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The Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU Celebrates Handbag Visionary Judith Leiber


The Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU Celebrates Handbag Visionary Judith Leiber

Patricia Tortolani | February 17, 2020 | Culture Style & Beauty

See Judith Leiber: Master Craftsman at Miami’s Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU, opening March 3.

JLPortraitBags_Crop.jpgA portrait of Judith Leiber

Madonna, Beyoncé, Katie Perry, Sarah Jessica Parker, J-Lo and Blake Lively are just a handful of the A-list fans of Judith Leiber evening bags. The great, late designer of beloved animal- and food-themed minaudières made handbags go viral (on the red carpet and off) long before social media even existed.

In celebration of the museum’s 25th anniversary, Miami’s Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU will honor the Holocaust survivor-turned-mega-designer’s life, work and legacy via an exhibition entitled Judith Leiber: Master Craftsman.

Executive Director Susan Gladstone and curator Jacqueline Goldstein worked with The Leiber Collection to curate the stylish show, along with borrowing bags from the collections of some of South Florida’s chicest women. “Leiber’s work transcends fashion. Her bags are true objects of art,” says Gladstone.

The ornately beaded bags that will be on display (alongside photographs of Leiber and her work) date back to her first designs in the ’60s through 1993, when she sold the company to a private equity firm and later retired in 1998.

Born in 1921, Leiber was the first female apprentice and master in the Hungarian handbag guild. She survived the Holocaust by initially staying with her family and 25 others in a one-bedroom, then lived in a cramped cellar in a ghetto, with 60 other people.


The Judith Leiber Couture French Fries Rainbow Clutch bag, $5,695, at Neiman Marcus.

“This exhibition tells the story of a fearless woman ahead of her time. Her innovative minaudières continue to inspire designers the world over to think out of the
box, in this case the metal bag, and to stay strong and achieve their dreams, even in the case of extreme adversity,” says Goldstein.

After the war, Leiber met her husband, Gerson, an American soldier and abstract expressionist painter, in Budapest after the city was liberated. After moving to the United States, Leiber worked as a pattern maker and then foreman for several handbag companies until she formed her own company in 1963 with Gerson.

Among her many awards, Leiber received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the CFDA in 1994. Today, her handbags are included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Smithsonian Institution and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

“Her story of overcoming great struggle to become one of the world’s most renowned handbag designers is an inspiration to all,” adds Gladstone.

Photography by: courtesy of the Judith Leiber collection and Neiman Marcus Boca Raton