Silver, Gold, Colored Stone and Enamel Minaudière, Van Cleef & Arpels, France

A “Minaudière” (evening clutch case) is a dainty, bejewelled accessory used by socialites to stash their evening essentials (cosmetics and personal items). Designed to be noticed, the case is hand carried.

This bag was invented by Van Cleef and Arpels in the Thirties. It was probably inspired by the tin used by the wife of a magnate as a « vanity-case » for her storing her make-up. Its origins could go even further back in time to the reticule; a fine knit drawstring bag all the rage with ladies during the Directory period (First French Republic, 1795 to 1799).

Oblong and slim, the Minaudiere was made from gold, platinum or mother of pearl inset with precious stones. Sometimes the case was made from softer materials such as velvet for the less financially fortunate. The brocade-lined interior featured different compartments for organising the lady-about-town’s must-have items: lipstick, mirror, compact, pill boxes, hankie, comb, cigarette holder… Sometimes the Minaudiere came with a protective satin pouch which added to the theatricality of it being unveiled.

As an accessory for the worldly woman, and sometimes indicating high-flying and rather closed circles, the Minaudiere has since become popularised without becoming trivialised in the process. This little evening clutch bag is still used to accessorise an evening outfit but is no longer an overtly showy piece.

The exquisite paradox of a Minaudière is that despite being totally functional, cleverly designed and skilfully made it is also totally gratuitous, because its appeal stems from it being a beautiful and occasionally rare and glitzy object that was created to be seen.