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My Kingdom for a Purse

Handbags and milestones

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Purse from the author’s bat mitzvah.(Beverly Newhouse)

Last week, Lucette Lagnado—Wall Street Journal reporter and, as I’ve said before, brilliant memoirist—filed a terrific report on famed designer Judith Leiber’s plans to buy back her own handbags for a museum she’s building in the Hamptons. In true Lagnado style, the piece was one part news and two parts zeitgeist-y illumination—in this case, a window into the surprisingly meaningful implications of a fashion item beloved by women of a certain age, socioeconomic class, and maybe even ethnicity:

Lori Shabtai, a New York commercial real estate executive, says she bought her first Leiber as a bride-to-be 29 years ago, and since then, her ritual is purchasing at least one Judith Leiber a year. She associates each with a special occasion: her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, where she carried a beige snakeskin; a black clutch with large crystals was for a big date.

“Judith Leiber has been through all of that with us,” says Ms. Shabtai.

To highlight the generational gap, Lagnado also quoted a 26-year-old fashion writer named Jessica Misener musing snarkily about the silliness of Leiber’s trademark bags, which have manifested as peacocks, tomatoes, Fabergé eggs, Socks the White House cat, and more. But Leiber also offered other, less organically-inspired creations—simple animal-skin bags, in muted colors, topped with delicately jeweled clasps and spare chains.

My mother had two of these, and, as with Shabtai, for her they have life-cycle associations: The first bag, a black snakeskin pouch, was purchased before my sister’s wedding; the second, a beige clutch with a pale pink quartz clasp, my mother bought for herself before my bat mitzvah. And so, as I read the piece, I realized I maintained my own affection for Leiber’s kooky totes—a feeling that, depressingly, punted me out of Misener’s generation and into … my mother’s?

Not even, it seems. When I called my mother to commiserate about those unsentimental young people, I didn’t get quite the response I was looking for. “I’d sell mine!” she exclaimed, upon which she promptly matriculated from a decade of refusing to learn how to use her cellphone and texted me pictures of her two Leiber bags, along with a message: “Ask Judith if she wants these back!”

I was stunned. Forget about my sister—it’s every daughter for herself here—didn’t she have any nostalgia for my bat mitzvah?

“Alana,” she said, wearily, “I don’t have the dress I wore that day anymore, and I certainly don’t have the weight I lost.”

She added, “It’s just a pocketbook, honey.”

Purse Pursuit: Designer Embarks on a Shopping Spree to Bag Her Own Bags [WSJ]

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I thought Lieber only made stupid minaudieres! I remember on Sex & the City (TV show, not movies, feh) when Mr Big gave Carrie the little duck-shaped Lieber and she was squealing about it, I was all, “Ugh, no WAY would any actual fashionista like that thing — that is an OLD LADY BAG.” But your mom’s bags are adorable — the one with the pink quartz closure in particular is to die for.

I love Judith Leiber bags. They are works of art and oh so wonderful. Not that I own any (college tuitions and a mortgage come to mind), but I would sure love to go to that museum.

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Thanks for this article. I’d personally also like to state that it can become hard while you are in school and simply starting out to establish a long credit standing. There are many scholars who are merely trying to live and have an extended or positive credit history can be a difficult factor to have.

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My Kingdom for a Purse

Handbags and milestones

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