October 10, 2012

How To Clean A Vintage Coach Handbag

Among the many vintage handbags we have collected and cared for over the years, vintage leather bags raise particular questions - Can I get this leather wet?  Do I need to clean it?  How do I store it? 
And of all the many types of vintage leather handbags, Coach bags have more particular instructions than most.  That's because vintage Coach bags are made of tanned leather that is otherwise unfinished.  This lack of treatment gives them an entirely unique, natural feel but it also leaves Coach leather open to blemishes and burnishing, sometimes considered "good patina" on a vintage design.
Here's a 1982 pamphlet from one of those very bags:
At Vintage Vixen our usual answer about how to care for vintage leather is simple - First, clean it lightly and sparingly with saddle soap.  Second, and only if needed, moisturize it with a good quality leather conditioner.   In both steps, test the cleaning agent first in an inconspicuous area, let it dry and assess any change.
By the way, we do not use products like neat's foot oil.  Saddle soap is easily obtained at a local drug store, and you can find museum quality leather conditioner online at places like Preservation Solutions.  We have used this company to restore potentially unsaleable leathers with beautiful results... some of them seen on movie sets after their reconditioning here.
But I digress... The Coach Leatherware instructions below will illuminate handbag collectors as to what Coach itself recommends for cleaning their unaltered natural leathers.  It's interesting to see that they actually recommend rinsing off saddle soap under running water, to the point that the leather is "soaking wet".  I have not attempted this, so I cannot say if a vintage Coach bag will like this kind of treatment.  If you know, enlighten us with a comment!  We would love to hear from you.

As you plan how to care for your vintage leather bags, remember that leather is a skin, and it "breathes" (expands and contracts) with its surrounding environment.  Just like you protect your skin with shade and clothing, we always suggest protecting vintage leather purses from the elements - whether it's rain outside or dust in the closet. 

It might seem obvious, but leather care (and especially care of vintage handbags) is a love of ours, so we were excited to share this tidbit from the Coach Leatherware company.  Until next time, Vixens!

October 05, 2012

Vintage Coach Handbags Circa 1982

 I remember the first time I saw a Coach handbag.  It was about 1990 or so, and I was a preteen learning as quickly as I could about the latest fashions so that I could keep up with the Junior Joneses.  And upon looking back I have to grin.  Like so many of us have experienced as bonafide grown-ups, what was new then is vintage clothing now.

1982 vintage Coach handbags and shoulder bags.

The Coach bag was at a neighbor's house.  The mom had bought it for the daughter.  Both were a bit spoiled but lovely people, and had a taste for nice things.  The daughter presented the handbag to me with a luxurious air.

It shows my immaturity to acknowledge that my reaction to this designer bag was disappointment.  "What's the thrill here?" I thought upon seeing the plain brown flap and super simplistic lines.  There was no fluorescence to it, nor any glossy patent leather with (now-vintage) squiggles or splatter paint.  I was naive and Coach was at its best.

Since then, the Coach brand has grown tremendously.  What's more, its offerings have managed to bridge that difficult gap between high quality and affordable price, so as to furnish the masses with a name still well-liked among handbag lovers.  And as the history of Coach handbags shows, it began with six craftspeople in a New York loft seventy years ago.

At that time, and even by the 1980s, Coach was just good leather.  No fancy brocaded canvas, no peacock colors commemorating handbag anniversaries, no oversized chains and grommets.  Just good, smooth, time-testable leather.

 And when we came across this vintage Coach purse, I got a bit of nostalgia for those days.  Then I saw the pamphlets inside, still held in a diminutive muslin bag, and the vintage clothing collector in me just beamed.  I love stuff like this.

One piece of ephemera is dated 1982 which is always nice to get a pinpoint of a date.  Besides the vanity-printed bag, there's a wonderful fold-out that shows other vintage Coach handbags in the same collection, care instructions, a description of Coach's approach to leather, and a little pamphlet that describes The Factory based in New York City creating artisan quality leather goods since 1941.  A terrific glimpse at an American label still in business after decades of beautiful handbags.