Red carpet stunners and First Ladies carry them. Shilpa Shetty loves them, so do Mumbai and Delhi’s social butterflies. Judith Leiber’s handcrafted, crystallized handbags are part of permanent design collections in museums around the world, including London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Anna Marshall: Anna Marshall, vice-president retail, Judith Leiber.
Anna Marshall, vice-president retail, who was in Mumbai recently, says Indian women love the company’s novelty bags which come in innovative shapes ranging from apples and animals, to Ganeshas. Edited excerpts from an interview:
What are the 2010 collections like?
The Birdcage new novelty bag for spring. Everything was pretty much fantasy-based, designed around birds and wings and in flight. We did butterflies in a few colour waves and also the Seashell. It’s about being whimsical with beautiful tones and bright colours. Then we always do a darker, more intense version of some of the bags, so we have the novelties in darker colour schemes as well.
Fall Winter is based around the pagoda; it’s a Japanese theme. So the Pagoda is the novelty bag, and we also have a lot of red, gold and red lacquer. We also replicated something that Mrs Leiber did in the past. We purchased vintage obis (Japanese kimono sashes), made them into handbags and hand-crystallized them. They’re absolutely stunning. One obi can only make four-seven handbags. They’re one of a kind, depending on how the fabric can be cut. They were very well received, we showed them in Paris and the buyers went crazy.
What response have you received from the Indian market?
We opened in the DLF Emporio mall in New Delhi about a year ago, and the product was very well received. In Mumbai (at a recent Leiber event), 40 women RSVP’d and 70 showed up. And we sold an awful lot of bags. Our product is handmade, they’re almost like a piece of jewellery. The Indian consumer appreciates that. It’s not disposable luxury; it’s something you keep forever, and then hand down to your children. So I think the Indian consumers identify with that, as beautiful things are made in this country and they know quality and luxury.
Leiber Monogram: A bag from the relaunched Monogram collection.
At the Mumbai event, we focused on the Monogram program. It was very well received; we took a lot of orders on the Monogram as well as the new novelty pieces. Indian women are really gravitating towards the whimsical, fun pieces, and also to the exotic leathers. They like the ability to customize their own initials, it makes it more personal, and also being able to order it in a colour they like, not the same colour that everybody else has.
Personalized luxury has been a buzzword in luxury for a while now. What is the attraction?
Well, it’s personal, it’s yours. Customization has such an enormous appeal nowadays. People don’t want what everybody else has, they want something that’s special for them. We’ve had the Monogram program till recently in the past. We’ve relaunched it with additional styles. It was so successful that we wanted to offer more. In the past we had only two colour combinations—jet on rhinestone or rhinestone on jet. But there was such a demand for personalization. For instance, I love yellow and I’d rather have a yellow bag with black letters; maybe not everybody would order a yellow bag. So we expanded on the colours.
Which bags have been most popular with Indian women?
Our novelty handbags are what the women are looking for, as well as the exotics. Now that the importing laws have loosened up, we’ll be able to get a better read on how well received the exotics are. But they love Suneet Varma’s Jaipur palace bag. (Judith Leiber has a design collaboration with the Delhi-based designer). They’re very proud of their culture and monuments and (the success of the bag) shows how successful Suneet’s line was. Also very popular were the Ganesh and the wedding elephant, which featured in our Indian collection in the past.
We recently launched the Tiger and we sold two at the Mumbai event. That’s a great sign. Oh, and the Peacock, that was very popular, maybe because it is the national bird. Metallics such as gold or silver are very popular, because you either wear gold jewellery, or silver.
I met a woman in Mumbai who owns 61 Judith Leiber bags. And she only inherited 15 of them. But still, she inherited 15. I don’t think people get tired of them, it’s not trend-driven. They can make an outfit, like jewellery can.
How do you care for your handbags?
You have to be careful because they are quite precious. People do take care of them. I keep mine in bubble wrap and then in a dust cover. But the woman who has 61 bags actually keeps them in clear plastic so she can see which is which. And we always repair the bags when you drop them or something happens, as things do happen.
The Monogram bags are available at DLF Emporio, New Delhi; prices range from Rs95,000 to Rs1.96 lakh.