A handbag museum with a collection of over 300 handbags that date from the 16th century to the 21st century opened this summer in Shinsa-dong, Seoul, South Korea. Judith Clark, V&A curator and London College of Fashion professor worked on this project for the last two years with a team of academics and curators. This huge project of archiving and curating the vast history of handbags was initiated by Simone, a Korean Handbag manufacturer. Simone has been acknowledged globally as an ODM (Original Design Manufacture) producer of high-end handbags —major luxury brands including Michael Kors, Givenchy and Burberry are just some of its clients. Since founded in 1987, the company has indulged modern women with cool handbags and for its 25th anniversary they decided to awe women with a dream museum full of beautiful handbags.

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It is worth appreciating the history of the handbag not only for its ‘it’ status but also for its intimacy with women and the craftsmanship behind it. Judith Clark focused more on how different handbags reflect changes in women’s identity. “These handbags were used for dramatically different purposes than how they are used today. Some were for carrying smelling herbs or ‘sweetmeats’ — candies — and then money. The handbag symbolized the emancipation of women — they were able to finally spend money, gaining more freedom over the years,” said Clark.

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Clark’s team put in an exceptional effort to restore the original context of each style of handbag. They designed 20 mannequins with a set of specially molded arms and hands to hold a specific type of bag and dressed them properly with matching historical dresses.

Sweetmeat Purse, English, C1580

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Sweetmeat Purse, English, C1580-1600

Clark is also keen to appreciate forgotten maters’ work. “Some techniques and materials, like fine beading, do not exist. For instance, sablé beading, which was a technique that used beads as small as grains of sand, produced some exquisitely embroidered bags. This would be completely beyond contemporary skills today.” The museum will keep updating the archive to preserve more historical handbags that could remain forgotten.

The Simone Handbag Museum is located at 17 Dosan-daero 13-gil (Sinsa-dong), Gangnam-gu, Seoul.

Words by Young Eun So

This piece has been republished with permission from 1883 Magazine, where it first appeared. 1883 is currently celebrating its Timeless issue, with a choice of covers featuring prestigious actor Ian McKellen and of-the-moment songstress Ellie Goulding. It also has an excellent interview with Korean designer Eudon Choi, who dressed Ellie for her photoshoot with the publication.

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