierre Cardin, Chanel (she owns one of the most important collection of Chanel jewelry),David Mandel, Lawrence Vrba, Iradj Moini,Joseff-Hollywood, Robert Sorrell, Elsa Schiaparelli and many more. The list includes fantastic vintage examples and recent new designers.  If you are a collector or wearer you may have become a little dizzy at the thought, I know I did when I entered the show. I was literally drunk on jewelry from costume to couture to everything in between.

Chanel feather necklace, Barbara Berger collection. Sarara Vintage image.

Barbara, began collecting after her mother’s death at about age 13. She acquired Chanel earrings at a Parisian flea market. They reminded them of her mother, her style, essence and way of putting herself together.  From the beginning, you can see that fashion jewelry meant something to her on a personal level. She remembers where she got each piece and their stories.  She falls in love with the presence and aesthetic of each example of the jewelry she purchases for the collection. It has to speak to her, be a statement piece, scale and size matters….. She made it clear at her talk that she doesn’t just buy a piece for the collection because it is signed, it has to have that something that makes it great.  She wasn’t focused on the history but the essence.  She even admits that for the exhibit she left the historical research to Harrice.  

As Barbara stated at the “All the Brilliant Facets” talk:

“The size of the jewelry is important, because jewelry gives a woman power, it has to be dramatic. A woman has to feel she can take on the world.  I collect dream jewelry”. (Barbara Berger, All the Brilliant Facets”).

Mimi Di N, 60s-70s. PHOTO CREDIT: © Pablo Esteva


Barbara’s passion as well as creative insight
 can be seen through this very extensive collection. She will be donating some examples to the 
Museum of Arts and Design at 2 Columbus Circle, permanent archives in NYC. Now with the publication of Fashion Jewelry the Collection of Barbara Berger, published by Assouline,  Barbara has a beautifully photographed accompaniment to the exhibition. I purchased a signed copy of the book at the exhibit and it is indeed a visual feast.

Cover jewelry by Daniel Von Weinberger, 2008-9.PHOTO CREDIT: © Pablo Esteva

During her talk at Mad on Thursday, she and the rest of the panel involved, including Harrice, illuminated the history of the collection and how it was organized.  Harrice’s story of how costume jewelry, as a phrase, was born through Hobe’s relationship with costume design/film was interesting. “It was jewelry for the costumes, made for Florenz Ziegfeld”  she said.  Barbara also painted a colorful story of her life through jewelry.  Many of her friends, interesting comrades, and fellow jewelry lovers were present. Designers whose jewelry is in the exhibition Iradj Mioni, David Mandel and Robert Sorrell were counted among the attendees.  Iradj and Robert were very interesting to talk to in their own right and I can see why Barbara counts them among friends.  It was clear the designers themselves are important to her, as she included living and contemporary makers in the exhibit. The show represents around 80 designers.  She wore stunning large Iradj earrings and one of her own designs in the form of a brooch pictured below, as she talked to the audience. 

Barbara Berger, left with me before the discussion, image Sarara Vintage
Chanel piece from the Mad Museum exhibit. Berger collection. Sarara Vintage image.

Barbara’s credo spoken at the talk was to mix fine with costume jewelry and to try to always wear earrings. “Ears are a very sexy part of a woman’s body”.   She mused about the hunt, the creation of her collection, and the genius of Miriam Haskell. 

Frank Hess, Miriam Haskell 1954.PHOTO CREDIT: © Pablo Esteva

                                                                   The Exhibit:

Entry way image, contemporary designer body armor style necklace. Sarara Vintage image.
William DeLillo necklace, vintage 1969. From the exhibit. Image Sarara Vintage.
Exhibit entrance, displays. Sarara Vintage, rights reserved.
Pucci by Coppola e Toppo necklaces, 1960s. Sarara Vintage image.

My impression from the beginning was that they created a jewelry show that relayed the history and passion of costume and fashion. The displays were so well done, hanging examples in cases allowed one to see the pieces from all angles, large necklaces were hand knotted onto plum backdrops and hung seamlessly, cases allowed the pieces to be viewed without distraction or clutter.  There were even drawers full, a bonus selection to look through so to speak, covered in lucite cases. I do want to make it clear that the pieces in the drawer are not part of Barbara’s collection, which was also mentioned to me at the talk as well.  They belong to the museum’s permanent collection just to keep it clear as you view them. 

1960s Pierre Cardin and Paco Rabanne examples. Barbara Berger collection, MAD museum.
Valentino, 1970s. Made by Coppola e Toppo. Exhibit example. Sarara Vintage image.
Stunning 1920s-30s examples. Barbara Berger Collection. Sarara Vintage image.
1980s Chanel pendant, one of my favorite pieces. Sarara Vintage image, right reserved.
Miriam Haskell. Barbara Berger Collection. Sarara Vintage image.
David Mandel, 2000. Necklace detail. From exhibit. Sarara Vintage image.
Paco Rabanne, vintage necklace 1980s-90s. Barbara Berger exhibit.
Chanel section at the exhibit, various Maison Gripoix for Chanel examples featured.
Maggy Rouff, 50s-60s. Made by Maison Gripoix. Another favorite of mine from the exhibit. Sarara Vintage image.
Maison Gripoix, 2000. PHOTO CREDIT: © Pablo Esteva

I hope you enjoyed the exclusive images from inside the event and quotes by Barbara from her talk. I hope to finish up an interview with her at a future date, when she is back from her travels. Stay tuned as I’ll repost another article if that comes to fruition.  My advice if you are captivated by the images and depth of the show presented here, would be to take a boat, plane, carriage, walk no run to the show before it closes.   I have included various examples not in the text, and there are many others in both the text and exhibit still to see. The exhibit is truly a break from the mundane into a fantasy world of paste stones, cut glass and beyond. Follow me on instagram to see even more images from the show and a slew of designer and couture jewelry as they come into the shop




MAD Museum press release and information:


Fashion Jewelry: The Collection of Barbara Berger will be an eye-opening presentation of necklaces, bracelets, and earrings, many of them one-of-a-kind, drawn from the world-renowned collection of Barbara Berger. Featured designers include Kenneth Jay Lane, Lanvin, Missoni, Oscar de la Renta and Pucci. The exhibition will be on view at the Museum of Arts and Design from June 25 through September 22, 2013 (a portion of the exhibition will remain open until January 20, 2014).

Fashion Jewelry: The Collection of Barbara Berger is organized by David McFadden, William and Mildred Lasdon Chief Curator at the Museum of Arts and Design, in collaboration with jewelry historian Harrice Simons Miller, as guest curator.

Support for Fashion Jewelry: The Collection of Barbara Berger generously provided by Miriam Haskell, with additional support from KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, the official airline of MAD.

PUBLICATION

The exhibition is accompanied by a lavishly illustrated publication on the Berger collection published by Assouline in 2013 titled Fashion Jewelry: The Collection of Barbara Berger. The book includes forewords by Pamela Golbin and Iris Apfel and an essay on the history of fashion jewelry in the Berger Collection by Harrice Miller.

*** ORIGINALLY Published 7/11/13- part of the archives transferred from our original blog site.