We got to grips with LA-based accessories designer Tyler Ellis.
Luxury is almost second nature to LA-based bespoke accessories designer Tyler Ellis. The daughter of NBC executive and OG Saturday Night Live producer Barbara Gallagher and iconic gay fashion designer Perry Ellis (you know, the namesake of the fashion house who fired Marc Jacobs after debuting his grunge collection in the 90s), Ellis was practically born with taste and pioneering spirit in her veins. Though her father succumbed to the AIDS crisis when she was just 18 months old, his dynamic creativity evidently lives on through Ellis, herself a champion of true artistry and craftsmanship when it comes to design.
After graduating from Boston University with a degree in communications in the late 2000s, Ellis relocated to New York City to kick off a career in fashion, finding a friend and mentor in a design-heavyweight Michael Kors. No big deal, right? A line of iconic, seasonless handbags soon followed in 2011, a venture which then catapulted her into the world of travel and celebrity styling. As the rest is pretty much history, Ellis now designs with a father and son duo in the tiny village of Le Sieci (on the outskirts of Florence), helping to support and preserve traditional craftsmanship in the region whilst simultaneously pursuing the latest and greatest fabrics and finishes Le Sieci has to offer.
We caught up with the designer below, delving into the meaning of luxury, how lockdown has affected her business, and her many, many pools of inspiration. Take a look…
Hey Tyler, how’s the lockdown been? and how has it affected your business?
I think the global pandemic has been tough on everyone. It was a huge adjustment on a personal level as I travel extensively and love to entertain. I think I can speak for everyone when I say I look forward to the day everything returns to normal. Regarding my business, I’m incredibly fortunate that the e-commerce side of my business is much larger than brick and mortar retail. We’ve had to adapt like everyone but not having extension retail exposure has certainly been a blessing for me.
How did you first get into accessory designing?
I always had a passion for handbags and watching women around the world and how they consumed different styles. It seemed like most women were carrying only a few handbag brands (from the main fashion conglomerates) which I saw as an opportunity. Fast forward almost a decade and it has been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.
Who inspires you?
Inspiration comes from everywhere for me. Of course, we all have fashion icons that we look up to, including my father, Perry Ellis. I love crossing the boundaries of inspiration and l look to art, travel, architecture and sometime even food. All the things we experience daily can be turned into inspiration if it’s special to you. Lars Nilsson (former Creative Director of Nina Ricci) was a mentor to me in the beginning of my career. We would walk around Paris, the magical City of Lights and he would point out old brick walls, or doorknob handles, or tops of tea kettles and inspirations for new designs would roll off his tongue. I began to really pay attention to my surroundings and realize how much the world has to offer.
What was the hardest thing about starting your business and would you go back and change anything?
I wouldn’t change a thing about my business and being a business owner is one of the toughest but most rewarding challenges out there. Of course, we all make regrettable decisions but at the end the day there are lessons in every decision which help mold my business and me as a business owner. I understand I’m never going to get everything right but it’s an amazing journey.
You said you believe the term “luxury” has lost its meaning and has become mass-marketed, what do you mean by this?
Luxury to me has been commoditized globally. Just because someone says its “luxury” doesn’t necessarily mean it is. I’ve worked very hard to be able to call myself “luxury”. It took over 3 years to find the right factory in the tiny region of Italy (Le Sieci, Florence) where all of the big fashion houses produce. I design unique and timeless bags, work with the best materials possible and custom design every aspect of my bags down to the dog clips. It’s always amazing to see people carrying my bags, and even better to watch when someone experiences the brand for the first time; discovering the details and being reminded what true luxury really is. Working with my father-son factory in Italy is a true definition of a partnership and we speak the same design language: it’s all about the details, cutting no corners and doing it right.
You have also said previously you want to return to a purist form of luxury, how can we do this?
Aside from the incredible sensory stimulation’s luxury items give us…visual beauty, sumptuous touch and intoxicating smell, luxury pieces are sustainable because of the artisanal craftsmanship and top materials. They are items that are meant to last for generations to come. Small production allows for less waste, with any leftover pieces re-allocated to smaller leather goods like bracelets and key chains. The bespoke or made to order process was how luxury originally began and I’m trying to bring it back. I recently introduced Bespoke by Tyler Ellis, a personally tailored experience that connects you directly with a member of our dedicated concierge team to customize your one-of-a-kind piece. This highly curated service allows you to hand-select every decorative aspect including; skin/material, hardware, embroidery or engraving. Remember, luxury doesn’t stop at the finished product, it’s a lifestyle.
You’ve had some incredible celebrities wear some of your bags, what was your reaction to these moments?
It’s always incredibly exciting to see my designs carried on the red carpet by such beautiful, influential and talented stars. These women have access to anything and everything and when they choose to my bags it means the world. Co-vid has put a halt to most events, but the carpets are slowly starting to come back. Jennifer Lopez kicked it off at The People’s Choice Awards pairing my Perry Clutch in engine red with a matching red Christian Siriano dress, she never ceases to amaze!!
What was the inspiration behind your FW20 collection?
The Lyon Collection is inspired by Mother Nature’s inherent gifts to society, which I bring to life in my artisanal silhouettes. Whimsical feathers represent trees blowing in the wind, glistening Bohemian Emerald Swarovski crystals mimic dewdrops on the deep green leaves, the Kryptonite python highlights the sun’s reflection off the bright green grass and the Sapphire antiqued leathers serve as the subtle sparkle of the night’s sky. Our lives are filled with so much chaos, never forget to stop for a moment and take in the unbelievable natural beauty the Earth creates for us, especially in this difficult year impacted by COVID-19.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own brand?
I give the same advice to everyone I meet with: decide what you want your brand to be and don’t compromise. The fashion world is highly competitive and filled with many aspiring talented designers so make sure you absolutely love what you are about to do. In order to succeed you need to distinguish yourself from the rest, define and live by your brand DNA and understand that it takes time to build consumer trust in your brand. Long term success will not come from one advantage or connection you might think you have. It will happen slowly with time, while you work to perfect every aspect of your business. And as Michel Kors once told me, “Surround yourself with the best people possible.” You are nothing without a great team supporting you.
What’s next for you/ new collections?
We are just about to launch my partnership with Las Ventanas al Paraiso, a Cabo San Lucas based luxury hotel (part of the Rosewood Hotels and Resorts portfolio). I have been going to the property for over 15 years, it’s my home away from home. We view the world of luxury in the same way, it’s about intricate details and excellent service while always continuing to grow. We are releasing two styles of water-resistant handbags showcasing Las Ventanas al Paraiso’s iconic view, perfect for a day by the pool or a stroll down the beach. The hotel’s boutique “La Tienda” will also feature a curated selection of my handbags to accompany our limited edition Las Ventanas al Paraiso designs.
I’m also working on a collaboration with the UAE based couture designer Hamda Al Fahim. We are designing an exclusive capsule of between 9-12 clutches placing her hand-embroidered textiles onto a selection of my silhouettes. Get ready for sparkling haute couture red carpet clutches!