It is said that in 1930, Charles Arpels of Van Cleef & Arpels saw society lady Frances Gould, wife of wealthy philanthropist Frank Jay Gould, had hastily thrown her accessories into a tin cigarette case so she could join him for a meeting…and the minaudière was born. Arpels named the revolutionary accessory for his wife; minaudière is the French term for smiling coyly and Madame Arpels was famous for the habit. This vanity case took the form of a small gold or silver box that opens to reveal several compartments for a lady’s essentials, such as a comb, lipstick and mirror. For decades, women carried them in custom-made fabric pouches. The invention of the exquisitely bedazzled Leiber minaudiere, which functions as both purse and case, was another happy accident. Leiber noticed that another bag she was designing was poorly gold-plated so she put on rhinestones to cover up the flaws and the bag became a hit with customers.
The unchallenged queen of minaudières, legendary handbag designer Judith Leiber herself designed over 3000 bags and in the 1980s, all the minaudiere rhinestones were painstakingly handset. A symbol of timeless elegance, Leiber minaudières continue to be staples at black tie society events. Every First Lady dating back to 1953 (excepting the present one) has carried a Leiber bag to the Presidential Inauguration.
Whimsical and wonderfully elaborate, often taking the form of animals such as the rabbit above, Leiber minaudières reside in the permanent collections of The Smithsonian, The Victoria & Albert Musueum in London, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Leiber trained as a handbag maker in her native Budapest and emigrated to New York in 1947, where she and her husband founded the company that redefined accessories. Leiber sold the company in 1993 but Judith Leiber Inc. LLC remains staunch to the spirit of its creator. See the exquisite 2012 Judith Leiber Minaudière Collection here. Treasures & Pleasures Gallery can be contacted regarding these and other vintage Leiber minaudières here.