Joy Liotta Horvath learned to sew from her mother and to upholster from her father. She’s restored antique leather fire buckets for collectors, antique French leather club chairs for decorators and currently does restoration work for the antique department of Ralph Lauren in New York. For her own atelier, Gioia Handbags, she designs and creates functional artwork otherwise recognized as handbags.
This area of passionate creativity has been Joy’s bailiwick since age fourteen and her profession since she was nineteen. Why? “Handbags aren’t dependent on your dress size or body shape. They can stand alone. I love the challenge of function combined with good design.”
From 1980-1988, Joy owned and ran “Liotta for T.J. & Company” for which she designed mostly leather handbags. “I’d get there at 6 a.m. and work until 8 a.m., go to a second job at a bag factory in Elmont, Queens, and return at five to do packing, shipping, and cutting for the next day.” When she arrived at her studio to $17,000 worth of orders, the entrepreneur quit subsidiary work. The company had 12 employees and shipped a respectable 300 bags a week, but, over time, accounts would have to be chased for payment and her styles were increasingly knocked off in Asia. A familiar story. “It was no longer fun.” She closed the business.
All those years, Joy had been collecting and reselling vintage handbags—Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Mark Cross, Hermes, etc.—doing her own repairs and restoration. For a long time, she was the only exhibitor dealing in this kind of distinctive accessory at New York antique shows. “Handbags from the early 1900s until the 60s or 70s were often quality works of art. My favorite period is from the 1920s to the 1950s. Now they’re either disposable chic or high priced designer accessories that need to be replaced every season in order to show everyone you have the latest one.” She also taught handbag pattern making at F.I.T.
By the time other vendors caught on and began to compete, Joy had turned to creating her own one-of-a-kind pieces with the attention to craftsmanship and detail whose historical loss she mourns. She mounted a web site offering distinctively beautiful purses for brides–white or off- white silk with antique frames and personalized monograms. Kleinfeld’s wanted to carry them, but the unique and labor intensive process prohibited wholesale pricing and Joy felt selling the bags that way would diminish their exclusivity. Handbags, the Power of the Purse by Anna Johnson features a special tongue in cheek piece the artist created in the shape of a wedding cake. Until 2000, Joy freelanced for Donna Karan, Valentino, Armani AX, Anne Klein, Kate Spade, Perry Ellis, and Fossil as well as making her own unparalleled designs.
Gioia Handbags now shows at the finer craft exhibitions and accepts commissions with its web site as a frame of reference. Since each piece is one of a kind, photos are meant only to inspire and suggest. Joy does not sell to stores. She collects antique purse frames and exceptional fabrics—some Asian, some couture, some decorator—as well as beads and fixings, selectively combining these in the service of her unique artisanal accessories. “Since fashion has changed, a bag made in the 1920s may not be the ideal shape today, so I reform the shapes.” Evening bags have a single small pocket inside, shoulder bags are equipped with cell phone pockets.
Joy respects original makers, appreciating the value and quality of hand work employed. She uses different weight papers to reinforce every part of her creations—the front, back, gussets, bases, linings and handles. Most of her bags utilize over forty pattern pieces! She herself cuts the components, makes the piping and welting, and does the beading. Indicative of her elegance is the small handmade pillow found inside each bag, rather than crumpled tissue paper. Having developed an extraordinary niche for herself, Joy honors the past by creating heirlooms for the future.
Joy Horvath has been selected to be included in The Philadelphia Craft Show November 9-13 2011. Prices range from $400 to $2,800. She is available for product development, pattern and sample making, and restoration work.