I can’t believe I’m writing about handbags. Anybody who knows me knows I’m not exactly a fashionista.
My day often begins with Mevrouw T telling me that I’m wearing the wrong coloured socks, me telling her the socks are very comfortable and that my trousers will cover them anyway, her suggesting that while I have my shoes off I may as well change the disgusting trousers too, and me bowing to her superior judgement in all matters of dress.
So you can imagine I’m not the ideal person to be reviewing a museum dedicated entirely to fashion accessories.
I do however like art, design and social history, and this remarkable small museum in a lovely Amsterdam canal house has all of these in spades.
Some thirty-five years ago antiquarian Hendrikje Ivo found an 1820s handbag near Norwich. She liked it. She bought it. She looked around for more.
By 1996 she had a collection of 3000 bags and purses and with her (possibly long-suffering though supportive) husband opened the Tassenmuseum ‘Handbag Museum’ Hendrikje in a villa in Amstelveen, just outside Amsterdam.
That was just the beginning for Mevrouw Ivo. Over the next decade her collection continued to grow and in 2007 it was moved to its present location, the beautifully restored canal house on Amsterdam’s Herengracht, the Gentlemen’s Canal.
The museum now claims to have over 4000 tassen (‘bags’), the world’s largest collection.
Highlights are the 16th century goatskin man-bag, the Versace purse Madonna carried to the premiere of Evita and a 19th century German bag made from the shell of an unfortunate tortoise. Turning unusual animals into ladies’ accessories has entertained bag-makers for centuries, it seems.
There are also modern masterpieces by world famous fashion designers whose names I’d never heard before.
I did like the art deco work very much.
My eye was also taken by the section devoted to railway luggage.
The advent of the railways in the 19th century brought long distance travel into the lives of the common people for the first time.
Picnics in the country required picnic hampers, travelling longer distances required vanity sets and hat boxes. For reasons best known to those who like hats and vanity sets, they’ve gone out of fashion now.
Perhaps some time in the future the Tassenmuseum will display green supermarket bags, Tellytubbies backpacks and pull-along Samsonite hand luggage to give visitors a nostalgic laugh.
As well as the displays themselves, the house, built in 1664 for Pieter de Graeff, the son of Amsterdam mayor Cornelis de Graeff, is worth visiting for its restored rooms, neat French-style garden and its cafe.
If you’re not into handbags, take a long book. Your companion may be some time.
Oh, and you may need to strategically position yourself between partner and gift shop.
Tassenmuseum Hendrikje/Museum of Bags and Purses
1017 CD Amsterdam
telephone: +31 20 524 64 52
Museum and shop: daily 10.00-17.00.