Knock on ‘Wood’

I was looking through the August issue of Vogue and came across a portfolio called “Box Set”, photographed by Bruce Weber and styled by Tabitha Simmons. It’s all about this season’s new handbags which “resemble everything from lunch boxes to treasure chests”, (“proof that it’s never been so hip to be square”). One full page shows a model posing with about 12 of Dolce & Gabbana’s immediately recognizable, decorative and elaborately embellished box bags which are available at select Dolce & Gabbana stores, and range in price from about $2995 to $9995.

Box Set photographed by Bruce Weber

They instantly called to mind Enid Collins’ highly collectible, hand crafted wooden box bags from the 60’s which were decorated with paint and embellished with jewels, sequins, and bright and brilliant rhinestones. Collins of Texas first opened its doors in Medina, Texas in 1959, producing whimsical, happy handbags. Enid Collins, owner and designer, had a background in fashion design, and her husband Frederic (whose expertise was in engineering and sculpting), operated the company until 1970, when it was purchased by the Tandy Leather Corporation. An artist herself, she had a “special place in her heart for the starving artist”, according to her grandson Christian Collins.

Enid Collins working in her studio

Never meant to be faddish, every bag was always signed, had its own unique personality, and was finished with distinctive leather trim, brass findings and fasteners. Many also had an interior mirror on the inside, which was personalized with the hand printed statement: “The Original Box Bag by Collins of Texas, hand-decorated for you”. In addition to a series of Zodiac signs, her other popular themes included: Glitter Bugs, Money Tree, Flora, Sol, Love, Gifts from the Sea, Pax, Flutterbye, Black Bird, Bird Brain, Early Bird, Love Birds, and my personal favorite, Night Owl (she had a special fascination with owls).

Enid Collins of Texas Night Owl Box Bag

I happen to think that Enid Collins bags are always great; unique and quirky are always ‘in style’ especially when it’s well-done (and done in a rather sophisticated way as these are), and having something amusing that puts a smile on one’s face never gets old (unsurprisingly, many others agree as she has continued to have a cult like following). But as it happens, they could not be more of the moment given fashion’s continuing love affair and fascination with arts & crafts, and all things unique, handcrafted, and artisanal (if not unapologetically kitschy). Let’s face it; there’s a time to be sober, restrained, and elegant, and a time for whimsy (variety is the spice of life after all). Quite frankly, I love the juxtaposition of her funky bags with something quite classic and restrained.

Erins Collins of Texas Money Tree Box Bag

These vintage bags are not only wonderful because they are authentic (and guaranteed to be almost one of a kind), but they also happen to be readily available at vintage stores and websites where they are a fraction of the cost of the pricey Dolce & Gabbana incarnations (prices can range from about $50 to over $400 depending on the style and purveyor, but most are in the $100 range).

Enid Collins of Texas Papillon Box Bag

One woman, Karen Adler (an artist and anthropologist), admits to being “totally enamored” with Enid Collins box bags (she views EC as an American folk artist). It first started when she spotted one of the designer’s iconic LOVE box bags in a Chicago vintage shop. For the past 3 – 4 years, she’s been quietly researching, collecting and refurbishing them, in an effort to document every box bag she designed while the head of Collins of Texas. As she collects, cleans, and restores each purse, she lists them on Enid’s grandson’s website, under manifestart.

Enid Collins of Texas Paper Mache Box Bag

She currently has over 300 bags, some of which she sells on Etsy (her shop is called Niwot Art Gallery), She also sells on eBay and is currently working on her own website, which will have a gallery of her purses, purses for sale, and shared knowledge about Enid Collins. She admits her prices may be a bit higher than the average because she meticulously cleans, conditions the wood and leather and makes sure the jewel pattern is correct (replacing jewels with authentic vintage jewels when need be). “If there are major flaws, they will be disclosed in the description”. “My goal is not to conceal vintage history, but simply to photograph, restore, and learn about the creations of an American folk artist”, she said.

Enid Collins of Texas 1963 Gifts from the Sea Box Bag

As an avid vintage collector, I concur that imperfections don’t have to be seen as something negative. I myself have never been deterred from buying something wonderful because of so called ‘imperfections’. Quite frankly, I think a few scrapes, nicks, chips, scratches, hanging threads, etc., give an item personality and character and add to its charm, collectability, and uniqueness. To my way of thinking, it’s an added bonus when something looks well-loved and lived in, as opposed to brand spanking new, and tags-still-on just purchased. So nouveau riche!

– Marilyn Kirschner

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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