The Times We Lived In: For Beverly bag style, it's handbags at Bray

Published: November 30th, 1966 photograph by Dermot O’Shea

Beverly handbags being made in  O’Rahilly Hall, Bray, Co Wicklow. Photograph: Dermot O’Shea/The Irish Times

Beverly handbags being made in O’Rahilly Hall, Bray, Co Wicklow. Photograph: Dermot O’Shea/The Irish Times

 

Handbags at dawn, ladies: or should that be, handbags at Bray?

It may look like a sort of grow-your-own-bag greenhouse – but today’s photo offers a glimpse into the making of a legend. These young women are putting the finishing touches to a clutch of Beverly bags.

Which, if you wanted style, sophistication, craftsmanship and quality in the 1960s and 1970s – and you had the cash to pay for it – were the most desirable bags in the business.

They were sold in Galeries Lafayette in Paris and Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, and sported by the jet set – Grace Kelly, among others, had a Beverly bag.

The factory was started by a man called Hans Hautz who fetched up in north Wicklow when he fled Nazi Germany during the second World War. He later sent local workers off to Germany for training, whence they returned as master craftspersons.

The bags in our photo, taken to accompany an advertising feature in 1966, are clearly getting a little final TLC before being sent out into the world. The workers seem happy to totally ignore the camera: the girl in the centre, at the front, seems to be polishing the brass fittings on her bag, while there’s clearly a bit of banter going on between the two ladies in the back row.

As for the bags themselves, you can almost smell the leather as they line up for their final inspection. The colours don’t show up in black and white, but an online vintage site currently features one particularly gorgeous bag in “oxblood lizard skin” – and there’s a green one at the National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks, consisting of green shantung silk and antique Irish crochet, made to match the dress worn by Mrs Seán T O’Kelly on St Patrick’s Day, 1959, during the first presidential visit to the US.

The Beverly factory closed in the late 1990s, due to “competition from cheap foreign imports”.

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