The Vintage Purse Gallery Interviews Jerry Terrence, Inventor of The Original Carpet Bag
By Wendy Dager
When Jerry Terrence visited Grauman’s Chinese Theater in 1964, the marquee caught his eye, setting him on a path to an enduring legacy of fashion entrepreneurship.
The film was The Carpetbaggers, starring George Peppard, Alan Ladd and Carroll Baker, but it wasn’t its star-studded cast or engaging plotline that changed Terrence’s life. It was the title that gave Terrence the idea of taking it literally by creating bags made of actual carpeting.
“I was working in the floor covering business that my father, who’d been a policeman, established in 1945,” said Terrence, a California native. “I went to college, then started in his business, and then got the idea to create the carpet bags because there was nothing quite like it in the marketplace.”
Terrence, who had no knowledge of the fashion industry, contracted the sturdy hardware portion of the purses to a friend who was in the tool-and-die industry. The purses’ fabric—carpeting—was a material with which he was very familiar. Using his expertise, he had mills custom-create popular 1960s colors to match the preference of the mature women that were the main demographic for these bags at that time.
Thus began the line of bold, unique, well-constructed purses bearing The Original Jerry Terrence Carpet Bag label, which women enthusiastically bought for a retail price of about $8.99 each.
“We did a lot of innovative things in New York and across the country to get the attention of store buyers,” said Terrence.
Enlisting a staff of true “Mad Men”-type advertising geniuses, one clever marketing technique was to send fortune cookies to fashion buyers for department stores such as The Broadway and Joske’s. The cookies had fortunes that read, “The Carpet Bag is Coming!”
In 1965, Terrence’s company threw a press party for The Original Jerry Terrence Carpet Bag. He hired a woman to act as a hostess for the party, paying her $100. That hostess was an up-and-coming Joan Rivers.
“There was also a promotion at the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas,” said Terrence. “The owner of the Dunes bought bags for every one of his guests in 1964.”
The carpet bags were so enormously popular that the factory in Southgate, California was operating 24 hours a day, with three crews of 12-15 employees working three shifts. Nearly one million Jerry Terrence bags were sold in the US alone during the four years the company was in operation.
“My parents, wife at the time, friends and everybody else were saying ‘you are nuts!’” said Terrence. “I was very persistent because I felt there was a lot to this. I made some mistakes, but realized what they were, regrouped, and bam! It really hit. It was an important era in my life.”
Today, these 1960s purses are a desirable collectible among fashionistas and vintage purse aficionados, with the demographic now a youthful 18-30 years of age.
But those who love these unique bags no longer have to scour online auctions and vintage websites to find one, because The Original Jerry Terrence Carpet Bag was relaunched and it’s better and bolder than ever.
“It’s very much an exciting business after all these years,” said Terrence. “It’s changed so dramatically. Now there are no more handbag reps—we put together a team that uses social media.”
While the product is still made of carpeting, its construction has changed somewhat. Terrence is now offering crossbodies, clutches, A-frames, iPad cases and briefcases, all with carpets dyed in modern hues such as animal prints, camouflage and plaid. In addition, the company has received licensing from the Bettie Page estate to use the quintessential pinup’s name in a special line of handbags. Terrence is as enthusiastic about his products as he was nearly five decades ago, and is excited about the company’s new direction and staff of industry professionals.
“It’s a different world out there,” said Terrence. “The whole world has changed and unless you change with it, you’re going to fall back.”
--For more about The Original Jerry Terrence Carpet Bag newest products, or if you have a store and are interested in having the Terrence team schedule a special showing of vintage bags and memorabilia, visit the website: http://www.jtcarpetbag.com/.