Compacts date from the early 1900s, a time when make-up had not gained widespread social acceptance and the first powder cases were often concealed within accessories such as jewellery, walking sticks or hatpins. From 1896, Plainsville, Massachusetts-based handbag manufacturer Whiting & Davis created lidded compartments in its bags where powder rouge and combs could be stowed. In 1908, Sears’ catalogue advertised a silver-plated case with mirror and powder puff (price 19 cents) and described it as small enough to fit in a pocketbook.
In the US, manufacturers such as Evans and Elgin American produced metal compacts with either finger chains or longer tango chains. Designed to be displayed rather than fitted in a handbag, they required more ornate designs and many from this era are examples of sleek Art Deco styling. As make-up became more mainstream and women were increasingly active outside the home, compacts became more popular. British manufacturer Stratton began importing part-finished powder boxes from the US for assembly at its Birmingham plant in 1923 and by the 1930s it was creating them from scratch and producing half the compacts used by the UK cosmetics industry!
This vanity case, made in 1928 by Cartier, is similar in design to that owned by Jeanne Toussaint. It’s made of gold, platinum, enamal, diamonds, emeralds, rubies and onyx. The interior has a mirror, lipstick case, covered powder compartment and a cigarette compartment. This item is part of a later series of cases also inspired by Georges Barbier’s drawings of panthers, dogs, and gazelles. Another case decorated with greyhounds belonged to Elma Rumsey, Pierre Cartier’s wife. (Photo: N. Welsh, Cartier Collection © Cartier).
The company developed self-opening inner lids in 1948 (designed to protect the powder and prevent damage to fingernails) and by the 1960s it was exporting to agents worldwide. Compacts were heavily influenced by prevailing fashions, for instance, the 1922 discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb spawned Egypt-inspired obelisks, sphinxes and pyramids, while the growing popularity of the car meant compacts were incorporated into visors, steering wheels and gears.
Van Cleef & Arpels, Paris, minaudiere Noir 18k gold black laquer, 1935
Famous French jewellers such as Van Cleef & Arpels, Cartier, Boucheron, Mauboussin, and US jeweller Tiffany & Co began producing minaudières. A minaudière is a women’s fashion accessory, generally considered a jewelry piece, made of precious metal like sterling, gold or platinum, and many times inlaid with precious stones, carried on a metal or silk cord. Intended to be a substitute for an evening bag. A case with compartments, it allows storage for several items in a small space, such as a makeup compact, lipstick, watch, reading glasses, or keys.
The minaudière appeared during the 1930s. Its invention is attributed to Charles Arpels, of Van Cleef & Arpels, but many jewellers and Haute Couture designers have created their own models. Many times made by order. They where very popular in Hollywood, and among Royal society. Also in the 1930s, compacts were regularly updated to match the season’s fashion trends and gimmicks such as watches (Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Tiffany & Co .a.o) and even miniature windscreen wipers were included in designs. Later, compacts became popular souvenir items (both the Chicago and New York World Fairs of the 1930s included souvenir powder cases) designs could also be picked up as mementos of holidays abroad.
Van Cleef & Arpels Minaudiere, black suede, 18k gold, diamonds en emeralds. Contrasting color, and a sunburst design, place this 1934 Van Cleef & Arpels purse, radiant minaudiere, in the art deco period. (photo courtesy of MOCA).
Although compacts continued to be in widespread production up to the 1960s, their popularity diminished as the cosmetics industry created plastic containers that were designed to be discarded once the powder ran out. These began to be heavily advertised from the 1950s. Writing in Americana, Deirdre Clemente suggests that changing make-up trends , notably for natural rather than pale and powdered complexions from the late 1950s on, contributed to the declining popularity of the compact.
Even now, compacts ar many times little pecious items in a ladys purse or clutch. Made in beautuful shapes, and often in gold (colored plastic). Famous ar the limited editions you see at the end of the year, mostly to celebrate Christmass. Some not from plasic but made of real metal. Famous are those from Estée Lauder, true collector items…..
Van Cleef & Arpels Caresse d’Eole minaudière, white gold, rhodium, diamonds.
Everything is coming back! last year we saw the revival of the clutch, that little small evening bag. And now the minaudière! Not only made by it’s inventor Van Cleef & Arpels, but also by other jewellers like Cartier, Boucheron, Bvlgari, Harry Winston, and many fashion designers like Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior! Everything is coming back again.
Its going to be beautiful again in restaurants and at party’s! Thank you girls!
by Jean Amr