At Wildlife Gala, Ladies Go Wild for Judith Leiber Minaudieres
At the Wildlife Conservation Society's black-tie gala last week, the accessory of choice was a minaudiere -- that's the tiny gem of a purse, fanciful and impractical (pronounced me-no-dyear -- the term is of French origin) -- from Judith Leiber.
This designer has been a longtime favorite, for charity ball goers, and a few First Ladies, too. But it was unusual to have so many of the crystal-laden purses -- which sell for roughly $3,000 to $7,000 -- out on the same night. We counted more than 20. Why so many? The cause of the evening, protecting wildlife around the world, certainly had something to do it: traditionally, many women dress to the theme, wearing zebra and leopard prints, and animal-shaped handbags -- frogs, fish, birds, lions, and cats -- were the perfect accessory. (Indeed, the collection seems designed specifically for this event!) But the Judith Leiber company also fixed the odds: as a sponsor of the event, Judith Leiber's New York boutique on Madison Avenue lent bags for the evening to many guests.
"It's fantastic, and just right for me," the chairwoman of the event, Allison Maher Stern, said of her purse in the shape of a snow leopard -- a nod to the new exhibit of snow leopards at the Central Park Zoo, where the event was held. The exhibit, which opened to the public the day after the party, is named after Ms. Stern, a Wildlife Conservation Society trustee.
Amy Attas, a veterinarian, wore a mallard duck minaudiere, leaving two pug-dog minaudieres, as well as her two pugs, at home. Elyse Kellerman, a wildlife photographer and WCS trustee, picked a dragonfly because she raises butterflies.
"First, it's a piece of jewelry. You don't need to wear jewelry with it. Next it's an expression of your personality," Ann Unterberg, who wore a lady bug minaudiere, said. "And third, It fits just what you need: lipstick and money. You leave your cell at home because you're out to have a good time not talk on your cell."
Dayssi Olarte de Kanavos did fit her her Blackberry in her giraffe-skin clutch. "I won't wear a purse if it can't fit my Blackberry," she said, before turning back to her 100-mile meal catered by Great Performances.
Muffie Potter Aston wore a butterfly minaudiere, apparently a match for her personality. "People have been pointing to it and laughing, saying 'You're a social butterfly,'" Ms. Potter Aston said. She is also a collector of Judith Leiber bags, having first fallen in love with her mother's. "I love that there's a sense of humor to the bags. I have one that's a stack of books. They're fun, beautiful, and the detail is exquisite -- someone went blind making this," Ms. Potter Aston said.
Jamee Gregory, a contributing editor at Elle Decor, picked a minaudiere that matched her coral and turquoise Oscar de la Renta cocktail dress. "I love the they're little enough to fit in your hand and just fantastic enough to make a statement," Ms. Gregory said. "They're happy and magical and festive."
A dolphin-shaped minaudiere looked like it would be unwieldly to hold, but Deborah Bancroft said her hand fit "perfectly under his tummy." And "he" made a good date. "He's the real star of the night," she said, recounting her dolphin's encounter with one of the live animals at Central Park Zoo, a lizard named Willard. "Willard put out his toungue and then he put his mouth around him. I think he thought it was a sparkling mouse!"
Shari Rollins was happy with her date (her husband Ed Rollins, a Republican strategist). But she liked holding her minaudiere, a fish named Dora, for the night. "She's got great personality and spunk," Ms. Rollins said.
Georgette Mosbacher, the president and chief executive of cosmetics brand Borghese, wore a vintage Judith Leiber featuring a lion. "It's 30 years old. I bought it at the Beverly Hills Hotel. There's nothing like it -- It's an objet. I've never seen a handbag that has so much character," Ms. Mosbacher said.
Ms. Mosbacher is right to hold on to hers. Judith Leiber minaudieres are collectibles that appear on the block at fine auction houses. They are also in the design collections of The Victoria and Albert Museum in London, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The Smithsonian Institute in Washington, The Houston Museum of Fine Arts, and the Los Angeles Museum of Art.
Check out the photo gallery of the socials modelling their minaudieres. (Love that word! Though I'd be self-conscious speak it in conversation. It comes from a French verb meaning to simper (to laugh frivolously), which is a fairly apt origin for a party purse.) Luxist also has an earlier post on the bags here.
Many thanks to Julie Skarratt, who took the photos in this piece with three exceptions; you can find more of her work on her blog, where she posts about her adventures shooting everything from parties, weddings, portraits, and rabbits. And if you want to see the exceptions, and some more photos, check out the album I maintain while covering New York's social whirl, here.