Wednesday, October 21, 2009


The Legend of the Minaudiere: by Polly Guerin, Fashion Historian

Everybody knows that accessories make an outfit, and it seems you can never have too many evening bags, especially a Minaudiere. The French word describes an elegant but small, highly jeweled hard metal case that one can nestle in their hand. These charming little handfuls are more an art form than anything else and placed on the dinner table or worn at a gala event these minaudieres look like portable art. "Bubbles," the late Beverly Sills had hundreds of them and mostly as gifts or bought from Judith Leiber the famed handbag designer who produced animal, avant-garde and whimsical shapes all jeweled and emblazoned with eye popping colorful Sahworski crystals. Among Bubbles' collection, auctioned at Doyle, were a Doctor's Bag Minaudiere, A Shell Minaudiere, an Elephant Deity Minaudiere and a wide assortment of Faberge Egg Minaudieres. Minaudiere in its original sense was a charming way to describe a coquette, a person with affected manners.
Contemporary minaudieres are just that coquettish but their incarnation is ascribed by Deborah Chase, in her book, "Terms of Adornment," The Ultimate Guide to Accessories (HarperCollins), as having been created by Van Cleef and Arpels in 1930 when Charles Arpels noticed that one of his clients was using a metal Lucky Strike box as a purse. He adapted the look and named it after the wife of his partner, Estelle Van Cleef, who was "minaudiere" (charming). At first minaudieres were made of gold plated or silver metal and encrusted with genuine gems, but the look was too delicious to remain exclusive. Within a decade you could find the dainty purse on female arms throughout America. Imitatators of the iconic jewled minaudere cover designs with colored rhinestones, which is how Judith Leiber's minauderes started in the first place. In a Women's Wear Daily, trade newspaper interview Leiber said,"I was making metal bags, but they were getting tarnished. To cover it, we put each rhinestone on with a flat back and a little glue." However, if one wants to have the 'real thing,' Deborah Chase recommends that "You look for vintage mother-of-pearl, petit point, or beaded minaudieres in flea markets and antique stores and to modernize the minaudiere change the short wrist strap for a long chain so that you can hang the small bag from your shoulder."
Mad about a certain book cover? Your own, of course! Have it immortalized on a square-shaped minaudiere. That's the concept behind a magical new line of limited edition minaudieres by Paris-based, Olympia Le-Tan, evoking first-edition covers of 21 classics. The collection is handmade in France, using canvas, embroidered flet applique and silk thread, with a brass strictire. Each minaudiere book retails for $l,500 and the boutique Colette is the exclusive Paris distributor for the collection. 213 Rue Saint-Honore, 7500l; +33-1-55-35-33-90.
Terry Mayer, jewelry designer, takes it one step further and creates book miniatures in silver or another alloy, and imprints the title of a book on the cover so you can wear the little jewelry book on a chain, front and center.
At age 88, Judith Leiber is still enthralled about handbags. She reflects on her life and career in accessories in a new self-published book by Jeffrey Sussman, "No Mere Bagatelles," Telling the Story of Handbag Genius Judith Leiber & her Modernist Artist husband, Gerson Leiber.

Bio: Polly Guerin's first job in journalism was as Accessories Editor at the fashion bible, the trade newspaper Women's Wear Daily where she honed her skills on writing about accessories and later as professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology she lectured on Product Knowledge explained how accessories were made and manufactured. Polly is also a vice-president of Romance Writers of America/New York Chapter. Visit her at with links to her Internet PollyTalk column and blog

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