A Brief History of the Evening Clutch and the Designers Who Make Them

The red carpet staple, popularized by Hollywood in the '20s and '30s, is finding new life from these up-and-coming labels.
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Maria Bobila
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The red carpet staple, popularized by Hollywood in the '20s and '30s, is finding new life from these up-and-coming labels.
Actress Emmanuelle Chriqui carrying Edie Parker at the 22nd Annual Elle Women in Hollywood Awards in Los Angeles. Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images

Actress Emmanuelle Chriqui carrying Edie Parker at the 22nd Annual Elle Women in Hollywood Awards in Los Angeles. Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images

What red carpet is without a parade of evening clutches? The evening accessory has been the norm since the 1920s and 1930s, when Hollywood starlets and socialites began to show a preference for handheld structured bags at special events. "Nobody wanted anything off of their shoulder or arm because it took away from the silhouette of the clothing," explains Ellen Goldstein-Lynch, professor and founder the Accessories Design Department at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Stylist Micaela Erlanger, whose clients include Lupita Nyong'o and Meryl Streep, says that such an accessory can punctuate or compliment a look, much like jewelry.

The evening clutch also goes by minaudière, a fancy name patented by Van Cleef & Arpels. The luxury jeweler designed its own minaudière in 1930, inspired by Florence Gould, an American socialite and patron of the arts, who carried her belongings in a metal cigarette case (specifically, Lucky Strike). Other competitive brands (Tiffany & Co., Cartier, Chaumet) followed with their own renditions, but these companies don't regularly make them today. In fact, the speciality handbag factories that produced these types of clutches, in materials like lacquer, bakelite and metal, have long been out of business, which is partly why the few designers who still do make them offer their collections at such high prices.

With limited manufacturers, most specialty clutch designers turn to artisans to make their designs. Nathalie Trad and her namesake label, for example, take a minimum of two weeks to make a minaudière. The process includes hand-picking shells (paua blue, mother-of-pearl and black lip) specific to certain tones and variations. The clutches produced by Kristine Johannes's label, Rauwolf, range in price from $990 to $3,000. "There are 80 pieces to one of our clutches and they get pieced together like a jigsaw,” says Johannes, who works with a manufacturer in Italy. "It's time-consuming. You respect that there's an amazing artisanal hand."

Designers from J.Crew to Alexander McQueen offer their own minaudière here and there, but what sets this small but growing group of designers apart is that they offer an entire collection — sometimes up to four a year — focused solely on this type of accessory. "I had a great awareness of the luxury accessory market," says Brett Heyman, who founded Edie Parker in 2010 after years of doing high-fashion PR for Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana. "It was clear to me that nobody focused on evening as a product category. Aside from a heritage brand like Judith Leiber, it was always an afterthought." 

Though clutches and minaudières continue to occupy a niche in the accessories marketplace, they are also making their way from strictly evening staples to everyday accessories, thanks, in part, to their popularity with the street style set during fashion month. Below, we've highlighted established and up-and-coming names who are pushing for the rise of the evening bag.

Judith Leiber

Judith Leiber 'Hot Air Balloon' clutch for spring 2016 ($4,995). Photo: Judith Leiber

Judith Leiber 'Hot Air Balloon' clutch for spring 2016 ($4,995). Photo: Judith Leiber

Jana Matheson joined the Judith Leiber brand as vice president and creative director in 2011 after elevating the accessories category for brands like Badgley Mischka and Banana Republic. "I've always loved Judith Leiber and aspired to be her in general," she says. "She was an innovator as well as a tastemaker in the evening bag department." Judith Leiber founded her namesake label in 1963, designing evening bags for the First Ladies and the inaugural ball, including Mamie Eisenhower, Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush. A few years later, Leiber covered her structured clutches with crystals — a fluke decision to cover up a mistake on a sample. She offered these novelty items — shaped in unexpected forms, such as an Arabian horse, a polka-dotted pig and a tiny cello — to the mass market, and the quirky conversation starter has become a coveted Leiber icon. (Most recently, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus and Blake Lively have walked the red carpet with a crystallized cupcake, unicorn and Japanese koi fish, respectively.) Matheson continues Judith Leiber's legacy today by innovating the brand's collections with new materials (exotic skins, resin and satin) and experimenting with hardware and construction. "The goal for me is to continue to make the evening bag approachable," she says. "Educating younger clients that you can change your bag when you go out. I see a tote bag in the evening and it makes me insane."

Edie Parker

Edie Parker bespoke 'Flavia' clutch ($1,995). Photo: Edie Parker

Edie Parker bespoke 'Flavia' clutch ($1,995). Photo: Edie Parker

Although Brett Heyman founded Edie Parker without any design experience, her love for design, vintage and fashion has helped her create one of the more recognizable clutches in the market. Heyman prides herself on producing clutches made from acrylic that's handmade in the US using techniques from the '60s. The acrylic is poured into sheets at a factory in New Jersey, then shipped to Illinois to be fabricated into the clutches you see on retail shelves. "We've worked with them since we started. Trying to make something that no one had made in 50 years was difficult," remembers Heyman. After her first season, she started experimenting with laser-cutting and customized a clutch with her first name. "It looked awesome, so I made them for my friends Giovanna Battaglia and Anna Dello Russo" — just as the two were on the brink of becoming street style famous, she says. By 2012, Heyman launched a bespoke collection for customers, and the service has been seen on the red carpet as well, including Taylor Swift's bespoke "Bad Blood" clutch. In 2014, Heyman's playful purses earned her a finalist spot for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund.

