FOR THE LOVE OF LEIBER
JUDITH LEIBER’S GLITTERING CREATIONS ARE THE ACCESSORIES OF CHOICE FOR HIP YOUNG THINGS AND ESTABLISHED DIVAS ALIKE.

Byline: Rose Apodaca Jones

Like Spago and Army Archerd, Judith Leiber’s jeweled minaudieres are an Oscar-time staple that keeps on going. The only thing that changes is who’s carrying them.
But the well-known and well-heeled Leiber aficionados who attend Tinseltown’s many award shows and premieres haven’t always topped the hip-young-things list.
It all changed when pop provocateur Bjork arrived at January’s Golden Globes dangling a crystal-covered Leiber owl from her wild Berhanrd Willhelm skirt (the one emblazoned with a sequined face of Michael Jackson). More Leibers followed — some sparkling, some satin — carried by Calista Flockhart, Laura Linney, even Jennifer Lopez.
At this month’s Screen Actor’s Guild Awards, Kate Hudson — this year’s It nominee among designers and stylists — brandished a solid gold minaudiere.
It was inevitable, perhaps, that the obsession over status handbags would lead a few maverick fashionistas to seek out new ways of one upping another by clutching the creations of a totally unexpected designer.
It also didn’t hurt that the 38-year-old company, bought last September by the Pegasus Apparel Group, sent in-house publicist Lisa Wells to showcase the collection to stylists and their famous clients for the third time, following the recent Globes and last year’s Oscars.
But the strategy to court a younger generation kicked in when Drusilla Plunkett signed on as creative director in 1999, following the founder’s retirement the previous year.
“With Judith leaving,” said chief executive officer Victor Lipko, “the challenge was to maintain a link with the past in the line. When I joined the company in 1996, Joan Collins was buying [Leiber in] Beverly Hills. Now, we have a younger fan. And you know, the more mature customers love to see young people carry a product.”
Jennifer Lopez, he pointed out, went with Leiber long before the recent award shows. “We didn’t give her the bag. She went out and bought four at Harrods last year.”
Plunkett is thrilled at the singer’s interest, particularly when she zeroed in on the owl — which got a second public viewing with Bjork cradling it to her face in a full-page photograph in April’s issue of “Talk.”
In fact, with the prototype gone, the artisans had to work off of images for production, laughs Plunkett, who employs contemporary locks and an expanded palette of Swarovski crystals in creating the 15 to 20 patterns and 8 to 10 bags released four times a year. She also combs the archives to bring back styles that resonate with a new season.
“It makes me feel really good that people more my age are responding to what I’m doing,” said the 34-year-old handbag veteran.
And, added Plunkett: “A lot of younger women are feeling secure in themselves and don’t want a basic black clutch.”
With a more accessible price starting at around $1,000 retail, the new interest has Lipko in negotiation with accessory licensees beyond handbags. He hopes to have the deals signed in time to launch them by next spring. He’s also keeping an eye on Los Angeles for a signature store. “With the right location, I’d be there in a heartbeat.”