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Handbag mecca charts history of accessory

The historical gallery displays European handbags from the 16th-19th centuries. (Photo by Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

Publication Date : 25-10-2012


Gucci, Prada, Fendi, Channel ― whatever your guilty pleasure, your one-stop fix for all things handbag can be found right here in Seoul.

From a circa 1550 green silk Italian purse to a US$100,000 red crocodile leather Hermes Birkin bag, the Simone Handbag Museum hosts one of the finest handbag collections in the world, with more than 350 historic, classic and modern Western-style bags.

When the museum opened its doors in July, it became the first museum in the world dedicated exclusively to the history and making of handbags.

“Unlike other fashion museums, we only focus on handbags,” said Dawn Jung, the museum’s curator. By being able to explore bags from the 16th century to the latest present day collections, “you can see history here,” she said.

Among some of the gallery’s prized possessions are a rounded, plush black Chanel shoulder bag which also doubles as a pillow; a funky, large red plastic ’70s Dallas handbag with a built-in functional telephone; and an exquisitely jeweled Cartier purse from the 1920s.

“People always ask me if they can buy our bags,” Jung said with a laugh. “It’s (our collection) priceless.”

Aside from the bags, one cannot help but notice the chic and intricate designs of the building itself, down to the very last detail ― even the building is shaped like a giant handbag.

Past, present & future

The museum is sectioned into past, present and future. The fourth floor, with its dim lighting and dark wooden display cases, is dedicated to the historical gallery, which showcases collections from the 16th to 19th century. Here, visitors can take a step back in time to the days when petite women’s bags, sophisticatedly handmade, were used to carry change or sewing kits.

On the third floor is the modern gallery, with bright lighting and clean white wooden cases, which houses bags from the 20th century to present day. Moving from one gallery to the next, one can distinctively see the transition in style as well as size, as modern bags grow in size with the increasing demand for practicality.

The two lower floors are used as a “do it yourself” space where people can select materials and design and create their own personal bags. The museum stores a collection of more than 500 raw leather materials for designers to select from, including full-size alligator swatches.

Making of the museum

The museum was developed and designed by Judith Clark, a London-based experimental exhibition maker, who also created a series of mannequins specifically designed for the museum.

In the modern gallery, all the mannequins are featured as tall and slim, representing the figures ― or desired figures ― of today’s women; the historical gallery, on the other hand, has mannequins with silhouettes that are more voluptuous in shape. The arm gestures of each mannequin are positioned to display how these vintage bags would have been carried during that particular period.

“A history of handbags contains within it history of women, their mobility, the history of decorative arts in their minute design and of our ever-changing fashion silhouettes and all their associated poses,” Clark said.

“This project has been an opportunity for me to expand my practice from designing and curating temporary exhibitions, to creating a permanent installation,” she said. “An archive that will benefit generations of design students in Seoul, with its blossoming design community.”

The museum’s collection was established by Kenny Park, the CEO of Simone Acc. Collection Ltd, which is a major supplier of high-quality bags for international designers such as Michael Kors, DKNY, Coach, Marc Jacobs and Ralph Lauren.

“The Simone Handbag Museum represents the fulfillment of a long-held dream,” said Park, “to create a collection of historical significance that will inspire and educate our young local designers, and an international attraction for all those interested in the history of this most essential accessory.”

While this museum currently houses Western-style handbags, there are plans in the works to establish another museum in Seoul dedicated to the history of Asian bags, sometime in the near future.

* Simone Handbag Museum

17 Dosan-daero 13 Gil, Sinsa-dong, Seoul/(02) 3444-0912

Opening hours: Tuesday―Thurday 11am―8pm, Friday, Saturday 11am―9pm, Sunday 11am―7pm

Admission: 5,000 won US$4.52)


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