The Vintage Purse Gallery was delighted to have the opportunity to interview Aaron Blumenkranz, descendent of Ida Jolles, an entrepreneurial legend in the history of 20th century purse manufacturing.
Jolles Studios business card
Vintage Purse Gallery: How are you related to Ida Jolles?
Aaron Blumenkranz: I am her great-grandson and my two daughters, of course, are her great-great-granddaughters. My wife was always interested in Ida’s story and Jolles Original.
1955 Jolles petit-point booklet
VPG: Who started the Jolles Original company?
AB: Ida Jolles started it in the early twentieth century. Later, as the Viennese business became successful and grew, she brought in her husband to help manage it.
Jolles needlework billfold and petit-point purse
VPG: What is her personal story?
AB: Despite being born in Europe in 1897—a time and place where women were not welcome in commerce—she grew up to build a large international company employing 20,000 people. Fluent in many languages, she traveled extensively. She had enormous business savvy, and used what we consider to be twenty-first century business techniques—such as outsourcing and allowing/encouraging employees to work at home—well before her time. Perhaps even more important to her success, this elegant lady also had exquisite taste and an eye for beauty. But her main focus was always her family.
Jolles Plas-Ti-Cato and Plastic-Rol clutch purses.
VPG: How did she come to start her needlepoint business in 1923 in Austria?
AB: Ahh! Now that’s a story! We tell some of it on our website, .
Jolles basket bag with heavily embellished top
VPG: Was she able to get out of Europe during WWII? Where did she go?
AB: Yes—and she got her kids, husband and business out as well! The harrowing story of outfoxing the Nazi soldier who had seized her husband and her business—and went on to open studios in New York, Brussels, and Shanghai—is a tale as riveting as a spy movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. In fact, my aunt is working on a book, “The Lady and the Kommissar” that details this, and much more. We will be sure to get an early copy to The Vintage Purse Gallery!
Trio of whimsical Jolles totes
VPG: After the war, how was she integral in rebuilding Austria’s economy?
AB: Madame Jolles was the first U.S. civilian sent under the Marshall Plan to help rehabilitate the Austrian economy after World War II.
Jolles penguin handbag created by Ida's daughter, Stella
VPG: Please share with us some of the commendations she received as a world leader.
AB: She received the Austrian Cross of Honor for helping the Viennese economy after World War I, and, as mentioned above, was the first civilian sent by the U.S. government under the Marshall Plan to help again after World War II. At that time she also became very active in helping improve medical conditions in Taiwan, endowing hospitals and medical laboratories. She knew Chiang Kai Shek, and got medals from his government for this humanitarian work.
Poodle purse, highly collectible, also created by Stella Jolles
VPG: In The Vintage Purse Gallery’s collection, we have Jolles Original needlepoint and petit point purses, and Jolles Plastic-Rol and Plas-Ti-Cato purses, as well as some 1960s cage purses, embellished corduroy totes and even ones with poodle, penguin and marlin motifs. These are highly desired by collectors! Do you know how the company evolved to make these engaging designs?
AB: Ida Jolles always sought new ideas, new techniques, and new art forms. In fact she held patents for some of her designs. Her younger daughter Stella was a madly creative designer, so Madame Jolles brought her in to the business. Stella created the poodle, penguin and marlin motifs. Her specialty was whimsical, trendy purses made with materials like felt, sequins and beads. These were marketed as “Ego Bags.” However, Madame Jolles remained responsible for the petit point bags and the more conservative beaded and leather creations. Elegant simplicity was her trademark.
Trio of Stella Jolles' cage purses
VPG: Are there any craftspersons still around who made some of these bags, and are you in touch with them? Have you ever visited Austria?
AB: The craftspersons are long gone. But my mother and aunt were frequent visitors at the studio in New York’s Garment District. This was an amazing place—a full floor in the building. My aunt, who was younger, was usually parked in the work area, by piles and bins of beads and felt. My mother got to see the formal showroom, where the professional buyers were served tea, and models would “wear the bags” and stop to show the inside of the bags. Both my mother and aunt also visited the Austrian studio. They remember the workers in both places “oohing and aahing” over The Boss’s grandkids.
Needlepoint and beaded German shepherd purse by Jolles Original
VPG: Please tell us about your goals in re-launching the Jolles Original brand.
AB: Our motivation in re-launching my great-grandmother’s brand is our attempt to resurrect her as a beacon and role model for my daughters. We hope to use the Jolles Original brand as a living platform to tell her inspiring story.
Needlepoint and embellished flowers bag by Jolles
VPG: Anything else you’d like to add?
AB: It’s thrilling to see that Jolles Original creations are still admired, still sought after on places like eBay, Etsy, and—of course!—The Vintage Purse Gallery. Thank you!!!
Jolles three-dimensional flower pot bag
A HUGE THANK YOU to Mr. Blumenkranz for sharing Madame Jolles’ story with us. For more information, please visit .
Jolles bags in photos above are from The Vintage Purse Gallery’s collection.