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Judith Leiber

American, 1921-2018

When it comes to handbags, no designer can compete with Judith Leiber’s (1921–2018) ability to create magic using opulent crystals and wildly imaginative and playful shapes. The Hungarian-born designer made minaudières (small, decorative handbags, often without handles or a strap) in the form of crystal-covered swans, cupcakes, lipstick, wads of cash, teddy bears and other delightful objects. These dazzling objets d’art have been regularly seen in the hands of First Ladies, movie stars on the red carpet and even in the prestigious collections of institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Like many pathbreaking inventions in the history of design, Leiber’s minaudières were the result of a happy accident. In 1967, she began working on her first metal handbag. The piece in question was named the Chatelaine, and the design was a graceful drop-shaped purse in gold-tinted metal. But when the samples came in, Leiber saw that the bottom of the bag looked greenish and discolored as a result of the plating process. She had the ingenious idea of applying crystal rhinestones to the base to cover up the flaws. The dazzling bag was a huge success and would become her trademark.

Born Judith Peto in Budapest, Leiber overcame many hardships before her breakthrough. At the start of World War II, she was working at the Pessl handbag company in Budapest where she quickly climbed the ranks to become a master craftswoman. When the war escalated, she and her Jewish family were forced by the Nazis to live in a cellar of a ghetto, and several of her relatives were killed in concentration camps. “I designed handbags in my head to get through the misery,” she said. After the liberation of Budapest, she married Gerson “Gus” Leiber, an American GI, and moved to New York. In 1948, she began working for the fashion house Nettie Rosenstein. One of her first major pieces was the handbag embroidered with glittering rhinestones and pearls carried by Mamie Eisenhower at the 1953 inaugural ball. In 1963, she finally set up her own company.

Leiber’s whimsical designs embellished with Swarovski crystals and semiprecious stones defied traditional notions of luxury handbags. She also created striking clutches and bags with leather and fine textiles from around the world. In her 65-year career, she designed over 3,500 bags, which have been worn by First Ladies including Nancy Reagan and Laura Bush, pop icons like Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez and celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Kris Jenner (who collects Leiber’s handbags). In 2005, the Leiber Collection Museum opened in East Hampton, New York, as a permanent space to showcase her work. The minaudières remain coveted objects celebrated worldwide for their eclectic beauty and glamorous charm.

The value of a good handbag cannot be overstated — find a collection of vintage Judith Leiber handbags and other fashion accessories today on 1stDibs.

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Creator:Judith Leiber
Judith Leiber Silver, Red, Swarovski Crystal Ball Minaudiere, Evening Bag
By Judith Leiber
Located in Vero Beach, FL
Vintage Judith Leiber Swarovski Crystal Ball Minaudiere, Evening Bag This dazzling silver Swarovski ball evening bag is accented in red crystals and detailed with clear crystals on ...
Category

1980s Italian Modern Vintage Judith Leiber

Materials

Crystal

Judith Leiber Hardshell Purse/Handbag
By Judith Leiber
Located in West Palm Beach, FL
Great form, signed inside.
Category

1960s American Vintage Judith Leiber

Materials

Brass

Judith Leiber Vintage Taupe Lizard Evening Bag with Original Dust Bag and Box
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A Judith Leiber 1980's Vintage Taupe Lizard evening bag with a Gold-tone Knot clasp, metal trim and hinge and a tuck-away lizard strap. Interior zippered compartment and side pocket....
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1980s American American Classical Vintage Judith Leiber

Materials

Metal

Judith Leiber Oversize Snakeskin Buckle Pocketbook
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Extra-large Judith Leiber quilted snakeskin pocketbook with two long shoulder straps and buckle Front Design, in pristine condition with box and felt cover.
Category

20th Century American Mid-Century Modern Judith Leiber

Materials

Animal Skin, Leather

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Judith Leiber furniture for sale on 1stDibs

Judith Leiber furniture is available for sale on 1stDibs. These distinctive objects are frequently made of metal and designed with extraordinary care. There are many options to choose from in our collection of Judith Leiber furniture, although brown editions of this piece are particularly popular. In-stock we have 5 vintage editions of these items, while there is also 0 modern edition to choose from. Judith Leiber's original furniture was created in the mid-century modern style in the United States during the 20th century. If you are looking for additional options, many customers also consider furniture from Sottsass Associati, Visionaire and Herb Ritts. The prices for Judith Leiber furniture can vary depending on size, time period and other attributes. The price for these items starts at $450 and tops out at $3,200, while pieces like these can sell for $850 on average..