Judith Leiber: The Queen of Clutches

Whenever we hear the name “Judith Leiber” we tend to instantly think about movies or television shows featuring Upper East Side socialites carrying around their favorite crystallized duck bag to parties and showing them off to their friends. We also might revert to memories of the hottest celebrities wearing one of the many different versions as they walk down the red carpet and pose for pictures, as they promote the newest movie they are being featured in. All in all, the Leiber bag has become known as an iconic symbol, representing wealth, class, power and style.

Although, if we look deeper into the history of the designer, Judith Leiber, and the legacy of her brand, we can see that she is so much more than the sparkling Swarovski ®crystal adorned clutches that she has become famous for. She is a mastermind of creating an evening bag that sets the standard in which all other clutches are measured against, and yearn to be. Each bag stands out for their high standards in craftsmanship and ultimate design expertise. They are all unique, yet powerful in appearance, as they command attention and much more than a second glance.

Everyone who has the chance to own—or even just get their hands on one of Judith Leiber’s handbags can instantly take note of the impact that they have. "Judith has always understood that a fashion accessory can express many things simultaneously - sophistication, cultural wit, reverence, style and humor. Almost single-handedly, she has advanced the artistic possibilities of the handbag," says Stacey Schmidt, Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

While Coco Chanel is remembered for the “little black dress” and Christian Louboutin is known for his red lacquered bottomed heels, Judith Leiber is known for her clutches that have played a key role in the fashion industry. You know you have made it in the world whenever your handbag collection features a Leiber.

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5 Who is Judith Leiber?

Judith Leiber was born in Hungary in 1921 with aspirations of becoming a designer. She worked very hard all her life, and succeeded at becoming the very first female apprentice and master in the Hungarian Handbag Guild. In her early adult life, World War II broke out and she survived in hiding, only to be lead into a whirlwind romance, meeting her husband, an American soldier. They met on the streets of Budapest as soon as the city was liberated, and married shortly after.

Moving with her new husband to the United States, she worked her way through the handbag industry, first as a pattern maker then as a foreman. After years of working for others, she broke away and launched her own handbag company in 1963 with tremendous support of her husband.

4 How The Brand Began

When the Judith Leiber brand began in 1963, it started out with just Judith herself designing all of the wonderful handbags and putting them into production, while her husband helped by making all of the deliveries to the department stores that were carrying them. Talk about working together! Once the company grew beyond what her and her husband could handle, they added their first factory, which housed four employees. Judith worked alongside each one, teaching them her style and expertise

Judith’s thoughts on the experience: "There was such a sense of camaraderie, with all of us working together, producing these handbags. I made my first line in a gray/green calf which was not that well received. Nevertheless, I was determined to make my bags as beautiful and as well as I could and not to compromise. I have never swerved from that goal. Never."

3 The Legacy of Judith Leiber

With so many fashionably pieces on the market that are being mass produced all over the world, and truly not worth the price that we are dishing out for them, Judith Leiber sets herself apart her company. Each and every piece that is sold by Judith Leiber is made by hand, as well as is produced in the United States. This is a design aspect that is so hard to come by these days and greatly appreciated by her devoted fans.

Her pristine beaded minaudiere style was actually discovered by accident, as the gold metal frame arrived to her factory tarnished during the first year of production back in 1963. With an order in her hand on a tight deadline, she did not have time to send the pieces back to Italy where they were made and be able to fill the order in time. Working under pressure, she instantly came up with the idea of covering the already renowned handbags in thousands of crystal, to hide the flaws. The outcome of her creation was beautiful, and was widely received by everyone so much so that she decided to move forward with the design and make it part of her regular collections and never look back!

2 Creating the Bags

Each Judith Leiber bag is very tedious and time consuming to create, but each bag uphold very high standards by the design team and is truly worth every penny of the high price tag that accompanied each clutch. Every beaded bag takes a period of at least two years in order to design and five days to execute by hand. Each and every crystal is picked up using a tool crafted from a wooden stick with beeswax at the end and then intricately glued onto the handbag that has a design drawn out on it. It is not unusual for one handbag to be covered with upwards of thirteen thousand Swarovski ®crystals.

1 The Iconic Handbags of Judith Leiber

From the beginning, Judith Leiber has drawn attention from a very elite clientele—the extremely rich. She has become a household name in many homes and creates pieces that women covet and collect over their lifetime. Since her first bag was created, there have been many bags produced that people are able to look at an instantly and know that it was designed by Mrs. Leiber herself.

Fruit Clutches

The notorious fruit clutches come in a variety of glistening fruit, covered in crystals. They aren’t your typical handbag, but we already know that a Judith Leiber is anything but ordinary.

Animal Clutches

These are of an eccentric variety as well, designed to resemble various animals dazzling in Swarovski® crystals. Either way, they have held a special place in our hearts season after season!

Overall, the talent and pure skill of Judith Leiber was recognized by many from the very beginning, unlike many designers who strive to be noticed for many years. After only six short years in business, she was awarded the Swarovski Great Designer Award, and was then given the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers in 1994, one of the most prestigious of them all. She sadly retired in 1998, but her company Judith Leiber LLC has carried on and continues to capture new audiences and innovate customers from all over the world. She is truly an inspiration for any struggling designer to give it all to your craft, not be afraid of challenges, and inventive ways to get over hurdles just might be your big break!

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