Fashion Tribe

Antique purses on view at SFO

April 27th, 2016

PHOTOS BY NADINE KAM / nkam@staradvertiser.com

These mesh purses are among the vintage and antique handbags on display in the "Essential Style: Vintage and Antique Purses" exhibition at San Francisco International Airport, courtesy of the SFO Museum.

Essential Style: Vintage and Antique Purses
On view at San Francisco International Airport through July 22, 2016

Waiting at airports can be a boring, mind-numbing experience, but at San Francisco International Airport, in-house SFO Museum exhibitions turn it into a culturally enriching one.

SFO Museum became the first cultural institution of its kind located in an international airport, in 1980. Displays are compact, varied and fun. Last time I passed through, there was an exhibition of Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett's monster-themed guitars. There are 20 exhibitions throughout the airport at this time, but I happened to be passing through the international terminal en route to Dubai, and chanced on the "Essential Style: Vintage and Antique Purses" exhibition. I love purses so of course I was thrilled. Many of the pieces are credited to the Antique Purse Collectors Society.

According to exhibition materials, purses date to the medieval period, but I'm pretty sure they have been around as long as men and women had to carry talismans and other personal items. They didn't remain utilitarian objects long as humans have always wanted to put their personal stamp on items. Purses quickly evolved into a sophisticated decorative art and fashion accessory, and bags have always showed the creativity and skills of their makers, from metal and leatherwork to weaving, embroidery, and knitting. That's why I like them so much. They are a form of portable, everyday art.

Purses continue to fascinate and tempt us. I just read that a trio of Hermès Birkins topped $100,000 each in an April 18 and 19, $2.5+ million Heritage Spring Luxury auction in New York. A rare limited edition Matte So Black Nilo Crocodile Birkin topped the trio with a final price of $125,000, while an Extraordinary Collection Matte Black Porosus Crocodile Birkin Bag with 18k White Gold Hardware went for $118,750, and a Matte White Himalayan Nilo Crocodile Birkin Bag finished at $100,000.

Metal mesh purses were popular in the 1920s, and the Mandalian Manufacturing Co., created beautiful painted designs. In the early days of eBay, I searched for these and feel lucky to own purses identical to the two on the right. I just don't get to use them because they don't hold much. Even a driver's license is too long and wide to fit through the bottom.

Historically, men and women wore purses attached to their belts or fabric bands that hung from the waist. After pockets were introduced to male clothing at the end of the 16th century, men's use of bags declined. But women's styles became increasingly sophisticated. A number of workshops in 18th century France began producing exquisite beaded purses employing up to 1,000 beads per square inch.

The exhibition opened on Jan. 22 and is on view in the International Terminal, Departures Level 3 through July 22, 2016. View more at: http://www.flysfo.com/museum/exhibitions/essential-style-vintage-and-antique-purses#sthash.AzKCyebj.dpuf

I was also a collector of Lucite purses of the 1940s until I learned the hard way that some of caramel-colored acetate ones are now leaching chemicals. I worked so hard to attain a beehive bag and another made of this material, only to see them collapse, which is why the collectors were getting rid of them.

To showcase their needlework skills, 19th century women often crafted their own beaded and embroidered bags. This is one homemade example.

A few fun and highly impractical doggie-themed purses.

Long before raves, women had the dilemma of how to carry lipsticks and cigarettes. These dance purses from 1920s and '30s France comprise celluloid and silk cord. The lightweight purses were made to dangle from the wrist.

Because of the time and effort to string beads that when knitted, would create intricate designs, knitted, beaded scenic bags commanded a high price in the early 20th century.

More beaded designs.

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