My grandma likes to collect things: porcelain turtles, The Family Circus comic strips, cards from her 12 grandchildren, glass horses, golden statues of nude women, and Chiclets (the gum), just to name a few. But my favorite and perhaps most treasured pieces from all my grandma’s collections are her vintage designer handbags.
Grandma Jenny was born in Egypt in the 1930s, where her mother was an assistant buyer for an exclusive ladies’ shop in Cairo. Here, my grandma’s love of fashion began. In 1955, my grandma came to Boston, wanting to pursue her dreams as a fashion designer, and she instead ended up becoming a fashion collector. On her travels from Paris to New York to Milan, she began collecting designer handbags.
From Chanel card holders to the brand’s signature quilted bags, Gucci bucket bags to floral Fendi baguettes, Louis Vuitton monogrammed handbags to Bottega Veneta clutches, my grandma’s collection grew. “My bags are for certain outfits, not just to have. You buy a bag, and you know what to wear it with,” she tells me as we read the newspaper in her Palm Beach apartment. “You will have a collection, too, one day. You build it throughout your life.”
Of course, my collection is not nearly as impressive as my grandma’s, but it’s not supposed to be. There is no rush because building a collection that is timeless, well, takes time. My grandma has grown her collection over the course of her life, yet the individual handbags remain in style regardless of the times. And it’s her uniquely precise and fashionable curating that has led her to accumulate the collection that she has today.
Now, it’s 2021, and many of the bags are dispersed, gracing the arms and closets of her descendants. In Chicago, my mom is wearing a wine-colored quilted Chanel bag from the 1950s on a date with my dad. In Florida, my aunt’s toting a Judith Leiber gold alligator clutch as she goes out to dinner with her children and grandchildren. In New York, my whitish-blue monogrammed Louis Vuitton is slung over my wrist on my way to a work event.
My grandma may not have intended it, but her bags mean something to our family. No matter where we are, these are the bags that are pieces from her collection, and these are the bags that allow us to have a piece of my grandma wherever we go.
Keep scrolling to see photos of a few of my favorite vintage bags and similar styles available today.