UNconventional: Judith Leiber
Take a look into the whimsical and imaginative design sensibilities of Judith Leiber, a pioneer in the world of luxury handbags known for her one-of-a-kind, crystal-encrusted minaudières.
UNconventional by FTC is a series exploring creators, designers and artists expressing unique, thought-provoking perspectives of socio-cultural and global significance through their craft. These creators stray away from the conventions and norms of everyday ideas and give them a new meaning through their otherworldly creativity.
Judith Leiber born Judit Petö, was a Hungarian-American fashion designer and businesswoman. Known for her phenomenal artistry, Judith Leiber’s iconic and legendary accessories have been celebrated worldwide for more than 50 years.
Born into a Hungarian-Jew household in Budapest, Leiber studied cosmetic chemistry at King’s College, London after which she worked as a trainee at a handbag company learning the craft of making patterns, cutting and molding leather along with the art of stitching and framing bags.
Leiber was the first woman that graduated from a trainee to a master craftswoman and went on to become the first woman ever to be admitted into the Hungarian Handbag Guild in Budapest. After leading a rather difficult life through the period of the Second World War, Leiber married a sergeant in the US Army and soon moved to New York, where she finally laid the foundation for her business.
Judith Leiber Couture is a pioneer in the world of luxury bags. Labelled as 'The Bag Lady of Park Avenue', the Leiber legacy is now being carried forward by creative director, Jana Matheson. Using whimsical and unconventional silhouettes, the eye-catching minaudieres feature the same crystal finish that is signature to the brand. Leiber's one-of-a-kind designs mostly gravitated towards a recurring theme of animals and food items such as dogs, pigs, peacock, fish, popcorn, watermelon, cupcakes, etc. to name a few, with some of her most expensive purses of the collection exceeding price tags of $7,000 (Rs. 5,14,605 approx.)
Judith Leiber became one of the most accredited and sought after designers for her unique handbags. Her designs are sold at exclusive boutiques all around the world and hold the value of several thousands of dollars. People also view her bags as a status symbol, and several influential individuals, including former First Ladies Hillary Clinton, Barbara Bush and Mamie Eisenhower, along with celebrity fashionistas like Katy Perry, Olivia Wilde can be seen flaunting pieces. Additionally, several wealthier women, namely Bernice Norman - an arts patron, owned close to 300 Leiber bags and valued them as invaluable collectibles.
In 1994, Leiber received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers. In 1973 she was presented with a Coty Award and in 1998, Leiber retired as a designer. In September 2008, she was rated one of the most prestigious luxury handbag brand by the New York based Luxury Institute, for 2 consecutive years. In 2010, Leiber received a Visionary Woman Award from Moore College of Art & Design.
The designers work has been recognised and rewarded by being collected at some of the most prestigious museums in the world, as well. Several of Leiber's designs are showcased as a part of permanent collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. In 2005, Leiber and her husband established the Leiber Museum, which was across the street from their home and displayed the exemplary bags along with some paintings by her husband. The Leiber archives hold every design the factory has produced since 1963.
With over 5000 unique designs, the designer has set the benchmark for impeccably crafted evening bags. Each individual piece takes up to 2 years from ideation to creation, using the finest materials and employing the most experienced technicians and skilled artisans. The designs feature nothing short of the best quality Australian leather, Austrian crystal, raw brass, sterling silver and 24 carat gold.
The design process takes place in the New York studio and is brought to life by a classically trained sculptor. The completed plastered model travels to Florence where it is refined and mimicked in brass and semi-precious stones, sourced from all over the world, are then used to decorate the designs and made to custom fit each bag.
Brass and white metal elements are polished and completed with the semi-precious stones, crystals and enamel and the model is scanned to create a 3D mould which is used to create steal stamps. Once the minaudière is assembled and polished, a final gold or silver plating bath finishes the coat and the first prototype is sent back to New York where the crystal artwork is meticulously crafted from an exquisite palette of over 130 colours of Austrian crystal. The details are painstakingly hand-painted - a process that takes about 3 days - and then covered in the crystals by one master artisan.
With a process that is as intricate as the final product, it is clear that the creations are closer to being an art piece than just another handbag accessory. A Judith Leiber bag is guaranteed to make a dramatic, glamorous and unforgettable impact on any occasion.