Wilardy History

Wilardy Originals began in 1946 as Handbag Specialties, a collaboration between my grandfather, Charles William Hardy, and my father, William Hammond Hardy. The original offices and factory were in New York, and moved to Union City, New Jersey in 1953. My grandfather, who everyone called "Bill," was a wizard with mathematics and a "hard business man." My father, "Will," was the artist, designer, a great motivator and a man who possessed unusual social grace. Will Hardy took over the business in the 1960s, and continued designing and manufacturing into the early 1980s. During this period Will designed lucite handbags, lighting fixtures for Dinico, lucite bathroom fixtures, elegant containers for Atlantic Can, a chest of drawers for Jacqueline Kennedy, chandeliers for the White House, jewelry, tableware for the Grainware Company, and even clothing.

My father's concept of "summer camp" was to bring me to the factory and show me how the business was run. The din of the factory was something to be experienced: the whine of the table saws and routers reducing raw material from large sheets into smaller parts; the gasp of vacuum pumps shaping heated plastic into various shapes; the clack of various hydraulic presses stamping out parts; the treadmill-like churning of huge sanding belts being sprayed and lubricated with water; the gentle rhythmic ticking of the riveters attaching hinges, clasps, and handles; and the lapping of the wheels of buffing machines, as every scratch was slowly removed to produce the finished product. The smell of the glues and solvents used to fuse together the plastic joints, the gassing off of the plastics from the friction of cutting tools, and even the tape used to box and ship the product added to the experience.

As a boy, I remember seeing all of these women's handbags in various states of completion throughout the factory and thinking, "I know my mom has lots of these but, where are these all going to, I don't see many of my friends' mothers with them?" What I didn't realize was that these were very exclusive items costing plenty at the time. These lucite purses were being sold in Hollywood, Miami, Paris, London, and Fifth Avenue in New York.

These last few decades have shown a renewed interest in the Wilardy handbags, as they become sought-after collectibles. I'm grateful that my dad, Will, is here to experience the recognition of his work as the designer and owner of Wilardy during his own lifetime. Many books have been published on handbags, and in each one Wilardy is given a special place, known to have had the highest quality standards of design and manufacture from that time period. Perusing the catalogs and photos on this site should prove to be enjoyable for casual and serious collectors alike. Any serious research questions may be sent to Will.

- Billy Hardy 2008
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