Conversation with Magda Makkay

Two months ago I posted about a beautiful Magda Makkay handbag I’d bought.  I wasn’t familiar with the name, but the handbag experts at the Vintage Fashion Guild quickly identified the bag as being made by Makkay.  I was able to piece together a small biography of Makkay through old newspaper accounts of her work.

And if not for the wonder of the internet, the story would be over.  But two weeks ago I got an email from a person in New York who had seen my post, and as it turns out, is Magda Makkay’s neighbor.  She wrote to tell me that Magda was alive and well at 88, and would love to talk with me.

The next day I called Magda.  She gladly told me  about her life and career, and then she offered to send some photos and things that would fill in the gaps in her story.  We’ve talked again, and it had been so much fun getting to know her.

Magda was born in Hungary in the 1920s.  As a child she would help her mother and sister produce clothing from their home knitting machine.  By the time she was fourteen, she went to work as an apprentice in a Budapest handbag factory.  There she worked for three years, perfecting her craft.  She was the first woman to ever finish the program.  Magda also took classes in fashion, graduating from Hungary’s leading fashion school.

After marrying and the birth of a daughter, Magda returned to work as a newspaper reporter.  The paper was impressed with her knowledge of making things so she was assigned to write about and sketch manufacturing plants.    All was well until Magda was approached about joining the Communist Party.  When she refused, she lost her job.  With the help of the Hungarian Underground, Magda began to plan her escape from Hungary.

In 1956 she was hidden in the back of a truck among large cartons.  She was taken to a hideaway, and from there was led across the border to Austria.  Eventually she made her way to New York City.

In New York she went to the Pocketbook Local Worker’s Union, who suggested that she contact Hungarian business leaders in New York.  Through one of them, Mickey Gordon, she was given employment at Koret Handbags.  She worked as a handbag designer for Koret for the next nine years.

In the mid 1960s Magda began producing handbags under her own name.  In 1975 she joined Charisma by Make Well as handbag designer.  There she developed what was called the Fashion Organizer.

In the above illustration you can see an Organizer.  The flap lifted up to reveal a folded section with pouches.  It could be carried like a handbag, or it could be a shoulder bag using the detachable strap.  If you are sharp-eyed, you can spot Mary Tyler Moore carrying one on her 1970s television program.

In 1978 Magda designed a handbag especially for Princess Grace of Monaco, and she traveled to Monte Carlo to present it to the princess.  She also made a briefcase for President Gerald Ford.

Magda told me that she is still making handbags in her home.  She explained that making bags was more than just a job – it was her craft and a lifetime passion.

Many thanks to Magda for her conversations and friendship.


I found a 1970s Fashion Organizer on etsy, and got the seller’s permission to share the photos here.

Thanks to YesterdayIsBack for the use of the photos.


Filed under Designers

26 responses to “Conversation with Magda Makkay

  1. What an AWESOME story! Behold, the power of the internet! And had you not written about your purse, her story would’ve never been told. Love it! Job well done Lizzie!

    Like this

  2. I hadn’t heard of Magda Makkay, but that was a fantastic story, Lizzie. Thank you.

    Like this

  3. neatokeenetsy

    Wonderfully done post! Kudos on a great interview with a fascinating lady!

    Like this

  4. valarielynn

    Love reading stories like this. Great job, Magda, and great interview on her.

    Like this

  5. Teresa

    The internet never fails to amaze me. Magda’s history and her bags are absolutely fascinating. Thanks for sharing Lizzie!

    Like this

  6. You have made history come alive with this interview, Lizzie. This story will stay with me for a long, long time! Thanks so much.

    Like this

  7. Absolutely wonderful story and it’s just so amazing how small the world becomes via the internet!

    Like this

  8. Fascinating post. What a treat to have been able to connect with Magda Makkay. Thank you for sharing.

    Like this

  9. Such an interesting story; it would make a great film! Ah! The wonders of the world wide web. Thank you for sharing Magda’s story. :-) xx

    Like this

  10. Wow! What a wonder both the internet, coincidence and Magda are..fascinating story beautifully told xxx

    Like this

  11. Fascinating story, how great that you have told it. Thanks Lizzie!

    Like this

  12. Thanks to you and Magda for sharing her story. Sometimes I love the internets.

    Like this

  13. MS

    What a fascinating story! Being a “purse freak”, I always love to read about the history of handbags.

    Like this

  14. Remarkable! What an amazing historian you are, I love learning the back stories of fashion history.

    Like this

  15. I appreciate all the kind words. It was my pleasure to share Magda’s story.

    Like this

  16. Incredible story! So wonderful that Magda is willing to share her story – and you, in turn- to the world.

    Like this

  17. Wow! What a fantastic story! Your posting on the VFG is how I found you & have loved hearing the purse saga unfold…it’s really like a historical fiction book, only real! It must have been such an honor for her to be spotlighted by you!
    Thank you for sharing

    Like this

  18. Sue

    She sounds like an amazing woman, and your story about her is wonderful Lizzie! The magic of vintage! Thank you for letting us share a tiny bit of your excitement with you!


    Like this

  19. Very awesome blog post for sure. It left me wanting to know even more about Magda’s experiences and I also enjoyed seeing her organizer developed on paper and then the actual organizer handbag.

    Like this

  20. Magda is an amazing woman. Thank you and her neighbor for getting her story out there!

    Like this

  21. What a great story and wonderful post! Magda sounds like an amazing lady.

    Like this

  22. Pingback: The Vintage Traveler

  23. Pingback: Koret Purses, Aris Gloves, 1934 | witness2fashion

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s