Judith Peto was born in Budapest, Hungary, where she and her family survived World War II and the Holocaust. In 1946 she married Gerson Leiber, a Brooklyn-born American soldier serving in Budapest, and returned with him to the United States the following year. (He later became well known as an artist of the New York school.) She spent the next sixteen years working for several handbag companies, moving up the ladder from machine operator to designer, before she and her husband founded Judith Leiber, Inc., in 1963. The company became highly successful, and Mrs. Leiber's bags were avidly sought after by a growing list of clients. They sold the company in 1993, with Mrs. Leiber remaining as president and chief designer for several years thereafter; later she became a consultant to the company. She retired in 1998.
Judith Leiber, Handbag Designer
Judith Leiber's name is synonymous with a particular type of evening bag known as a minaudière. Minaudières (the name comes from a French word that means "to be charming") are small evening bags made of metal or other rigid materials and that usually have highly decorated or bejeweled surfaces. They often are fanciful or whimsical in design and can take the form of plants, animals, or trompe l'oeil objects. Minaudières, which first appeared as fashion accessories in the 1930s, have been made by a number of designers, but Judith Leiber is by far the best-known designer and manufacturer in the field. Her company has produced minaudières in hundreds of different designs, usually in very limited editions.
Famous Tomato Purse
One of Leiber's best known designs is a bag in the shape of a ripe, red tomato, covered with thousands of hand-set red and green crystals. Each bag is handcrafted and requires several days to complete. A model is sculpted in wax and then cast in metal using the ciré-perdu process. The bag is then gold-plated, painted with a surface design, and covered with rhinestones, crystals, or other hand-set, faux gemstones. Other typical designs have included a white, pearl-beaded teddy bear, a slice of watermelon, and a variety of eggs.
Though Judith Leiber is best known for minaudières, she has also designed and produced a wide range of other luxurious bags. She is well known to her wealthy clientele for both day bags and evening bags, fashioned in alligator and other leathers, as well as in velvet, silk, and other fabrics, and often graced with crystal-encrusted metal handles and closures. Minaudières and other handbags by Judith Leiber are avidly collected by connoisseurs. They have been widely imitated and counterfeited, but the craftsmanship and art of the originals remain unmistakable.
See also Handbags and Purses.
Nemy, Enid. Judith Leiber: The Artful Handbag. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995.
Judith Leiber. Website 2004. Available from http://www.judithleiber.com/.