Entrepreneurism Meets Elegance

by Jim Weaver, Images provided courtesy of the Taubman Museum of Art

Courtesy of Handmade Business

Nearly every First Lady since 1953 has carried a custom made Leiber handbag to the U.S. Presidential Inauguration. Her brand is synonymous with elegance, style, and sophistication; and each product is executed with meticulous attention to detail and flawless hand-craftsmanship.

Judith Leiber (born Judith Peto in 1921) realized early on there was a market for high-end luxury handbags and began designing ones that were not just functional, but extraordinarily beautiful works of craft art. Soon, women who loved beautiful things (and could afford them) began buying and collecting Leiber bags.

Camel Minuadiere

Snow Owl Minuadiere

As a teenage Jewish girl in Budapest, Hungary, Leiber studied the craft of handbag making and was the first woman member of the Hungarian Craft Guild of Handbag Makers. She escaped Nazi persecution during World War II and later met and married American soldier, Gerson Leiber. The couple immigrated to the United States in 1948 and came to New York City where she found work with several handbag manufacturers until beginning her own business in 1963.

Leiber tells a story of ordering a metal handbag as a gift to a friend. When it arrived, the metal was scratched and there was little time to replace it, so she covered the handbag with sparkling crystals and created an exquisite, unique gift. The crystal handbag would become iconic among her many designs.

In 1994, Leiber received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers.

She sold her business in 1998 and retired with her artist husband to Springs, New York. The Leiber Museum located there has many examples of her designs. For more information, visit www.leibermuseum.org.

Sold at exclusive boutiques around the world, Leiber handbags cost several thousand dollars and have become a status symbol for many women. There are four Judith Leiber boutiques in the United States, located in Las Vegas (2 locations), Orange County, and New York City.

Classic examples of her work can be found on permanent display at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Humpty Dumpty Handbag