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Six Decades of Judith Leiber at MAD

By A. E. Colas, Contributing Writer, March 30, 2017

The Museum of Arts and Design presents Judith Leiber: Crafting a New York Story, a magnificent overview of an uncommon career in fashion and design. Judith Leiber began her life’s work in 1939, beginning as an apprentice patternmaker in the handbag trade. From that position she moved up the ranks to journeyman status and finally to the title of master, making her uniquely qualified to design and create a handbag from sketch to finished object. She worked at a variety of firms and factories in New York City then started her own company in 1963. She sold the company in 1993 and it continues to produce some of her most famous designs as well as new models. Even today, stores such as Bergdorf Goodman sell Judith Leiber bags and accessories to customers who know and appreciate the fine reputation of the company and its design aesthetic.

Original chatelaine with crystal rhinestones, 1967 by Judith Lieber; photo: Gary Mamay / courtesy the Leiber Collection

Original chatelaine with crystal rhinestones, 1967 by Judith Lieber; photo: Gary Mamay / courtesy the Leiber Collection.

From the beginning, her bags have had a devoted clientele captivated by her imagination and techniques. Many of the ideas, materials, and craftsmanship were innovative in nature, creating unique items of functionality and aesthetic beauty. By reimaging materials ranging from textiles to metals, she also pioneered the use of recycled materials and producing less waste while building a global brand.

Reembroidered Japanese obi frame bag with rhinestones, 1980s by Judith Lieber; photo: Gary Mamay / courtesy the Leiber Collection.

Reembroidered Japanese obi frame bag with rhinestones, 1980s by Judith Lieber;
photo: Gary Mamay / courtesy the Leiber Collection.

It’s no wonder that admirers of Leiber often have several of her bags as each one is more than an accessory; it is a work of art in itself. Institutions have collected her as well: the Metropolitan Museum of Art has 88 items in their collection and the Museum at FIT has over 40 examples. Other institutions with extensive Leiber holdings include the Smithsonian Institution and the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, VA. In total, Leiber has created over 3,500 designs during the course of her career. The Leiber Collection Museum, founded by herself and husband Gerson Leiber, the noted artist, is making every attempt to have the full range represented in the holdings. Located in East Hampton, New York, it is a repository of over 40 years of originality and beauty of two artists’ minds. There are also works collected from around the world and a stunning five acre garden that visitors can explore.

Asparagus minaudière with rhinestones, 1996 by Judith Lieber; photo: Gary Mamay / courtesy the Leiber Collection

Asparagus minaudière with rhinestones, 1996 by Judith Leiber; photo: Gary Mamay / courtesy the Leiber Collection

The Judith Leiber: Crafting a New York Story exhibit at MAD will display the range of materials, shapes, and craft involved in luxury handbag manufacture. It also considers the position of the handbag as accessory and object of gender identity in the 20th century. Furthermore, the groundbreaking accomplishments of a woman owned business in the American fashion industry will examined and discussed.

Beverly Sills and Mary Tyler Moore holding Judith Lieber bags at an event; courtesy of Judith Lieber.

Beverly Sills and Mary Tyler Moore holding Judith Leiber bags; courtesy of Judith Leiber.

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The exhibit runs from April 4 — August 8, 2017 at the Museum of Arts and Design, located at 2 Columbus Circle in Manhattan, across the street from the Time Warner Center. For more information click here.

Judith Lieber; courtesy of Judith Lieber.

Judith Lieber; courtesy of Judith Lieber.

 

Cover: Sonia Delauney envelope in multicolored karung and calf, 1990; photo: Gary Mamay / courtesy of the Leiber Collection


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