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Chanel 101:
Clutches & minaudières

By Tatiana S. & James F. Dec. 18, 2017

The minaudière is one of the most ubiquitous and lasting facets

of evening dress, often seen today in contexts that require a certain elevated aire, like black tie events. Arguably a major cultural touchstone for the well-heeled and glamorous, as well as the wider fashion landscape, the minaudière is no mere evening bag.


A minaudière (literally translates to “coquettish woman” from the French verb “minauder” which means “to simper”) is a subgenre of evening handbag in which the exterior frame is cast in metal alloy and a shoulder strap or chain is attached to the frame, usually with the option to tuck the strap into the interior to transform into a clutch. The minaudière differs mostly from the traditional evening bag in two ways: that it is hard-sided whereas other evening accessories tend to be precious skins or luxury fabrics, and minaudières tend to include an optional shoulder strap to convert from an evening bag to a handheld clutch with ease.

The full history of the minaudière handbag within fashion touches on multiple influential luxury brands, and originated in an inventive blend between a well-known jeweler and the new wild world of the roaring 1920’s.

While accounts of the true origin of the minaudière vary, it’s generally agreed that the style first emerged in earnest around the early 1920’s in conjunction with the “flapper” subculture. A group of women with a newfound sense of self-liberation and a hedonic sensibility to boot, the flappers were demanding fashion accessories that were as freely worn as the new higher hemlines and bob hairstyles that were becoming all the rage. Metal cigarette cases and compact wallets were already in fashion for women and men, and heavily influenced the need for a middle ground between practical cases and socially acceptable evening bags, since pockets were not a socially accepted option at the time. Once they entered the scene, the smaller and more versatile minaudière was perfectly in tune with the contemporary pulse, and became heavily influenced by the Jazz Age and Art Deco movements that were happening at the same period. Jazz and Art Deco further influenced the aesthetic use of metal as well as the opulent appliqué designs that were as flashy and exuberant as the music and art that influenced them.

The very first true minaudière inducted into this newly separated subgenre is credited to Van Cleef & Arpels in 1933. It was designed to hold and protect all of the necessities for an evening out: opera glasses, dance card (a card bearing the names of a woman’s prospective partners at a formal dance), cosmetics, pill and candy boxes, a handkerchief, pocketbook, cigarette holder and lighter, and a watch. Prior to this the minaudière was mostly contained in the upper echelons of the Jazz Age, but quickly expanded throughout the 1930’s as the style grew more prominent and accepted norms of dress began to expand options for women, eventually coming to permeate the larger Western culture. The original Van Cleef & Arpels connection also came to cement the jewelry-meets-handbags theme that will remain with the minaudière to the present day.

While Van Cleef & Arpels can be credited with the creation of the design, other designers jumped on the proverbial bandwagon and began experimenting with the style and expanding their product offering to include the minaudière style. In the following nine decades to today, the minaudière remained a vibrant piece of the fashion puzzle, unshifting in its intended use, and always maintaining the ideals of opulence and glamour within each passing era.

In terms of contemporary varieties, there are two major players in this space: Judith Leiber and Chanel, both with individual focuses and tastes. The former, Judith Leiber, tended to incorporate Austrian or Swarovski crystal embellishment and were much more focused on the romantic and whimsical. The later, Chanel, tended to incorporate more hardware elements and embellishments, while focusing more on the novel and referential. While Judith Leiber certainly needs mention, let’s take a closer look specifically at Chanel’s influence on the minaudière, mostly under the thumb of the late Karl Lagerfeld.


While the minaudière certainly existed in Chanel’s repertoire before the explosion of novelty versions in the early 2000’s to the late 2010’s, Lagerfeld certainly took the style and made it a global phenomenon yet again. The wit, and often the novelty, of Lagerfeld’s designs definitely flowed through his work on the minaudière bags he and Chanel’s ateliers created. These bags were typically seen on the ready-to-wear runway or at Chanel’s annual Métiers d’Art shows, and generally encapsulated the themes of the collection into tiny glittering packages. Given the intricacy of detailing as well as the specialization of Chanel’s craftspeople who can work with the metals and stones required in producing a minaudière, it’s also not surprising to see the price tag to accompany these bags can be astronomical. Many of the plexiglass versions that are most ubiquitous often reach just above $10,000 at retail, with some more intricate minaudières utilizing precious materials like pearls, exotic skins, and fine gems fetch upwards of $40,000 for a single bag. A contributing reason for the high pricing across the board is due to the fact that most of the ateliers that produced these items from the late 1930’s onward became defunct and went out of business due to the dropping demand for the minaudière, and the rise of the leather or canvas top-handle handbag. Generally speaking, these minaudières were made in limited quantities, and only sold to VIP clients via boutiques.


While the minaudière subgenre is certainly still en vogue, as Chanel continues to create these items season after season for top clients delight, there have been a couple collections that have made waves and particularly reinstated the minaudière as a force of fashion.


While the minaudière subgenre is certainly still en vogue, as Chanel continues to create these items season after season for top clients delight, there have been a couple collections that have made waves and particularly reinstated the minaudière as a force of fashion.

The Paris-Moscow Metiérs d’Art show in the beautiful Théâtre le Ranelagh in Paris drew much of it’s inspiration and thematics on Coco Chanel’s embrace of Russian-Parisian émigré culture of the 1910’s and early 1920’s, particularly one Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich of Russia with whom Chanel had a notorious affair. The Duke drew in some of the militaresque leather separates and the Cossack boots, while more easily recognizable Russian motifs like from their Byzantine and Slavic historical origins abounded. The key minaudière from this collection was the Matryoshka Doll, which features the black lacquer case adorned with faux pearl and gilded details. Perfectly encapsulating the collection in minaudière form, this bag became the most recognizable and arguably the key piece to collect.


Needing very little introduction, Chanel Fragrance No. 5 perfume is one of the most (if not the most) recognizable scents and packaging designs in the world. It would make sense then to see this iconic shape morph into other lines from the house, including handbags. For their Resort 2014 collection, Chanel transformed their iconic fragrance into a lucite minaudiere in black and translucent varieties. It comes as no surprise that these were an instant success among Chanel’s novelty bag collectors and enthusiasts. Later, in 2015 as part of the Paris-Roma Métiers d’Art collection, Chanel introduced two more versions: one in white marble motif and one in black and gold stripes with white faux pearl detailing. Neither of these two additions were a part of the public runway show, but instead went straight to boutiques and were only offered to top clients and collectors.


The Lait de Coco milk carton minaudière is one of Chanel’s most recognizable models they have ever created. While typically minaudières are done in metals and acrylics, what makes this minaudière slightly unique in the category is the exterior is completely encased in metallic, iridescent silver leather instead. The title of and typographic detailing on this bag is a double entendre, using Chanel’s nickname “Coco” on a carton of coconut milk is a playful nod to the grand dame as well as incorporating the popular beverage into a novelty look.


Colloquially dubbed the “gas can” bag, this minaudiere took the successes of the Chanel No. 5 Perfume Bottle minaudière and reimagined it within the landscape of emergent Dubai. Inspired directly from the oil industry for which Dubai is world renowned and the oil containers known as “jerrycans”, this minaudière is one of the more literal interpretations in handbag form from Chanel. This bag originally retailed for $10,800, a quite accurate standard for most of Chanel’s minaudière styles of similar complexity.


When this minaudière first appeared on the runway, it rapidly was uploaded to social media and fashion press outlets all over the world. Shared and reposted so often that it nearly overshadowed the other bags in the collection, there was something about this bag that captured the attention of Chanel’s clients and pushed the novelty button on the hearts of many collectors. A combination of black and pearly lucite, and replete with flashy crystals and detailed with the house’s iconic quilting pattern, this bag pulls in the classic, the opulent, and the novel to create a significant winner for the minaudière style.


One of the recent minaudières to enter the spotlight, this gondola is a lucite, lacquer, and crystal nod to the iconic alpine transport that is a fixture of ski resorts around the globe. This bag has made the biggest splash this season in the minaudière category, and will likely continue to win over collectors.

So with such a long history, through many eras with dramatically different fashions and mores, it’s not a wild assumption that there is something lasting about this object of whimsy. The minaudière has come quite far, and continues to inspire and innovate with each new iteration. Arguably the pinnacle of minaudière as art, Chanel will continue to top the charts in this area for seasons to come and leaving collectors and enthusiasts to marvel and dream.