Do you know the difference between a minaudière and a nécessaire? Both words are French in origin, and both refer to small handbags. But even though the terms are sometimes used as a substitute for one another or hand in hand, are they really the same type of evening bag?
The nécessaire we know today didn't start out with that purpose in mind, and is very different than the earliest examples - some were much larger than a purse, while others were much smaller and more specialized in nature. The minaudière was always intended to be used as an evening bag, but some of the shapes we know now are much more whimsical in nature than the elegant examples first made by Van Cleef & Arpels.
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Minaudière - A Small Clutch Purse
Minaudière (pronounced min-oh-dee-air) is a French name for a small clutch purse that is often encrusted with precious gems or glass rhinestones. This style was actually invented and named by jewelers Van Cleef & Arpels in 1930 (and the name is probably derived from the French verb minauder, which means to smirk or simper). The originals were metallic and contained various small compartments for money, lipstick, keys, and the like - in accord with the streamlined Art Deco style prevailing in women's evening wear at the time. Some even included tiny clocks built into the case, which may be hidden within. In this way, those early examples did resemble nécessaires.
Now minaudière is a generic term referring to many types of small bags, though most properly one that is hard, hinged, and opens with a clasp. They do not, in general, have fitted compartments for specific items like a nécessaire though.
Some of the most popular minaudières with collectors are those known as figurals (akin to figural jewelry) shaped like animals, food items like cupcakes and slices of watermelon, along with other whimsical shapes. Many of these have been marketed by designers Judith Leiber (see photo for example of a Judith Leiber minaudière) and Katherine Baumann, among others.
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Nécessaire or Carryall Evening Bag
This is a small object which is usually portable and designed to contain an array of even smaller items for daily use ("nécessaire" means "necessary" in French). Although some were the size of a large box or a small case and stood on feet, most were hand- or pocket-sized. They may have a strap or chain to fasten to a belt or loop to carry around a wrist. Victorian versions could be fastened to a watch fob or worn on a chatelaine.
The most expensive examples were made of precious metal and fine enameling, and they may be adorned with jewels. Both Van Cleef & Arpels and Cartier (see photo) are known for making some extraordinary examples of this type. While turn-of-the-20th-century nécessaires are often shaped like cylinders or cigarette cases, and that shape remained popular for decades to come, many of those made by Fabergé is fashioned similar to the bejeweled eggs the Russian jeweler is so well known for crafting.
Developed in the early 18th century, the original examples held practical articles, like sewing accessories (perhaps needles and a small pair of scissors), pencils or knives. These were the types worn on a watch fob or chatelaine although some were designed to be carried in a pocket or purse. By the early 20th century, they began to function as small handbags with fitted compartments for carrying cosmetics, cigarettes, or toiletries.
There is some overlap with compact collecting in this area and may be referenced alternately as a "carryall" when made by a well-known manufacturer such as Volupte or Egin American. These are typically crafted of gold- or silver-plated metal and some will have rhinestone or mother of pearl embellishments. A number were made in the 1940s and '50s with grosgrain holders that allowed them to be carried with a handle rather than like a clutch.