GERSON AND JUDITH LEIBER
THE SEASONS OF THEIR LIVES – A LOVING TRIBUTE TO THE ARTISTIC COUPLE: Special Thanks to the Leiber Collection and Ann Fristoe Stewart, Director and Curator
Their story began in Budapest, in the spring of 1945. Judith, who had grown up in an elegant Hungarian-Jewish family, had survived the Holocaust after many hardships. Gerson was a U.S. Army radio operator, who hailed from a small town in Pennsylvania and arrived in Budapest to assist in Eastern Europe’s liberation. The two met serendipitously, fell in love, and eventually left for New York with big dreams. Their love of culture and art was mutual, which led them to accomplish great things together.
“It was our promised land,” remembers Judith of her arrival in New York with Gerson, in 1947. “Though we were motivated by a shared desire to be successful, we were driven by sheer fear,” Gerson adds. “It gave us each a tremendous impetus to reach our goals.”
Along with her treasured tools of the trade, Judith took with her the skills of a master craftsperson which were immediately sought after at the top fashion houses, including for Nettie Rosenstein of LBD (little black dress) fame. Over the coming decades, Judith’s career soared as she designed handbags with exotic skins, sea shells, colorful leathers, gems, and other unique materials.
She later came to invent her signature style of imaginative bejeweled minaudières (evening purses) in whimsical shapes of animals, flowers, fruit – a cornucopia representing every season! Judith produced over 3,500 designs. First ladies Mamie Eisenhower and Nancy Reagan, and Hollywood stars from Liz Taylor to Jennifer Lopez have carried her handbags. Judith described her craft and mission eloquently – “I design the shading and highlighting so that every crystal counts. It’s the way to make it perfect.” Not just for the rich and famous, her purses are cherished for special occasions and even passed down as heirlooms. Judith Leiber originals are collected like artworks.
In addition to running their fashion empire, Gerson Leiber pursued his ambitions of being a fine artist, resulting in having his work collected by over sixty museums. As seen in this exhibition, he used the garden of their East Hampton house, where he had his studio, as his inspiration – a type of horticultural muse.
This special mini-exhibition of seasonal handbags honors the accomplishments and unique love story of this creative couple, who both passed away within hours of each other at age 97 in 2018, after 72 years of marriage. Many of the examples shown reveal their inspiration from the seasons in nature, especially themes of animals, fruit, vegetables, flowers and seashells.
Experience the Leiber legacy with a visit to their sculpture garden and elegant museum, in the Springs hamlet of East Hampton. For more information, visit their website at www.leibercollection.com.