Coral Gables Museum offers exhibition with PURSEonality


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The Coral Gables Museum has announced the coming opening of the exhibition “PURSEonality: A Stylish Handbag History,” encompassing highlights from the personal collection of Ilene Hochberg Wood.

Conceived through a partnership between Wood and Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites, Pennsylvania, where it premiered, the show will be on view at the Coral Gables Museum from Sept. 15 to Jan. 7, 2021.

The collection ranges in style from folk art, to contemporary designer, to embroidered, and numbers into the thousands, making it the largest in the U.S., if not the world. Visitors will have the opportunity to explore a timeline of the handbag, representing the trends of each decade. They will experience a selection of handbag superlatives featuring the most rare, unusual and expensive purses acquired by Wood in her decades of collecting. Also included in the show is the series “Bag Lunch” with Ilene Hochberg Wood, a collection of short videos where the collector abounds on the history and anecdotes on specific items in her collection.

Highlights include major A-list designer brands from the past and present including Chanel, Hermes, Dior, Judith Leiber and more. The display at the Coral Gables Museum will explore themes including Most Royal, Most Talkative, The Legends and The New Kids. The artist bag section will spotlight bags that are hand-decorated or inspired by famous artworks.

“We are very excited to be presenting this unique exhibition,” said museum executive director John Allen. “The collection of purses that Ilene has amassed over decades is not only the largest in the world, but incredibly diverse. It captures looks and styles ranging from Hollywood glamour and the timeless chic of the legendary jet set, to unpretentiously playful, vintage and specialty pieces. The enormous collection features not only the classic Chanel and the glittery allure of Judith Lieber, but also unique custom and vintage pieces. It is a trip through time, and each piece has a unique and different story to tell.”

Ilene Wood holds many bags near and dear including two handbag designers who are responsible for many of the designs we see in today’s modern handbag world, Anne-Marie of Paris and Nettie Rosenstein.

Anne-Marie of Paris was a Parisian designer in 1940s. Her specialty was novelty bags such as the “Champagne and Ice Bucket” and “Telephone” and her business was based in a grand hotel in Paris. The collection is considered one-of-a-kind in its arena and another version of the “Telephone” is part of the collection at The Costume Institute at the Met.

Nettie Rosenstein was an American designer in the 20th Century, based in NYC and deemed to be one of the most highly regarded American designers by LIFE magazine. Known for both fashion and accessories, Mamie Eisenhower carried a Nettie Rosenstein handbag to the Presidential Inauguration of her husband which was co-designed by Judith Leiber, who worked under Nettie until starting her own business and legacy in 1963.

“I view my collection from both aesthetic and academic perspectives, and always seek specific handbags to fill a gap in the collection. I read extensively on fashion history and the art of adornment to learn as much as I can about my growing collection,” Wood said.

“Women love handbags. They are totems and objects of desire that convey who we are and what we hold dear, both literally and figuratively. Look at any woman and the bag she carries, and you will learn a lot about her and the image she wants to convey to the world. Empty the bag and examine its contents to learn who she really is and what she finds essential to her everyday life.”

The collection, which now numbers at over 3,000 handbags and counting, is under review for a Guinness Book World Record.

PURSEonality is sure to create excitement among viewers of all ages and spark an appreciation of fashion history and the arts. Wood seeks to travel the show to additional venues after its debut in Bethlehem, PA, and this exhibition at the Coral Gables Museum.
Museum Hours are Monday-Sunday, noon-5 p.m.

Amid the current COVID-19 Pandemic the museum has implemented a few changes to better protect visitors and staff. Sanitation stations will be available throughout the venue, as well as yellow floor markers to assist in maintaining social distancing. Due to Miami-Dade County ordinances, facial coverings are mandatory.

You are strongly encouraged to RSVPat the website ahead of your visit and pre-purchase tickets to avoid in-person transactions at the museum. Visit, send email to or call 305-603-8067.

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