Nathalie Trad

Nathalie Trad 'Murray' clutch for spring 2016 ($1,550). Photo: Nathalie Trad

Nathalie Trad 'Murray' clutch for spring 2016 ($1,550). Photo: Nathalie Trad

Designer Nathalie Trad studied in Paris and New York before she moved back to Dubai to start her namesake label in 2013. Working on accessory sketches from the back of her mother's flower shop, Trad noticed a vase made from shells on display. After calling the vase's manufacturer, Trad packed up her drawings and traveled to the Philippines to create the prototypes for her first collection. Shells still play a large part in Trad's choice of materials, although she continues to experiment with metal and wood. While designing, she constantly finds herself inspired by three themes: architecture, geometry and art deco. "When you're making clutches, there's room to make it special," says Trad. "I want them to be like jewelry — and maybe pass on to your daughter, like an heirloom." Now that she's made waves in the Middle East, Trad is focused on expanding her retail presence in Europe and the US.

Kotur

Kotur 'Simone Merrick' clutch for pre-spring 2016 ($995). Photo: Kotur

Kotur 'Simone Merrick' clutch for pre-spring 2016 ($995). Photo: Kotur

When Fiona Kotur Marin's family made the move to Hong Kong in 2002, she felt it was the perfect time to launch her own line. Two years later she founded Kotur, and although the label has expanded to offer footwear and handbags, retailers and celebrities still favor the brand's signature clutches and minaudières. "My incredibly well-dressed mother has always carried them and I admired how they completed an outfit," says Kotur. "Studying art and jewelry, I adore Art Deco and gold and jeweled minaudières from Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels. I try to create modern and less formal interpretations." Her most modern interpretation yet is the #getsmartbag, a minaudière that's sized to fit, snap and carry your iPhone.

Rauwolf

Rauwolf 'Constantinople' clutch for spring 2016 ($1,980). Photo: Rauwolf

Rauwolf 'Constantinople' clutch for spring 2016 ($1,980). Photo: Rauwolf

With design stints at J.Crew and Devi Kroell, New York-based Kristine Johannes set out on her own to launch Rauwolf in 2012. While some designers pay homage to decades past with their collections, Johannes looks toward to the future. "As designers, there's a responsibility to really innovate," she says. "With simple materials you have to think about things and come up with new concepts and it's not a simple process. In the end, it's pretty satisfying." Upon visiting a Plexiglass factory in Italy, Johannes decided to produce her clutches from the common household material. One of them, titled the Brutalist, came from experimenting with pieces of briarwood, which she dyed and embedded into the Plexiglass. "The wood was prevalent in the 1960s for car dashboards and men's pipes. We had no idea that it was going to take the dye as strongly as it did. It was brilliant," she says. This year, Johannes launched a bridal collection and over the summer, Rauwolf was one of the 40 new members (along with Edie Parker) inducted into the CFDA.

Lee Savage

Lee Savage 'Broken Space' clutch for spring 2016 ($1,695). Photo: Lee Savage

Lee Savage 'Broken Space' clutch for spring 2016 ($1,695). Photo: Lee Savage

Lee Savage, who launched her namesake label in 2013, hails from an interior design background. And although the principles from that realm are easily applied to designing her high-end clutches in New York, Savage finds production to be her biggest hurdle yet. "I'm learning from the ground up and still learning a lot," she says. "I never manufactured a product line other than custom pieces here and there with interiors." So far, Savage has created clutches heavily inspired by modern art and architecture. They're made from metal-plated solid brass because it creates just-sharp-enough edges compared to most materials. "It was important for me to maintain that for the look of my brand," notes Savage, whose latest collections feature leather details and new metal treatments, such as powder-coating and spray-painting in punchy and pastel colors.

Serpui

Serpui 'Blair Garden' clutch for spring 2016 ($220). Photo: Fernando Freire and Renato Pagani/Serpui

Serpui 'Blair Garden' clutch for spring 2016 ($220). Photo: Fernando Freire and Renato Pagani/Serpui

Born and raised in São Paulo, Serpui Marie studied to be a biochemist. Having always admired her mother's gemstone collection, she switched career paths to create jewelry and design accessories for a local designer. Her line, named Serpui, was launched in 2000, and since then, the fashion flock have proven fans of the brand's staple material: Buriti straw, which comes from the tallest palm tree found in Brazil. "I started designing and developing big tote bags in corn straw, but as time went by, I decided to work with Buriti straw," says Serpui Marie. "When you weave Buriti straw together, they come out too delicate and fragile and they didn't keep an elegant shape." She started to construct hard molds to maintain the bag's silhouette, eventually opting to make small-size clutches. Serpui dyes the straw to add color, and also weaves in more straw to make images and patterns, which transforms the minaudière into a summer-friendly accessory.