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 skins, book-binding leather, cut velvet, brocade, satin, and beaded silk were the main materials used by Van Schaak in the 1950s-1960s. Lizard skin was his daytime favorite. The frames for his handbags were crafted per order in Paris, France. The roomy interiors of a smart layout were lined in practical calfskin or satin, in jewel tones, signed in gold 'Martin Van Schaak New York'.

While researching for this book, I could not help but notice how scarce the information about Mr. Van Schaak was. You can only imagine my excitement, when I was lucky enough to discover a couple of articles from the 1960s, where he was mentioned as “the best-kept secret.” A slender, brown-haired man, Martin Van Schaak—who described himself as “half-French, half-Dutch” —arrived in America from France in the mid-1940s. In 2001, he celebrated his eightieth birthday. He reminisced that in 1943 he sold his first purse to the wife of the Dutch ambassador, and, from then on, he designed for most fashionable women of America for about half a century.

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