Artist unknown
Handbag, c. 1930

H. 5 3/4 x W. 8 3/4 x D. 1 3/4 (open at base) in.

Whether vanity case, cigarette case, compact, lighter, lipstick case, mirror or handbag, the well-dressed woman of the '20s and '30s carried what was intended to be a miniature work of art. The nécessaire, or vanity case, took its form from the Japanese inro (a small case divided into several compartments). Although small, it accommodated all the essential accoutrements. They were mostly rectangular, oblong or oval, and hung from a silk cord. In 1930, the vanity case was enlarged into the minaudière by Alfred Van Cleef.1

The abstract designs of these accessories in the '30s evolved into mechanistic forms based on industrial design and machine parts. The design principles inherent in automobile and airplane construction inspired a new decorative vocabulary for jewelry and fashion. A remote but real influence may be traced to the German Bauhaus, and the Cubist movement, with its division of form into geometric shapes, likewise served as a major source of inspiration. Typically, the principal motifs (the square, circle, rectangle, and triangle) were starkly contrasted with sharp outlines on fields of bold colors.

1Van Cleef gave it the name after witnessing his wife simper (minauder) into the mirror. The minaudière replaced the evening bag, pochette, and daytime dress bag.