Unexpected Friends: Judith and Gerson Leiber

Being involved with the Phoenix Art Museum and the Arizona Costume Institute for more than 25  years has enriched my life through art, but also through meeting people from all walks of life along the way:  Curators, staff  members, guest speakers, artists and so on.

Years ago, I. Magnin hosted a reception for Judith Leiber at the Biltmore Fashion Park store to announce her new line of jewelry.  I remember picking out a favorite Leiber minaudière (I’ve always been a fan of leopard print and bling; this was a combination of both) for the occasion.  My idol was standing near the door, greeting guests rather commandingly, and I was stricken speechless.  I held up my bag, said nothing  and slunk off. 

We next ran into each other on the Internet, unknowingly bidding on eBay for the same vintage bags (I quit as soon as I realized who my online nemesis competitor was).  And when Dennita held our Leiber exhibit in 2008, Judith and her artist husband, Gerson, attended the opening.  As a lender to the show, I was included in the small dinner afterwards.  The Leibers were down to earth and interesting, and a friendship was born.  I have collected Judith’s minaudières for many years, being loyal only to designs made under her stewardship. I have a healthy collection that brings me joy.  Several pieces are in the Phoenix Art Museum’s permanent collection, and one has the honor of being in the Leiber Museum on the couple’s East Hampton property! 

We continue to be old-school pen pals, with a phone call now and then.  Gerson is doing the writing these days, and I am amazed by their senses of humor and worldly opinions.  “Judy & Gus” are both in their 90s, and I treasure this friendship, finally made possible through ACI. 

Written by fashion design collection and gallery benefactor, Kelly Ellman