Judith Leiber, the brand known for creating handbags in playfully whimsical shapes like a slice of watermelon and ice cream cones, is debuting a line of crystal-encrusted jewelry. Dee Hilfiger, who stepped into the role of creative director in 2017, has curated a loyal celebrity fanbase in recent years by unveiling handbags with a youthful edge, such as evening bags resembling tall orders of French fries and a clutch shaped like an oversized emoji. Hilfiger has also mastered the strategy of limited-edition drops, such as the Alexander Wang x Judith Leiber Show Me the Money bag, studded with over 10,000 Swarovski crystals, that Beyoncé later wore on the red carpet.
Now, Hilfiger is bringing a similar spirit to her crystal-encrusted jewelry line, which launches on the Judith Leiber site in mid-May and features roughly 500 pieces, priced from $50 to $1,000. "We took our time and we actually had other collections that we wound up scrapping," Hilfiger tells CR. "We wanted to jewelry to be aligned with what we are doing with handbags and having an identifiable brand DNA. I think we accomplished that. I love how the jewelry is inspired by what we’re doing with the bags, like french fries and the rainbows."
Here, CR catches up with Hilfiger about her new jewelry collection, her favorite Judith Leiber bag, and how a handbag goes viral in the first place.
How is the jewelry meant to be worn? Do you seem them as companions to the bags?
"They certainly can be companions to the handbags. The line is over 500 pieces and within that range, we have lots of different prices and styles. The jewelry can be a companion to the handbags but the jewelry also offers a wider customer base purely because of price point. If you can’t afford the french fry bag, you might be able to afford a french fry charm or french fry earrings."
How do you decide on a bag design?
"We have this test-it’s called the smile test-for pop culture items like food, for example. You take something like popcorn, which is identifiable for everybody, and you make this into a handbag which is unexpected. It just seems to make people smile. Anything that we think will make people smile is the direction we like to go in."
Do you have a favorite bag?
"The rainbow french fry was one of my first pieces. I definitely have a special attachment to that one. Right now, I just bought the popcorn for myself, which is my new favorite bag in my collection. I have a few vintage pieces I love too. That’s a hard question-it’s like asking who my favorite child is. Depends on the day!"
How do you decide which bag every celebrity gets?
"When we made the dime bag, we were like Rihanna has to have [it]. We try to pair bags with based on what we know about the celebrity. Nine times out of 10, we’ve gotten it right. Some of the celebrities actually call us to buy the bags; we don’t gift a lot of bags. The Kardashians buy our bags a lot; Orlando Bloom ordered one for Katy Perry for Christmas off our website. Many times, we’re able to guess based on what they bought before. For example, Beyonce, we have a beehive, so that’s a no brainer."
How did that Alexander Wang collaboration come about?
"That came about through someone who works at our company who went to school with Alexander Wang. When we approached him, he was happy and excited to do it. I loved what he did with that collaboration. The money roll went viral. He was insistent on making only 30 pieces and not one more. I think that was a great idea. He did the pound roll, which again is limited-edition. I think it sold out in six minutes online. There’s something to be said about the excitement of limited editions; you’re offering the consumer something special."
Why does a bag go viral in the first place?
"We did a cell phone bag which went a bit viral when all the Kardashian sisters were taking pictures with it. The only reason why I can think that would happen is that we are trying to make things that have a beauty to them, but also a sense of humor. That’s why I think the Alexander Wang money roll was so cool and and cheeky. With social media and Instagram, people want to see things they haven’t seen before. We are constantly trying to create and disrupt. That’s the fun part of taking a mundane object and making it glamorous, funny, and sparkly, but at the same time, making it functional. When that’s achieved, I think people appreciate it and it goes viral."