If the handbag does go the way of the hat – not an item we need, as a quarantine year proved, but a flourish, a boost, a pick-me-up – then Enid Collins, a prolific accessory designer of the last century, was prescient. “Do something good, something that has personality, glamorize it like hell, then stand up and brag loudly!” she wrote once, laying out her winning formula to a parent.
Collins was best known in the 1960s for her shallow lunchbox-shaped “conversation starter” wooden handbag: painted or screen-printed with flora and fauna, dazzled with costume jewelry and other embellishments, and punctuated with shy epigrams like ‘Daisies Won’t Say. A ‘Money Tree’ series, often adorned with fake coins, proved particularly popular; ‘After all, who doesn’t need it?’ as she ironically noted in the letter.
Made in the Mayberry, Texas-style city of Medina with her husband, Frederic, a somewhat frustrated sculptor and a budding cowboy who oversaw the mechanics, the bags were advertised in The New Yorker, stored in department stores and boutiques across the United States including Neiman Marcus and Saks, and worn by debutantes, high profile hippies and celebrities.
Lady Bird Johnson donated it, “People’s Choice,” to a church auction; her daughter Lynda was wearing another when she dated George Hamilton. “I had several Collins handbags – one had play money on it. Some had Texas themes, ”Lynda Bird Johnson Robb recalled recently in an email. A suede fabric bag with birds and flowers appliquéd remains in the closet in her main lodge, she said, adding that others may be in her attic.
Reliable! As bags filled with all the burdens of life start to weigh down the shoulders of working women everywhere, these smaller, more cheerful bags tend to get pushed into storage spaces.
But with their vibrant colors, quadrilateral shapes, and artful vibe, the vintage Collins bags and ornate fabric buckets – which currently trade in triple digits – have proven to be perfect for photo grids from eBay, Etsy, Pinterest. and Instagram. The origin of the box bag is as disputed as that of the miniskirt, but Collins’ underrated aesthetic has arguably inspired contemporary brands from Edie Parker to Chanel to Dolce & Gabbana.
And in April, Collins’ son Jeep (short for George Philip) will publish a memoir, “Enid,” tapping into a rich treasure trove of family journals and correspondence and evoking a lost and idyllic world of ranch life when there was no iPhone, and a jury-rigged television only has two channels – “a place that will never be like this again.”
He rode donkeys and go-karts, picked blackberries and made clay fires with his younger sister, Cynthia, who continued to live in Farrah Fawcett’s hallway in college and frequently modeled in Collins commercials. . Their Aunt Jo helped open Hamburg Heaven in Manhattan, and the fictional book describes trips to exhibition halls and the theater, a Windjammer cruise that helped inspire coveted sea-themed bags and games from gin 13 with Hollywood actor Clyde Cook.
In a video interview from Fredericksburg, Texas, where the company briefly moved operations and the descendants remained, Mr. Collins, 72, a former Marine and designer himself of Christian jewelry, spoke eloquently about his mother, whom he called “Mimi,” and who was known to insist on after-lunch naps and other exactitudes.
Eventually, she would take an apartment in San Antonio, drive to Medina in a golden Buick Riviera, and divorce Frederick. The business they had built together was sold in 1970 to the Tandy Company, which sacked Enid soon after. She passed away 20 years later, comforted by her deep faith and her quilted quilts.
“She couldn’t stand nonsense, she wasn’t mean or ugly with people, but not fooled by foolishness,” Collins said. “I didn’t know how important she was at the time, but I knew it was pretty important. The designs were good. For lack of a better word, they were so “together”. They were colorful – and you know the ’60s were pretty colorful in a lot of ways.
They could also be the perfect choice for the spooky 2020s; now that many have ditched even a wallet and the “go bag” or backpack is in order, the old school wallet is free to reappear as an ornament or charm fry.
Collins of Texas still produces bags in Medina, now run by Goli Parstabar, formerly of Harry Winston. Some wear signature models like the “Road Runner”; others are more basic feeding or saddle bags made of materials such as crocodile and ostrich; and then there are quieter models like the Kelly-like “Enid” – made in Italy.
“When we relaunched Collins, the phones started ringing, there were a lot of ambitious designers,” said Sia Parstabar, a partner. “I said, ‘We don’t really need a designer, because there was only one designer.’ We only do what Enid did. The artwork was one thing, there are other elements in his creations such as the form, the body, the weight of the construction – what we call the “Collins elements”.
But for some of Enid’s most avid fans, only the originals, especially those signed by her, will do.
Laura Sergeant Richardson, 49, seventh-generation Texan, creative director and avowed minimalist, has devoted a decade to the scholarship highlighted on Collecting Collins, a website carefully listing 766 copyrighted pieces.
She compared the designer couple to Charles and Ray Eames. “I’ve spoken to other collectors, and there’s just something that grabs you. You watch it, you take a break, ”she said of the boxes, nicknamed“ groundhogs ”for their witty slogans. “I like the way the chaos is sort of contained.”
Karen Adler, 57, self-proclaimed “Stock Exchange Anthropologist” in Denver and Curator of Finding Enid With Love, a museum and online store, buys and sells jewelry for bag repair and compiles an oral history of Collins enthusiasts . “It’s a labor of love,” she said, adding that finding out that Enid’s marriage was over had comforted her during her own divorce. “For the past 10 years, I was there to save his job. And now, passing by, she saves me.