The Fashion Folk S01 ep1 : Victor Lipko, Judith Liber Bags, [New York]
Interview with Victor Lipko
Judith made beautiful products, and they lasted. She would go on a public appearance and a woman would come and say, Mrs. Leiber I bought this fifteen years ago, see how great it is. And she would says"It is time you bought another one!" Judith started making handbags on her own in 1963. She became a GI bride, came to the United States after the war and worked for the most prestigious Handbag Company at the time, which was Nettie Rosenstein. In fact Judith made Mamie Eisenhower's inaugural bag, with the Nettie Rosenstein label. Eventually she got tired of working for other people and in 1963 she hung out her own shingle.
Judith Leiber is probably one of the last luxury American manufacturers left.
KM – Would you describe it as a piece of jewellery or a piece of luggage?
It is a piece of jewellery. The techniques in terms the way the bags are made,
and there are two types. There is what we refer to as "cut and sewn" bags
which are hand stitched out of different materials using skins or embroideries
or you have bags that are set with Sworovski crystals, so they are all very,
very precious material bags.
Judith started making handbags on her own in 1963. She had originally started
making handbags during the war. In Hungary, Jews were not allowed to have
any kind of executive jobs. So she went to a factory, a handbag factory, and
Hungary at that time had its own guild and she learnt to make handbags there.
She became the first female craftsperson in Hungary and she became a GI
bride, came to the United States after the war. In fact she worked for the most
prestigious Handbag Company at the time, which was Nettie Rosenstein. In
fact Judith made Mamie Eisenhower's inaugural bag, with the Nettie
Rosenstein label. Eventually she got tired of working for other people and in
1963 she hung out her own shingle.
Judith was a genius. She did everything herself. She did costing, purchasing
KM – So she was really hands on?
When she left I bought in a young designer. She is 33 years old, she has had
experience both at the lower end of the design price point and the higher end
and she has been able to take things that Judith did and go into Judith's'
archives and work with colours that Judith would never have considered.
Swarovski who now are very, very involved in the fashion business had a very
limited colour palette when Judith was running the business, probably 7 or 8
colours, they now have 30 colours in terms of stones. So suddenly you can
take a crystal bag and paint a picture on it, in tones and semi tones, which you
could never do before. So suddenly it allows a much greater interpretation of
fashion with something, which before had limitations.
In the very beginning it felt like, oh my God what am I going to do, how are we
going to pull the collection together and first collection here for me we were on
an extremely tight timetable. And so you had to just jump in and go with your
gut and do it. And you know that is where… and certainly there is a
tremendous amount of help. You know you have been through the factory, you
have seen this wonderful sample room. The factory itself is fabulous and I
spend most of my time down there anyway, so it's really you know working
with the guys, is this going to work? This is my next idea, what do you think
about that? Talking to Freddie about the skins, I want to do this in Alligator,
you know is it too big, is it too small, do we have to seam it?
KM – The practicalities of it.
KM – Is it more like designing jewellery or more like designing fashion?
It is extremely technical. We are the last company, which really does what we
do. most handbags that you see today maybe have 6 to 8 different pieces in it
and ours have over 100 pieces to make the bag. Between the frame covers,
the locks, the hardware the chains, the gusset constructions, the interior
linings, the way that the whole bag is put together and this is just on the third
floor without not even going down to the beading factory. You really, you just
don't really design - oh I want a poofy drawstring. You are starting from the
KM – I like the way you said that. Poofy is that the same words that is used
You know I don't know everywhere else, for me it is a just, non-constructive
very soft bag and that is not what we do here. And there are a lot of very
technical people jumping in and saying that is not going to work.
KM – Really
KM – That is half the battle with great design anyway. Most of the fun is when
you take it to the workshop and the first thing they say is - my God we can't do
Sure, and then they can. And that is the process, which I actually really enjoy.
I think that the best part for me is the time down stairs. I mean that is the time
I enjoy the most.
Every single thing we make, we don't do first samples like most other people
do. The first sample is the finished sample that gets sold, so there is really no
room for playing around the first go around. It really needs to be pretty well
thought out on paper.
KM – So the first sample is basically a one off.
It is a final piece, Exactly, Exactly and then it goes on to other different
materials and then the patterns gets modified depending upon the different
skins you are going to make it out of and you go on from there.
KM – I didn't realise that you actually started with metal boxes.
KM – and then you build the bag from the metal box.
KM – I would have thought it would have been more a frame construction and
then you put panels rather than a firm construction!
There is two different.. We have three different types of boxes. There are
seamless ones that are more what you are saying where it is a form piece first
where it is a stamp. Some of them are stamp combinations with castings and
they are soldered together. Then there is the less expensive boxes but they
are soft sided where they are done in a double construction with a brass frame
and the aluminium sides which we pad and cover so there is that combination
as well. And those things all start from a spec drawing a technical drawing
where you are doing the dimensions and the size or a wax mould - if it is an
owl or penguin or something. It will start from an actual piece of sculpture of an
idea first and that gets put into…
KM – And then you send it to Italy to have…
And we send it to Italy and they do the stamping based on that and send it
back here and then we work out how we are going to do the lining. Because
you know you are lining a penguin, that is a whole thought process in itself and
then the painting and beading and the design part of it, is really the end part at
that stage of the game.
KM – So how long have you been doing this?
Here, 3 years.
KM – And was it a big headache to walk into something like this?
Well, when I was a buyer I was familiar with the product for many years on the
other side. So it was not like a complete….
KM – Were you dealing with Judith back in those days?
KM – And what was her reaction when she found out that you were going to be
By the time I got here she had already sold the company, she retired, she had
not been here in over a year.
KM – Does she come and bug you about things?
She doesn't bug me - no. She will come through, she will walk through the
factory occasionally and talk with the guys. She will talk to the framers, she will
see what is going on, she will go back to the sample room and check out what
is happening there, you know that type of thing. She is still there, she comes
less and less.
She made beautiful products, and they lasted. She would go on a public
appearance and a woman would come and say, Mrs. Leiber I bought this
fifteen years ago, see how great it is. And she says, “It is time you bought
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Victor Lipko, Judith Lieber Bags, New York