10 Minutes with: Judith Leiber - Neiman Marcus

10 Minutes with: Judith Leiber

Neiman Marcus

December 23, 2015

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There are handbags that we’re happy to have on our arm, and then there are bags we would never hide away in our closets even when we’re not carrying them. The whimsical works of art by Judith Leiber definitely fall into the latter category. We caught up with Creative Director Jana Matheson to get the scoop on the inspiration behind each creation and more.

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NM: When we think of Judith Leiber, we think of the bejeweled, statement-making conversation-starters and that elevated whimsy we love here at NM. From where do you draw your inspiration?

JM: Inspiration comes from anywhere—from art to fashion to what girls are wearing on the street now. Pretty combinations of color in a painting can catch my attention, or a gorgeous flower arrangement. Sitting in an outdoor café people-watching, you never know what you’re going to see. Sometimes it can trigger an entire thought process that translates into a bag.

NM: How do you select different shapes, animals, and colors? Is there a certain method or routine that you use?

JM: There is absolutely no specific routine. It takes anywhere between a year and two years to have a novelty come to fruition. From concept to creation, it’s a lengthy process. It starts with a sculpture that we design from a sketch in the New York studio. We have a sculptor who’s been working with the brand for many years, and he works in the U.S. and Russia. In Russia he renovates and repairs the sculptures in old churches, and then he comes here and works on minaudiéres with me. Then they go to Italy where the brass minaudiére is formed from a factory that’s been working with the brand for over 60 years. It’s a long-term relationship that Mrs. Leiber had, and they know everything that we’ve ever done and have an archive of every brass minaudiére we’ve ever made.

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NM: There is a lot of tradition with Judith Leiber. How does that influence and impact the brand, and how do you keep those traditions alive?

JM: Our heritage is alive and well in our brand. It’s very much part of our DNA. The First Ladies were obviously Mrs. Leiber’s very important clients, and she worked on bespoke products for clients.

NM: What was it about Judith Leiber that really drew you to the brand to become creative director?

JM: As a designer, Mrs. Leiber was absolutely notorious throughout Italy, where I was working. Everybody knew about her and admired her craftsmanship and the way that she worked. Her reputation in Europe and her incredible eye for detail and how she used the same craftsmen for many years preceded her, so she’s a legend in that region. It’s really a designer’s dream to be able to work in a house where you know that there is such a heritage and such a level to reach with the products and the quality. Mrs. Leiber was so innovative with everything she did. She really was never afraid to push the envelope with her designs and the materials she used. She was always inventive and willing to take risks, and I think that that’s a great legacy to work within.

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NM: Can you tell us a little bit about the current collection and what’s coming down the pipeline?

JM: The next collection you’ll be seeing will be Resort in the Spring. It’s a really fun, whimsical combination of sweets. It’s candies; it’s ice-cream cones. It’s a really quirky, whimsical, fun collection that speaks to some of the other sweets we’ve had in the past.

NM: What is one of your must-have items of Judith Leiber for the holidays that you would recommend?

JM: We have a full range of resin minaudiéres called the Specchio Box, and they’re just beautiful – each one can go casual or very formal.

NM: Could you describe the woman to whom you would gift a Judith Leiber bag?

JM: We have an incredible range. Any gal of any age who is fashionable and courageous and wants to start a conversation.

NM: As Judith Leiber is such an essential brand that has many collectors, what is your favorite aspect of designing for customers who do covet these bags and really treasure them?

JM: I love meeting collectors and customers who are just passionate about what we do. I think that what we do really evokes an emotional reaction. It’s more than just a handbag; it’s often a meaningful piece that they keep in their closet. It marks a special occasion or something personal to them, and I like that what I do really triggers the personal emotional moments.

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