20th Century and Contemporary, Decorative Arts, Design, Fashion, Museums/Exhibits, Photography

Handbags: The Making of a Museum

Handbags: The Making of a Museum will cause much excitement among those who treasure these coveted objects, but as the author and curator Judith Clark explores, the history of the handbag – its design, how it has been made, used and worn – also reveals something essential about women’s lives lived over the last 500 years. Perhaps the most universal item of fashionable adornment, it can also be elusive, an object of desire, secrecy and even fear. Handbags explores these rich histories and multiple meanings.

The diverse collection has been acquired for the new Simone Handbag Museum (Seoul, South Korea), which opened in July. The collection is represented in its entirety in this book and displays handbags from across the ages: from ornate sweetmeat purses from 16th-century England, to modish (and at-times outrageous) contemporary designs. Believe it or not, the telephone bag below does actually function as a phone (although you need to plug it in to the wall as it predates mobile technology).

This ambitious project is a commission undertaken by experimental exhibition-maker Judith Clark, who is professor of fashion and museology at London College of Fashion. As well as the beautiful photographs of the collection, the book also contains an in-depth account of Clark’s innovative practices in turning this fascinating collection into the public exhibition.

To add to this truly comprehensive study of the handbag, the book features numerous essays by leading fashion historians and an acclaimed psychoanalyst, who investigate the history of gesture, the psychoanalysis of bags, and the museum’s state-of-the-art mannequins and archive cabinets.

The book concludes with a gallery of specimens, including of top-down images showing the insides of handbags. Finally, in order to preserve the words that describe the unique qualities of each bag, a glossary of handbags has been compiled, providing fascinating definitions for a lexicon of words, from the arcane (“aerophane”) to the essential (“zip”).

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