Museum Exhibition Showcases Hundreds of Handbags

“Purseonality: A Stylish Handbag History” Now on Display at Coral Gables Museum

Anyone who thinks a handbag is just a handbag needs to visit the Coral Gables Museum for its latest exhibit, “Purseonality: A Stylish Handbag History,” running now through January. Hundreds of women’s handbags are on display, taken from the private collection of Ilene Hochberg Wood – whose collection of 4,000 bags will soon enter the Guinness Book of World Records.

Wood was on hand for the opening of the show, happy to expound on the significance of handbags for those who carry them. “Purses are deceptively simple, but in fact carry a lot of subliminal messages. A red leather bag says something very different than an orange vinyl bag,” she said. “They are symbols of economic values, social values and culture. And they reflect the personality of the owner.”

What the viewer will discover is an incredible array of styles and designs. Want to know which is the most expensive? That would be the red alligator skin Hermès “Kelly” bag, named after Grace Kelly, who used it in the movie “To Catch a Thief.” It is valued north of $100,000.

Well beyond the celebrity purses, the array of creativity in the collection is astounding, with everything from Victorian travel bags to jewel-studded purses and others done as tapestries. And, of course, there are the classics by Chanel, Dior, Judith Leiber and Louis Vuitton.

“The show works here because women in Coral Gables are fashion obsessed,” said Wood, who was encouraged by friends who live here (Wood hails from Pennsylvania). And what handbag was she carrying? A squarish black purse that looked like a book, with the words “I carry my life in my handbag” written on it.