The world’s largest collection of handbags and purses is not located in Paris or Milan; nor is this stunning collection owned by a famous fashion designer or bag-crazy celebrity. Handbag heaven can be found in Amsterdam and the guardian of this collection of over five thousand bags is the lovely Sigrid Ivo. A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to spend the afternoon with her at the Museum of Bags and Purses Hendrikje.
The museum, named ‘Tassenmuseum Hendrikje’ in Dutch, can be found in one of Amsterdam’s iconic and much sought after 17th century houses that line the Herengracht, one of the city’s three main canals. Many historical features of the canal house, dating from 1666, have been preserved and it was in this charming atmosphere that Sigrid took me on a personal tour.
The first thing I learned was that Herengracht 573 is actually the museum’s second location, the first being Sigrid’s childhood home. Like so many other museums, this one arose from a passion for collecting. The collectors were Sigrid’s parents – Hendrikje, after whom the museum is named, and Heinz Ivo. What began as a personal fascination grew, over a period of thirty years, into an extensive collection - a collection so large that in 2007 the museum was bursting at the seams and was moved to the current location.
As it started off as a private collection, I was curious as to how it all began. And of course, as Sigrid told me, it started with one bag. This bag, a leather and tortoiseshell purse decorated in silver, was discovered by Sigrid’s mother at a small antique market in Norwich, England. Completely ecstatic about this exquisite find, Hendrikje Ivo started to do more research and found out that the bag was made in Germany in about 1820. Much fascinated by its history, she soon got ‘hooked’ and determined to learn about, appreciate and collect more. This passion ultimately resulted in a unique collection that is still growing year by year.
Sigrid inherited a love of collecting bags from her mother. She grew up surrounded by her mother’s collection and, perhaps unsurprisingly, graduated as an art historian on the topic. Since 1998, she has been professionally attached to the museum, first as a conservator and since 2006 as director and curator of the museum.
I spent the next few hours with Sigrid as she talked me through the three floors of exhibits in great detail. From drawstring purses to shoulder bags, from no-brand bags to the designer bags from Chanel, Hermes, Gucci and Louis Vuitton, the museum seems to have them all. It was not only the beauty of these bags that attracted me but also the fact that each bag is an historic, cultural statement showing daily life of the time.
At one point, for example, we stopped at a beautifully simple blue and silver clutch bag. You could clearly see the art deco style influences. To quote the museum – a distinct and straight-lined bag made in aluminum with a synthetic layer, France, approx. 1930. The maker is unknown. Maybe that is one reason why it turned out to be Sigrid’s favorite!
After this wonderful tour, Sigrid invited me to the museum’s famous Fashion High Tea in one of the two exquisite period rooms that feature the original ceiling paintings and fireplaces from the 17th and 18th centuries. It was an exceptionally romantic décor for the weddings that these rooms are frequently used for. We were served a delicious, gorgeous looking afternoon tea with cakes and fancies inspired by the most beautiful bags in the museum. I had a bite of a Chanel’s classic 2.55, tasted Moschino’s ‘Let them eat cake’ and enjoyed Dior’s pink colors and design, all of them translated into delicate caramel, mouth-watering chocolate, vanilla and raspberry and passion fruit.
While enjoying all these lovely cakes and sipping from my glass of Prosecco, Sigrid told me that the museum often receives designer donations, like those from Prada, Lulu Guinness and Stella McCartney. One time, she confided, the former CEO of the Gucci Group visited the museum. During his visit, Sigrid joked that he had come empty-handed. A few weeks later, a big box was delivered to the museum containing bags by Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Alexander McQueen and several others!
After such a wonderful afternoon, I was reluctant to leave. Not only had I seen a stunning collection, I was also educated about the fascinating history of the bag. Yes, the Museum of Bags and Purses Hendrikje is truly worth a visit next time you visit Amsterdam.