The Most Glamorous Bag Lady in Beverly Hills

One of the best things about fashion is when you find someone whose designs are so creative and unique that they appeal to you even if your chances of wearing what they make are slim. That’s certainly the case with the designs of Katherine Baumann, the so-called “bag lady of Beverly Hills.”

When scrolling through Clare Anthony’s book The Art of the Handbag, we were immediately struck by the original visual style of Baumann’s work, and we appreciated the wry creativity as well. We may not be ready to spend $100,000 on the original Titanic handbag (it’s up for sale on Baumann’s site), but we thought you’d like to learn more about her amazing visual style.

Katherine Baumann ended up as the Beverly Hills Bag Lady by accident. After winning first runner-up in the 1970 Miss America Pageant, Baumann moved to Los Angeles, studied acting, and appeared on such television series as M*A*S*H, Fantasy Island, and the Dukes of Hazzard. But her 15-year acting career came to an end when she fell through a plate-glass window and had to have 272 stitches in one leg. During recovery, she couldn’t get work because the studios were afraid she’d trip and fall on the set.

One day, Baumann found herself staring out the window, wondering whether she’d end up a bag lady–and decided maybe that wasn’t such a bad idea. She’d always loved things that sparkled, so that seemed to be the right place to start.

With no formal training but boundless enthusiasm, Baumann launched her business in 1993. As an admirer of Judith Leiber, Baumann chose to design minaudieres, but make them in the U.S.A. with her own whimsical touch.

Lips Handbag
This lips handbag was featured in People Magazine

One of Baumann’s early designs was a pair of smiling crystal-studded “Lips,” which was featured in a 1996 issue of People Magazine.

Baumann describes how on a trip to New York City, the hotel doorman remarked on the different bags she carried each day. When she was leaving, he asked how he’d know when he saw a bag she’d designed. Her reply? “If it makes you smile, it’s my bag.” The words have since become her trademark line.

Titanic Handbag
The original Titanic Handbag, worn to the Oscars by Julie Landau and signed by actress Gloria Stuart, is now being sold for $100,000.

Her most famous bag is the opulent “Titantic.” The original minaudiere is encrusted with about 15,000 hand set Swarovski crystals and trimmed in 24-karak gold. The bag was carried to the 1998 Academy Awards by Julie Landeau, wife of Titanic co-producer Jon Landau, and got almost as much attention as the movie.

The Art of the Handbag

“I find that it is vital to have at least one handbag for each of the ten types of social occasions.”—Miss Piggy

Most women would agree with Miss Piggy—and even those who didn’t would think one bag for all occasions isn’t really enough. Ever since the reticule came into style after the French Revolution, women have been attached to their handbags.

And whether you’re a woman of leisure who wants a tiny bag to carry a lipstick, comb, and mirror or a working woman who needs a satchel to hold your cell phone, e-reader, laptop, water bottle, makeup, lunch, and whatever else you need in the course of a long day, you’re sure to be enchanted by the variety of bags featured in this lavishly illustrated book.

A wonderful range of bags is presented–from Judith Leiber’s sculpted, crystal-studded metal “minaudières” to James Piatt’s “Peacekeeper” handbag with its knuckleduster handle, from Lulu Guinness’s red snakeskin “Lips” clutch to Hester van Eeghen’s elegant “Monocle” bag, from Kathleen Dustin’s exquisite “Rose Bud” wrist purse to Inés Figaredo’s retro “Telephone” shoulder bag.

It’s a showcase gallery of 25 contemporary handbag designers, and it features over 100 artful creations. The crazy beautiful bags in this book provide perfect accents for every wardrobe.