February 5, 2014 | 7 Comments

Head Hand Bag (Yael Mer)

From the curators: The Head Hand Bag translates the violence of decapitation into an object of practical use. Designer Yael Mer’s main focus is turning two-dimensional sheet materials into shaped forms. Here, flat felt is molded around a “deliberately masculine” foam template to create a shadowy facial mask of depressions and impressions. The bag is part of a series inspired by the biblical story of Judith and Holofernes, a favorite subject of 17th-century Baroque painters such as Caravaggio and Artemisia Gentileschi. In a story that is now presumed to be a parable rather than history, brave Judith approaches the Assyrian general Holofernes in his tent after gaining his trust, and decapitates him in his drunken stupor in order to save her people, the Israelites. The bag isn’t unisex; as Mer contends, even if the wearer doesn’t know the backstory, “there is still something very clear, powerful, and primitive about the meaning of holding a man’s head in this way.” Mer studied at the Royal College of Art in London, graduating in 2006. She is part of Raw-Edges Design Studio, a collaboration with designer Shay Alkalay. 

Yael Mer’s drawstring Head Hand Bags (2008) are the MUST “It-Bag” for this or any other fashion season. While a Louis Vuitton doctor bag, an oversize Goyard tote, or the ever-prohibitive Hermès Birkin are all equally capable of toting a human head from the boardroom to the beach to the speakeasy and straight to Perdition afterward (the discotheque under the speakeasy), only Mer’s Head Hand Bag also contains the Judith and Holofernes subtext that insouciant, in-the-know Renaissance artists like Donatello liked to employ as an allegory of the commune rising up against the tyranny of the ruling class.

It’s a handbag that asks today’s rebel fashionista: What’s the point of going through all the trouble of seducing and decapitating your oppressor if you’re just going to conceal your victory in a Coach weekender? Let everyone know what’s really going in your overhead rack on the Hamptons Jitney. Flaunt that trophy, Girl—and hang it from the tallest wooden stake outside your bedroom as a warning to unwanted invaders.

Even decades before that cross-dressing silver fox with the homespun toga and trendsetting lumberjack-beard brought the first stone tablets of Fashion Law down from Mount Bergdorf, ladies have endured numberless tortures at the hands of sartorial sadists: forehead-flattening, foot-binding, whalebone corsets, chemical peels, the Hervé Léger bandage dress (ad nauseam and an extra 15 pounds.)

Head Hand Bags are Yael Mer’s bloodlust-y howl toward a brave new psycho-sexual-cum-socioeconomic battlefield (which, like the ever-recurring themes in fashion itself, is pretty much exactly the same psycho-sexual-cum-socioeconomic battlefield that it has always been, re-cut for today’s nonstop lifestyle, without references to outré standby-silhouettes like the cast-iron chastity belt or the monochromatic Gloria Steinem pantsuit.)

Don’t let your inner witch burn with unfulfilled handbag desire, ladies. This is a killer investment piece (particularly if you’ve taken out a healthy life-insurance policy on your prospective victim, wink-wink).

Whether you’re a seasoned snuff-drunk murderess or you’re just beginning to assemble your new look for crime, Cry, Have It! And let’s swipe Head Hand Bags of war!


Can fashion ever productively/seriously engage with violence?

  1. February 6, 2014, 3:03 am


    “We will never ever have such BS as Philippe Starck’s taking the AK-47, making it gold, and making an abajur out of it. That kind of cynicism has never what we’re going to look for.” – Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator, Department of Architecture and Design, MoMA and organizer of Design and Violence.

  2. February 19, 2014, 7:56 pm

    […] Zag ik op Design and Violence. […]

  3. March 7, 2014, 4:38 am



    There is just enough detail to make it out its straight to the point however a decapitation is a very violent act; it has been used as a form of punishment for millennia. Seeing a woman carrying it around is very controversial and taboo. As a designer I understand this form of art but at the same time it is so literal visually and although it is functional it is not mainstream it is unfamiliar and mentally grotesque.

  4. December 31, 2014, 12:01 am


    probably not

    I am sure that, from the point of view of any artist, there can be a want/will to productively engage with any subject that weighs on her mind or stimulates her creatively. However, authorship is not limited to the artist and in this day, when exposure is at an all-time extreme, eliciting the reaction for which the artist might have hoped seems as likely as finding the needle in the haystack, particularly in the arena of fashion.
    By now, we’ve seen fashion filter just about everything for every different reason and we are inured to the impact of that which once would have been “shocking.” Kitsch, fetishism, irony, cultural expression and self-expression are the standard of the day and one could, through any of those lenses, note this bag and react without real regard. That isn’t to say that there isn’t merit in the expression of the artist, but I do presume that its ability to make a greater/more serious impact is markedly limited. The ability for interpretation in a world that is habituated/fascinated by violence is too broad. My initial thought might have been “maybe the designer just likes the drama of Greek tragedy and wishes there was more in a our daily life..” A severed head can be silly just as easily as it can be severe in 2014.

    If fashion wanted to productively engage with violence, I would imagine that it could not effectively do so via the gimmick (ie the image), but rather it would need to take a stand about how and where and from what and in what way its products are made. The end result of design, no matter how graphic, can mean nothing if we all remain complicit in the atrocious things that happen in order to fill our stores and our closets.

  5. April 21, 2016, 11:06 pm


    The decapitated head bag

    I really like it I want one where can I get one

  6. May 4, 2016, 10:06 pm


    Judas bag

    I would also like to inquire on how to purchase this bag. It is interesting and grotesque. Plese let me know if there is a way to buy one. Even if the answer is no (I hope not) knowing is better than being left in the dark.

  7. May 4, 2016, 10:09 pm


    Plese excuse my horrible auto correct. The title should read Judith not Judas!