Profile: Handbag Diva Patricia Bell

Collector extraordinaire Patricia Bell, known for her vast assemblage of contemporary art, 4,000-bottle wine cellar and generous philanthropic spirit, invited us to view her enviable assortment of designer handbags.

Moo Roo Handbag
Frivolous Moo Roo bag from Charleston—pink feathers with sewn-on stones.
Photo by Andy Foster.

“Prada, Valentino, Louis Vuitton— they are all like my children,” she says. “About a decade ago, I started modestly, and then my collection morphed. I’ve given many of my early bags to friends, so now I have about 40.”

Bell usually shops at Neiman Marcus and Prada in Short Hills and Jeffrey in Manhattan for bright bags that are unusual but functional. Lately, during her travels between home in South Orange and work in Short Hills, she keeps a burnt-orange Prada physician’s bag on her arm. For special evening events, her go-to bag is usually an Alexander McQueen knucklebox clutch with signature skull adornment.

When the effervescent Bell isn’t collecting or serving on the boards of the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey, Arts Unbound in Orange, and Aljira Center for Contemporary Art in Newark, she is advising high-asset clients as managing director of investments for Merrill Lynch. (Bell confides that, if she weren’t a financial executive, she might enjoy being a handbag buyer.)

As for her shopping budget, “If I see something extraordinary and it’s within my means, I partake. I don’t go wild or anything—when I spend money on handbags, I typically buy several moderately priced bags rather than a single exorbitant bag.

“For me, accoutrements complete an outfit,” says this doyenne of design. She usually wears solid black, kicked up with over-the-top accessories. “Put on a simple black dress with great shoes and an adorable handbag, and you’ll look like a million. But wear a fancy dress with so-so shoes and bag, and you just won’t look your best. And people do notice—I can always spot a stylish handbag clear across the room.”

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