She owns 3,000 handbags, and keeps them in an army bunker


PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Ilene Hochberg Wood’s collection of 3,000 handbags — the majority of which dwell in a 2,400-square-foot Quonset hut on her Lehigh Valley estate — will make a fashionista fall to her knees.

Her collection has everything: crossbodies and clutches, wristlets and duffels, hobos and backpacks. There are fun ones like the giant Converse sneaker shoulder bag. Other pieces drip with kitschy nostalgia like a pocketbook stamped with the Hess Brothers department-store logo.

However, the real heart-stoppers are Wood’s designer babies. Fashion’s marquee names are all represented: Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors, Moschino. She has Judith Leiber minaudières, Edie Parker clutches, and Louis Vuitton satchels. We are talking scores of Kellys and Birkins.

There are the rare Anne Marie of Paris’ sculptural darlings — of which she has 19.

Wood’s most expensive acquisition: a flaming-red, 40-centimeter crocodile Kelly that she estimates to be worth at least $100,000.

Wood keeps most of her bags in an impenetrable, stainless steel bunker outfitted with electronic doors and alarms. Wood ordered the bunker online seven years ago from the Army. Half of the space — two Jaguars reside on the other side — is filled with sealed 18-gallon plastic storage bins stacked on top of each other that are overflowing with bags. The bins are organized thematically, with descriptive labels like “wooden top handle,” ″leather shoulder bags,” and “evening bags” neatly taped to the outside. Beauts that cost thousands of dollars live next to those that might have cost $10 or less.

“I collect handbags on every level,” Wood, 64, said. “Not everyone can spend on handbags what it costs to buy a car or a house and I get it. . . My collection is about the democratization of fashion.”

The Historic Bethlehem Museums and Sites exhibition “PURSEonality: A Stylish Handbag History” at three Lehigh Valley museums stars hundreds of handbags from Wood’s collection. Ultimately Wood wants to open her own handbag museum, and she hopes “PURSEonality,” which will run through April 30, is the first step. This is the first show dedicated to Wood’s massive collection.

The Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts will feature 300 of them, including Wood’s oldest (a Victorian-era carpetbag), the most unusual (a 1960s Lucite evening by Hollywood designer O.E.L. Graves) and the most valuable (the hot Kelly). Also included in the Kemerer exhibit are Wood’s straight-off-the-runway pieces and their Chinatown knock-off counterparts. One hundred needlepoint bags will be placed in the Moravian Museum of Bethlehem. And 150 handbags that pay homage to travel — including one fashioned from a taxi cab light — will be at Allentown’s America on Wheels Museum.

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