The Ghosts of Christmas Past

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The Kemerer Museum in Historic Bethlehem, PA.

Christmas is in the rear-view window, but the warm and fuzzy feelings remain. January is a wonderful time to explore all the things you did not have time to do in December. I have discovered several amazing places, including a museum show of an outstanding handbag collection. Handbags have many fans and signify different things to different people; sometimes status, sometimes membership within a certain group. They can flaunt your sense of humor, style, or aspirations.

The museum exhibition covers all the bases, while the other place I visited offers a luxury service that will free up your closet space all while pampering you, your clothes and accessories (yes, really!) It might just be the best place to stash some of your possessions to make room for all those wonderful Christmas gifts you just received!

The Kemerer Museum collection contains many Hermes bags.

The Kemerer Museum in Historic Bethlehem is featuring a bag lover’s dream. Ilene Hochberg Wood  is the owner of the bags. They are her passion, and only a small fraction of the over 3,000 bags she owns is exhibited here. “Purseonality” is a fascinating cross-section of the wide world of handbags.

Now, of course there are Hermes bags. Ilene used to feel that her husband was spending a bit too much on her when he bought her Hermes pieces, but she has since come to realize that they are an excellent investment. The red crocodile Kelly Bag, worth somewhere around $100,000 today, is probably the most valuable piece. But the small canvas and leather Hermes bag on the right (above) is pretty special, and one that I wouldn’t mind carrying.

Unexpected Hermes and Vuitton bags.

The collection features inexpensive bags and also is so inclusive that there is an interesting representation of “fake” bags. The above bags are not. The Hermes Herbag was introduced in the 1980s. It resembles the Kelly, but it’s a bag that multi-tasks. The canvas body can be removed from the leather top, and replaced with a different color of canvas. A new model called the Herbag Zip is waiting for you at Hermes. Ms. Hochberg Wood loves the LV bag in Epi at the back because it is a modern version of a 1960’s cutout handle bag, and because it is not like the other Vuitton bags shown in the museum.

Old and new Vuitton bags.

There are some pretty amazing Vuitton pieces. Marc Jacobs introduced Vuitton to the idea of artistic collaborations, and the 2017 Jeff Koons Mona Lisa bag was one of many the artist has done for the brand. Richard Prince and Murakami have also done collaborations.  The red one is a Sac Triangle, and was originally designed to hold your knitting. The Speedy is covered in graffiti. It’s a real Vuitton bag found in Korea. A local artist bought it and covered it in raised paint, adding his touch to the piece.

There is a wonderful mix brands and styles.

Women wear bags to make a statement, allowing some of us to be intentionally wacky or to further express a different aspect of our personality. The Balenciaga graffiti bag is a signature of the brand. Delvaux’s take on graffiti, part of its L’Humour Brillant collection, is inspired by a Magritte. Prada is represented by a silver handled bag from the early 2000s. Gucci’s 85th anniversary was celebrated with many limited edition bags; the Briddle Bit Hobo shown here is one of them.

Mark cross bags have an interesting back story.

The black travel case is a Mark Cross Rear Window bag. The firm made the bag specifically for the Hitchcock movie, and it was designed by Max Holzman. This case is from the ’50s, just like the film. The bi-color bag at the back is one Mr. Holzman designed for his own label, prior to working for Mark Cross. His bag continued to sell into the early ’60s.The tan Grace bag is more recent, and remains popular.

Needlepoint bags have endured.

Needlepoint goes in and out of fashion. The pieces here are unique. The Bon Voyage bag at the back is a very early Judith Leiber bag, and looks nothing like any of her well known minaudieres. The reindeer travelling satchel is from the 19th century. The one that is the most amusing, and shows why the collection is so interesting, is a bag that someone in America made in the shape of a Speedy (but the creator needlepointed what must be her initials in place of the LV logo).

Iconic pieces from Anne Marie of Paris.

Anne-Marie is a mythic Parisienne hand bag creator. Her boutique was in one of the grand hotels in the city. VIP guests often got a bag as a gift, and other patrons commissioned bags. The “piano bag” has keys, the “cocktail bar” bag has a miniature rail and small bottles of booze, while another bag is an ice bucket full of lucite ice cubes and an ice tong as does the “Champage bucket” bag.  These bags were designed as collectors items and have remained so, inspiring many other handbag designers.

Vintage pieces from Cartier with signature details.

Cartier incorporates their signature jewelry styles into the design of the bags. The Trinity bag at top left has the interlocking three colors of gold echoing their famous ring. Plus another with jewels added on to the front. And then there is a wonderful bag with a Panthere “bracelet” handle.  A jeweled  Mermaid decorates another chic bag.

Party bags with a sense of humor.

Drinks bags have been popular for decades.  The Kate Spade champagne bucket bag is a pop-ish version of the Ann Marie bags from the ’40s. The Fallen Angels bag is a modern Lulu Guinness piece, and is in the spirit of bags from decades before.

Lighthearted themed game pieces.

There are many bags celebrating games: Vegas, Bingo and a tiny tin bag with the Mets logo and baseballs. Ms. Hochberg Wood finds bags everywhere from flea markets to the Rue St. Honore, with online, local markets and yard sales thrown in. The collection is wide ranging and reflects her curiosity  and taste.

Calling all bag lovers.

There are themed Telephone bags. The Dallas Telephone bags actually still works and can be plugged into old-style outlets.  Unhappily they are not internet connected, nor will they work on high speed connections. The pretty bag on the right is covered with miniature coiled phone cords.

