Thomaï Serdari on Fine Arts & Luxury
Beyond Vanity
Minaudière by CHANEL, ca. 2012. Courtesy of Chanel.

Minaudière by CHANEL, ca. 2012. Courtesy of Chanel.

The minaudière, a term coined by Estelle Arpels (wife of Alfred van Cleef, founder of the Maison Van Cleef & Arpels), entered both women’s vocabulary and their wardrobes in the 1930s.  Irresistibly handy, and literally made to fit in the palm of one’s hand, the minaudière, a small-scale handbag or clutch, was a clever upgrade of the “Vanity Case,” a novelty of the 1920s.

The opulence of the 1930s defined the physical traits of the minaudières produced during the art déco years. Usually made of platinum, white or rose gold, or black lacquer, minaudières secured women’s necessities (powder, lipstick, keys) with brilliant clips, often bejeweled and often mysteriously hidden as ingenious contraptions that required a degree in engineering to open them.  Usually structured in compartments, a minaudière’s interior rivaled its exterior in design and creativity.

A jewel in itself, the minaudière, was usually kept in a little satchel made of black velvet or satin and made a very dramatic and fleeting appearance whenever the owner needed to reach for her affaires.  Precious and luxurious, the minaudière was never produced in great quantities.  The number of clients who could afford them remained limited through the 1930s and 40s. In the 1950s and 60s, this type of evening bag knew a renaissance with more elaborate decorative designs heavily based on naturalistic representations and that included a longer chain, not for the owner’s wrist this time but for her shoulder.

Minaudières are highly collectible items today and still produced in very limited numbers by high jewelry houses and luxury brands.

© Thomaï Serdari