Martin Van Schaak: History

Martin Van Schaak hardly ever advertised, and did not sell his designs in stores. His important customers—ladies of means and fame—usually discovered him by seeing his fabulous creations carried by others. Happy to get his name and telephone number, they would make an appointment to visit him at his Upper East Side apartment in New York—an elegant enclave tastefully decorated with picturesque oriental rugs, French furniture, and original oils on raspberry walls. After discussing a client’s preferences, Mr. Van Schaak would set up a date to visit her at home. He used to show up with four commodious suitcases stuffed with 120 sample bags: “That’s because, when most ladies say they want a black

Martin Van Schaak: New York’s Purveyor of Fine Handbags

“Too rarefied to operate from anything as public as a showroom, he preferred to call on his society clientèle in their own homes. Any bag that bears his name is a fortuitous find.”—Tracy Tolkien, fashion collector, author and consultant. Mr. Martin Van Schaak, the most elusive master, whose customers—including Jacqueline Kennedy, Nancy Reagan, and Marlene Dietrich—represented the crème de la crème of New York, Los Angeles, Texas, and Washington society, was designing his novelty purses for over half a century, starting in the early 1940s. They say his wonderful, custom-made creations, made exclusively per order with the personality of a client in mind, have never been available in retail sto

Martin Van Schaak: Handbag Jewelry

The corner stone of the fabulous vintage designs by Martin Van Schaak is a sizable, 24K gold-plated ornament encrusted with sparkling crystal rhinestones, glass gems, or colorful enamel. Whimsical and artful, they usually depict various animals—such as tigers or elephants—as well as birds, fish, and dolphins. Their uniqueness lies in their over-sized proportions and highly artistic designs. They are never static, but rather fluid and expressive, conveying motion and movement in progress. Bold and modern in spirit, his handbag jewelry doesn’t just blend or complement, but stands out and works in contrast with the traditionally quiet styling of his handbags. Used purely as decoration on some o

Martin Van Schaak: Styles, Designs, Materials

Classic and traditional, Martin Van Schaak handbags are not without occasional little “fantasies,” as the Master used to say himself. Crafted by skilled European artisans working on Long Island, each is a one-of-a-kind wonder. Besides custom designs, you could also choose from stock items sold by appointment only. His vintage styles usually come in several basic designs, crafted of luxurious materials, and adorned by glistening jewelry enhancers. They are a double-handled Pullman; a top-handled satchel; a simple classic clutch; a messenger shoulder bag; a bracelet bag; and a petite evening bag. Crisp lines and sleek profiles make up the quintessence of the brand’s image. Superlative exotic s

Fashion History: The Victorian Period

In the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution in Victorian England, as well as the development of the railroad, facilitated the rise of a new social class—working women—who needed a sturdy bag for travel. Such a bag—a small and rounded leather suitcase built on a strong metal frame, with a secure closure, a lock, and a key—was born in 1860. The emerging middle class—represented by newly rich business owners, merchants, bankers, lawyers, and other professionals—started showing its wealth through luxurious possessions. Alligator travel satchels became the ultimate expression of their success and social status. Luxurious English alligator travel cases, dating back to the second half of the 19t

Victorian Exotic Skin Evening Bags

At the end of the 19th century, as women’s lives and activities became more diverse, both in Europe and America, the demand for handbags suited to particular occasions resulted in the establishment of a new industry: handbag manufacturing. Bulky, luggage-type satchels were soon transformed into portable, more attractive daytime handbags and chatelaine purses, with belt fasteners, and smaller pocketbooks and wallets. Those early pieces, made of expensive and durable crocodile skins, were outfitted with multiple compartments for a fan, money, glasses, and, on occasion, a lighter and cigarettes. Alligator purses for afternoon sported ornate sterling frames in an elaborate Victorian Repousse de






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