How Judith Leiber Created Her Famous Bags

Designers across the world have created stunning bags over the years, some more iconic than others. One designer has certainly left her mark on the fashion industry with her luxurious designs. Designed with gorgeous stones and quirky designs, Judith Leiber’s designs have made the brand a household name in the world of fashion. Her bedazzled handbags are some of the most coveted items because of their distinctive design and the craftsmanship that goes into creating them.

But how did Judith Leiber become such an important name in the fashion industry and how did her handbags become so iconic?

The Beginning of the Designer

Judith Leiber was named Judith Peto and was raised in Budapest, Hungary. Before she went to college, her father realized that imminent war would make Budapest an unsafe place for her and decided to send her to London so she could pursue her studies in chemistry to prepare for a career in cosmetics. The following summer when Judith visited her family, the war had already begun and made it impossible for her to go back to London. So to escape the war, Judith decided to work for Pessl, a Hungarian handbag company. This is the place where she learnt how to mould and cut leather, how to make patterns, and how to frame and stitch handbags. Judith became the first woman to graduate from a journeyman to a master craftswoman.

Soon, the war intensified and Judith and her family had to move into a one-bedroom apartment with 25 other people. In the last months of the war, Judith and her family were moved to the ghetto where they lived in a cellar with 60 people. This was when she decided to create handbags as a way to escape from the war and enter a whole new world. Soon enough, the Soviet forces defeated the Nazis and Judith and her family were able to go back home in 1945.

In 1947, Judith met American-born Gerson Leiber. The couple fell in love, got married, and moved to New York in 1947 to begin a new life.

Judith Leiber Ritz Fizz Evening Clutch

Judith Leiber started working at Nettie Rosenstein, designing bags and slowly moving up the ranks. Her major success at the company was when Mamie Eisenhower wore the bag she designed to match Rosenstein’s gown at the presidential inauguration. After that, many First Ladies’ were seen wearing Judith Leiber handbags at the presidential inauguration.

The Beginning of the Label

Judith was with Rosenstein for 12 years when she decided to leave the company and form her own handbag company in 1963. She started creating women’s bags and accessories and soon gained popularity among the rich and famous. Judith has designed over 3,500 bags in her lifetime. From leather bags to suede bags, she gained attention in the fashion circle because of the jewels that were featured. She created iconic jeweled fashion pieces, which made her one of the most respected and admired designers in the fashion industry.

The 1967 Chatelaine design, Judith’s favourite bag, was created. It was the first metal bag she created. This iconic design stemmed from a mistake when she saw the metal samples had a greenish tinge and decided to fix the mistake with rhinestone application. This marked the beginning of the famous Leiber jewel-encrusted bags.

Judith never sketched any of her designs because she believed in simple yet stunning bags. Her bags were designed when she felt inspired by an event in her life and went straight to realizing it in actual material. One of her favourite designs is the penguin bag upon the return of her friend from the Arctic. Other iconic bags include the Peppermint Candy bag, Hot Air Balloon bag, Elephant bag, Watermelon bag, and more.

Photo credit – Everett Collection / Shutterstock.com

Judith was also the first handbag designer to win the Lifetime Achievement award (1993) from the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). The last time Judith designed a bag was in 2004. This bag was a breathtaking blue-green peacock minaudiãre. After this, she sold her company to London’s Time Products. The company is currently owned by Authentic Brands Group and still sell Leiber-inspired handbags to Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman.

Judith Leiber may have stopped designing bags and sold her company, but her legacy still lives on in The Leiber Collection Museum that was opened in 2005. Her intricate and gorgeous designs are what took over the world of fashion. The greatest quality about Judith was her desire to stand out and this strongly reflected in her designs. Her passion to design incredible handbags in the most stunning designs is what makes her one of the most inspirational handbag designers the fashion world has known.

Swati Talwar

Global Content and India Office Head

Seasoned lover of the written word. Travel junkie and Hogwarts alumni. Currently composing notes for the upcoming fashion week. You can also call me Licorne Magique (don't ask me why!).

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