RAM Remembers Judith and Gerson Leiber

We are saddened to announce the death of internationally recognized handbag designer Judith Leiber at her home in East Hampton, New York on April 28 at the age of 97. Mrs. Leiber died just hours after the death of her husband of 72 years, the painter, printmaker, and sculptor, Gerson Leiber who also died at their home. They both died of natural causes and were buried together on April 30. Mrs. Leiber has been affiliated with RAM since 2004 when we hosted the only Midwest venue of the popular 2002 traveling retrospective of her work organized by the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. 

Judith Leiber’s name became synonymous with high style and the red carpet for her crystal-encrusted handmade metal evening bags, created in whimsical shapes, which were frequently seen in the company of celebrities from all fields. Leiber bags were also carried by numerous first ladies to their husbands’ inaugural galas, beginning with Mamie Eisenhower. With a zest for life and a sense of humor, Mrs. Leiber designed bags devoted to every subject and topic imaginable. Her works are represented in numerous museum collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution, and in RAM’s art to wear collection. People collect Leiber bags as works of art and frequently display them accordingly in their homes.

The Leibers were a tight-knit couple who built complementary careers—he, as an American-born artist and she, a Hungarian native who narrowly evaded the Holocaust. Mrs. Leiber eventually rose to receive most of the fashion industry’s major prizes. She created five collections a year and completed about 100 designs, most of which were included in her show at RAM. She said she was inspired by paintings, historic artifacts, and nature. Mr. Leiber was also a noted landscape designer who turned their property on Long Island into a much-sought-after spot for anyone seriously interested in studying formal gardens.  

In 2008, they opened the Leiber Collection on their Long Island property. The gallery they built has housed exhibitions of both their work and that of other artists. Mr. Leiber’s work can be found in many museum collections including that of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and the Whitney Museum. 

While Judith Leiber was famed for her gold-plated hard-case evening bags (minaudières), she excelled at fitting leather, a skill readily displayed in her beautifully detailed daytime bags. All of her work is incredibly well-crafted and was made in her atelier in the US. Mrs. Leiber served as her firm’s “Inspector 12.” No bag left the floor without being personally inspected by her, until the Leibers sold their business in 1993. For many years, Mr. Leiber would deliver his wife’s bags, picking up each order late in the day and carrying the boxes to the appropriate department store on a New York City transit bus. These two, who initially met on the street in Budapest where Mr. Leiber was stationed at the end of World War II, were indeed, kindred spirits. In recent years, both Leibers were honored with retrospective exhibitions in New York and we join in honoring their accomplishments and contributions to the fields of fine art and fashion.

For more about her career, please read:

Article in The New York Times

Article in Vogue

Article in Harper’s Bazaar