Bags of Joy: A sneak peek at our beautiful new book ‘Handbags: The Making of a Museum’

Today we take a look at lovely new fashion book from Yale. Handbags: The Making of a Museum explores the role of the handbag in the history of culture, fashion and material production. The book also provides a fascinating account of the building and curating of a new handbag museum in Seoul, which opens this month. As advance copies have just arrived in the office, we thought we’d give you a sneak peek…

It’s always an exciting moment when advance copies of a new fashion book arrive at the Yale London office. In the past year we have published and distributed some really gorgeous books, including Savage Beauty (the Alexander McQueen exhibition catalogue from the Metropolitan Museum of Art), and it’s follow-up Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations. This Autumn season includes a similarly exciting collection of fashion titles, including a sumptuous new book on Ivy Style (recently previewed by blogger JP Gall) and now this, a comprehensive new book on handbags.

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.

Handbags: The Making of a Museum

An advance copy of ‘Handbags: The Making of a Museum’

The book features specially commissioned photographs of an extraordinary, newly formed collection of fashionable handbags that dates from the 16th century to the present day. As you can see, the book jacket (above) displays some of these pictures, but it’s impossible to convey the sheer level of variety that abounds within this book.  So let’s take a look.

Handbags from the early 19th century

Handbags from the early 19th century

The diverse collection has been acquired for the brand new Simone Handbag Museum (Seoul, South Korea). 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 also book 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’).

Pages from the 'Specimens' section, showing the insides of bags

Pages from the ‘Specimens’ section, showing the insides of bags

Handbags: The Making of a Museum has been compiled, edited and produced with an extremely high level of care and attention, much like the beautiful handbags contained within. More than your standard glossy fashion book, Handbags, which will be available next month, combines the fine photography of a contemporary fashion book, with the academic rigour and top-notch production values that Yale art books are known for.

Handbags: The Making of a Museum is available to pre-order now from Yale. The Simone Handbag Museum opens on July 19 2012.

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  • July 5, 2012


    Nice post We are backing towards history the best things we remember through this.

  • July 24, 2012


    Judith is a star,looks amazing!!!!! Andy (mdm)

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  • November 24, 2012

    Tod Deskin

    The function of the handbag in the history of culture, trend, and material production is explored alongside an account of the creating and curating of a handbag museum in Seoul, South Korea.

  • I discovered and browsed through this fabulous book in a well known London book store today…needless to say it is now at the top of my Christmas’s hoping..

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