Tag Archives: Magda Makkay

Denim Couture by Magda Makkay

There are times in your  life when a simple action has a very unexpected effect.  When I first called handbag designer Magda Makkay last November I had no idea that I was really gaining a new and treasured friend.  But since that day we talk and write, and when I least expect it, a box shows up at my house with her return address.

My latest design from Magda is probably my favorite.  This is the Bella bag from her Denim Couture line.  It is so incredibly well made, and I love the “snake” trim.

Inside are pockets and a zippered pouch with a key ring.  You can tell from the attention to detail that Magda knows the features that are practical and functional.

There are lots of different styles in the Denim Couture line, including clutches and totes.  I really like the Carrie model…

And the Roxie as well.

If any reader would be interested in purchasing a Magda Makkay original, I’ll be happy to pass along her phone number, as Magda does not use the computer.

Magda also sent along some photos.  Above you have her with Oscar de la Renta at a cocktail party.

This is Magda’s daughter, modeling a Magda Makkay handbag sometime in the 1960s.

I want to again thank everyone who sent cards to Magda on her birthday back in June.  From her letter:

I had the most wonderful birthday in June thanks to you!  Getting all the attention and cards from all over! I never had so many birthday cards in my life!

So thanks for helping me give my new friend such a nice surprise.

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Filed under Designers, Made in the USA

Updates – The Rest of the Story

I posted about this great White Mountain skiing outfit back in March.  I recently got an email form Elizabeth, who sent some White Mountain ads my way.

This is a newspaper ad from 1950, and yes, that is my ski suit.   The ad mentions that is comes in grey and red, and that the jacket is reversible.  An earlier ad from 1936 tells a bit about the company:

If you are serious about skiing you’ll take to White Mountain.  They’re not only inspired by that famous White Mountain Ski Camp which attracts snow trains of enthusiastic sportsmen and their ladies, they’re more than that…They’re tried and experienced ideas of people who mean business when they plan their snow wardrobe.  No fussy “extras,” no furbelows – just simple efficiency which sets its own fashion.

You may remember the delightful conversation I had with handbag designer Magda Makkay.  For my birthday I received a huge box from her, and inside was what has become my go-to travel bag.  Here it is sitting outside the 1920 elevator of the Biltmore Greensboro Hotel where I stayed recently.  It’s just incredible that she can turn out a fantastic bag like this.

I happen to know that Magda has a birthday coming up in late June.  If you’d like to join me in wishing her a happy 89th birthday, send me an email and I’ll let you know her address.  I know she’d be pleasantly surprised by cards from lots of fashion history people who want to says thanks for her contributions to fashion.


Filed under Designers, Rest of the Story, Sportswear

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, First Person Stories

Magda Makkay Handbag, Early 1960s

I had been looking for a handbag that could be used for evening, but I didn’t want something really glitzy.  I simply do not live in a glitzy place!  I ran across this pretty bag back in the late spring.  It was signed on the inside, but I’m not very knowledgeable about vintage handbag brands, so I asked the experts at the Vintage Fashion Guild, and promptly got the answer.

It reads “Magda Makkay.”  The symbol above the name consists of two little hearts.

Today I finally got around to searching for some information on this brand.  It turns out that Magda Makkay was an actual person.  She was born in Hungary where she learned  the pocketbook craft.  In 1956 she was able to flee from revolution-torn Hungary and ended up in New York.   There she got a job at Koret handbags as a designer.

Makkay was still making handbags in 1982, the last reference I can find of her.  After a stint of making cloth and cheaper handbags for Charisma, in 1982 she was making  organizer bags that retailed for $80 (about $180 today).

Makkay worked by actually making a prototype of each of her designs.  This sample was then sent to the factory where it was reproduced.  According to Makkay, a handbag on paper did not always work the way the designer planned.  It was only through making an actual bag that a designer could be sure that the design worked.

My bag seems to be from the early to mid 1960s.  It has a fine interior of satin with a matching mirror with its own special slot.  Makkay must have been really fond of gold chain handles because many of the examples of her work that I’ve found online have them.

There are two pockets on the top that are part of the overall design.  The front panel lifts up to reach the interior, and it closes with a snap closure.

There is not a lot on information on the web about Makkay,  but within ten minutes of searching I found a newspaper article from 1977, and then one from 1982.  So getting the information was a relatively easy task that any person familiar with a Google could accomplish.  Considering that I also found three Magda Makkay handbags for sale that were labeled 1940s, I’ve got to wonder why a seller would not take the time to do a simple search for the brand name.   It make me want to stop and just say thank you to all the great sellers who do their homework.

Thank You.


Filed under Collecting