Metal accents make these pop.

The big safety pin hand bag was made by Inber, a NYC manufacturer, in the mid ’50s. It has a fun and surreal vibe. The smaller one is amusing, too. The jeweled bag was created in a “Martha Stewart” moment by Ms. Hochberg Wood. She had a metal bag covered in velvet that she decorated, or rather blanketed, with various vintage pieces. It’s a weighty bag! In fact, it’s so heavy it could deliver a knockout punch.

What’s a collection without some Warhols?

All of these bags were designed by Philip Treacy, the extremely creative hat designer to the Royals as well as fashionistas and style icons. While not well known for his bags, he should be. The images are approved by the Warhol Foundation, mixing art and commerce. Andy would approve.

Some celebrate travel.

Bags with travel themes are a fun part of the collection. Balloons, lists of cities and suggestions in needlepoint are only some of the many travel bags on display.

Spectacular plastic basket bags.

These are some of the incredible mixed media mid century plastic bags created by the artist O.E.L. Graves. He was an artist who had designed planes during WWII. He was known for watercolors, paintings and sculptures. His clients included movie stars and moguls. He worked in Palm Springs, and the bags were signed to the client O.E.L Graves Palm Springs. They are all one of a kind in more ways than one.

Wooden bags come in many shapes and themes.

Bags in wood tend to be carved or shaped by hand. The two nude torso bags on the right were made circa 2000 by Timmy Woods, who works out of L.A. The long clutch is Ports 1961, and made of of very thin wood. The Love bag is lovely.

A Roosevelt Bassett house bag.

One of the most intriguing bags in the exhibit was made by Russel Bassett. A native of South Carolina, he ended up in Philadelphia, homeless. He used the skills he was taught at home and in the one room schoolhouse he attended, all the girls learned to use a hammer and a saw, and the boys learned how to sew. He scavenged his materials from construction sites and made wooden folk art bags, all lined in fabric he sewed himself. The pieces were sold in a shoe repair shop and a cart at the Philadelphia Airport. He was the subject of a documentary, and died in October 2019. The bags all come with a small booklet explaining his art. Hermes or Mr. Bassett? I would love to see the rest of the collection, as I think I have gotten hooked on handbags.

Visitors are toured through by a docent. You can book through the website, but the tours are frequent so you can drop in. Check out the hours before you go.

Kermerer Museum of Decorative Arts, 427 N. New Street, Bethlehem. Through April 30, 2020. PA.

Garde Robe is a camp for clothing.

Maybe you don’t have as many bags as Ilene Hochberg Wood does, but if your closet is still overflowing with bags and many other things that you love, you can pamper them, and yourself, with this singular service.  It’s time you met Garde Robe. The company is located in a vast space that cares for your belongings in a pristine, climate controlled space. They will pick up whatever you want to store, from couture to your children’s outgrown clothing that you just can’t part with. You name it and they lovingly take care of it. Pick ups and drop offs are arranged, and your belongings land here and are refreshed and relaxed.

A professional photography studio in the facility.

There are professional photography studios, with a professional photographer who documents each piece that comes into the facility. Every piece that comes in is sent to one of the best cleaners, shoemaker or bag care specialist in the city, if needed. If it needs to be repaired, that is done too. Clothing is hand steamed and cosseted. You can send things seasonally, or whenever you want.

Your clothing is carefully cataloged.

After the clothing is photographed, it is entered into a database where your items are sorted and organized. Many fashion professionals store their collection archives here as they know their samples will be getting museum-like care and attention.

Everything shows up on an App.

They are all catalogued on your own personal Garde Robe digital look book that shows you by category what you own. You create lists of what you want delivered to your home, and voila, it appears. Once you are in the system, it’s the same for pickups.

Acres of storage space for clothing.

After your clothing is cleaned and steamed, it’s all put into garment bags where nothing is crushed and mashed together. Your wardrobe is basically in suspended animation, protected and labeled and waiting for you to bring it back home.

There is a separate photography studio for accessories.

All accessories are photographed and cataloged as well. Shoes, bags, belts, scarves, hats …

Shoes and boots get their own space.

… and other accessories, all safely stored in labeled boxes and shelves.

There are tools to identify every fabric and fur.

The caretakers are often fashion trained. They keep charts like this one for fur, so they can double check that everything is correctly labeled.

Evening gowns waiting to be archived.

Clothing and accessories are always coming and going. Keep your gowns and white or black tie outfits here, and a few days before the benefits and galas you will be attending, Garde Robe will pull the dress, dresses or suits you need for the next few days or weeks and whisk them to you, and then bring them back to the facility be stored.

Clothing waiting to go back home or to go somewhere.

Do you travel a lot? Garde Robe makes it easy. You can send a request and have it delivered to you, you can pack it, or better yet, you can store your luggage there (and they will pack it for you). They will actually deliver it to your destination, or second or third home, be it in the United States, Aspen, Palm Beach etc., or internationally to London, Paris, Davos, St. Barth or to your jet sitting at Teteboro.

Luggage waiting to be unpacked.

And of course, once everything is back in New York, it goes back to Garde Robe where it is all put back in its safe and protected storage space. If you want to make your life easier and more organized this year, treat yourself and your family to a clothing concierge.

Barbara Hodes is the owner of NYC Private Shopping Tour, offering customized tours in New York and Brooklyn

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