Simone Handbag Museum, the world’s first official handbag museum
Now here’s something very different: A bag designer’s dream museum, a shrine to the everyday (and often coveted) accessory.
This museum has a vintage collection of bags from around the world (but mostly Europe) that shows the history of handbags. I was lucky enough to go to this museum with my Korean friend Jihye and her daughter Sophia.
Given Address: 17 Dosan-Daero 13 Gil (Sinsa-Dong), Gangnam-gu, Seoul
But, it actually seems to be on Sinsadong Garosu-gil. It’s an attractive two-lane road lined with ginkgo trees that houses stores with unique apparel and accessories from Korea’s most promising young designers. Bigger shops with multiple foreign brands also give shoppers the chance to take in fashion trends from around the world. This is a prime position in Gangnam, one of the most fashion-forward neighborhoods in Seoul, so the Simone Handbag Museum is very well-placed.
The easiest way to get to the museum is to take Subway Line 3 to Sinsa Station. Take exit 8 and walk straight for about 3 blocks, then turn left into Garosu-gil, walk a few more blocks and the museum is on the left. Total walk is about 20 minutes.
The museum is in a sleek 10-story building, called Bagstage, resembling a handbag complete with a handle. Bagstage also has a shop selling bag materials for DIY enthusiasts, workshops where new Korean designers can work rent-free, a section where craftsmen can produce bags, a cafe and two shops. The eye-catching building also houses temporary exhibitions and international loans that will rotate through the museum’s top-floor space.
The permanent collections are on Floors 3 (Modern Gallery or 20th century and contemporary) and 4 (Historical Gallery, 1500-1900). It’s interesting to note that some of the modern bags have precedents in the historical bags, highlighting connections across time. In the Modern Gallery, each decade is represented by a custom-made mannequin that shows the location of the bag on the female body and the gesture with which the bag was held.
It’s a small museum, but fascinating because the subject is rather unusual and very limited. But, on closer thought, it’s a great topic, as fashion never goes out of fashion and throughout history women (and some men too) have always had some kind of handbag.
“Handbags are a very interesting subject in both a fashion and women’s sociology context,” said Dawn Jung, senior curator at the museum. “The path of design as it changed through history tells many stories in terms of material, shape and size.” These bags were created for women to carry and safeguard small personal items. By exploring the form and decoration of each handbag it is possible to construct a history of changing fashion cycles and the shifting experiences of women’s lives. Looking at the items on the 4th floor is like taking a history lesson, as we see bags that change from decorative to more utilitarian (and less pretty) over time, and then back again. We also learn that many of the early bags were very small and materially precious, as they weren’t needed for multiple objects for a whole day. They were often made as a leisure activity at home and are exquisitely done. As such, they are presented as precious specimens. Apparently US$1.59 million was spent on securing the pieces for the collection.
The museum, which opened its doors in July 2012 to great fanfare, is the special project of Kenny Park, CEO of Simone Acc. Collection Ltd., a producer of handbags for some of the world’s largest fashion houses. The collection was assembled and curated by Judith Clark, Professor of Fashion and Museology at the London College of Fashion.
The collection is composed of more than 300 items dating from the 15th century to today’s trendiest “It” bags. Most of them are European or western, including exquisitely crafted reticules and “sweetmeat” bags, gunmetal mesh purses from the late 19th century, and recent creations like a 2010 Alexander McQueen clutch printed with the Union Jack.
There has been talk of Simone building another museum for Asian handbags. We’ll see.
One of my favorites was an English sweetmeat purse, ca 1580, made with silk, gold and silver thread and silver spangles. Another was a French reticule, ca 1850, made with glass beads, cotton knit and cord with an intricate flower design.
No photos are allowed (although my Korean companion did sneak a few!), but you do get a catalogue of the whole collection, with a picture of each bag and a description. In the connecting corridors are a collection of various bag handles, frames and clasps over time, and of postcards of women carrying some of these old bags, and these we could photograph.
Museum entrance 5,000 won per adult (a little less than US$5 at the time we were there).
The official website doesn’t have a lot of information in English, but it does have a picture of most of the bags: