Fashion is in the DNA. Tyler Ellis, daughter of late American design legend Perry Ellis, talks with The Extravagant about her accessories label. Tyler Ellis which launched in 2011, has grown a steady celebrity following through a commitment to luxury materials, branding details and thoughtful design. Available worldwide, we ask about the design process behind Tyler Ellis and what’s next for the brand.
You have stated in previous interviews that you wanted to carve out a niche away from sportswear, but what draws you specifically to handbag design?
“I have always been an accessories girl—bags, shoes and jewels! I’m from Los Angeles, so my actual wardrobe tends to be rather casual. I usually stick to the basics: black, white, grey and denim. But I like to have a little more fun with my handbags.
I love designing bags that can be dressed up or down depending on the outfit and the wearer’s mood. I will carry my velvet Lee Pouchet (one of the most popular bags on the red carpet) with a pair of distressed jeans and a t-shirt all day, and then use the same bag for a gala event that night. My Kelly Box, typically considered a day bag because of its size and shape; looks killer when worn with a great cocktail dress and some statement jewelry. I want people to not only have fun with their Tyler Ellis bags, but also use them day and night, and not feel confined that a “clutch” is solely for evening and a “handbag” is strictly for day.”
Do you have any plans to expand your brand into other accessories aside from handbags?
“I tend to design things close to my heart. I have three Maltese puppies, so a dog bag is an obvious necessity. The Josh Dog Bag, named after my father’s favorite dog, is sold exclusively on my website and is designed specifically for canine lovers who want to carry their babies in discrete and chic comfort.
My husband and I are also big wine lovers so wine bags were a must! My two styles, David and Dennis are sold exclusively on tylerellis.com
Each hold two bottles apiece, are lined with my signature “Thayer” blue and have an exterior pocket for a wine opener.
Recently I started playing golf, and if my mother and mother in-law have a say in it, children are up next, so those are two new areas for me to explore!”
How have your travels all around the globe inspired your collection?
“One of the main reasons I started my company was because of my passion for travel, which has taken me all over the world.
I found women in Jakarta carrying the same luxury handbag brands as women in Singapore, Tokyo, London and New York. This made me realize that there was a niche in the market to create an independent accessory brand with the design and quality to compete against established fashion houses by offering luxury consumers a product that is unique, detail orientated and also focused on functionality.”
Your brand works with many exotic materials such as ostrich, lizard and python. What would you say draws you to these unique materials? What are the challenges of working with them?
“The beauty of working with exotic leathers is that you will never find two skins that are exactly the same. The natural textures are stunning.
I work with more classically used exotic skins like alligator, python and lizard. I also love to use more unusual combinations like ostrich leg, fish, red jungle fowl and toad, because of how unexpectedly beautiful they are.
The main challenge of working with exotics is shipping, because of all of the regulations associated with the skins and what state or country they are being shipped to. All of the bags I create have CITIES documents, which are certificates stating that the animal was humanely treated in accordance with fish and wildlife protocol.”
Walk us through your design process. What’s your favourite part? Where do you draw the most inspiration from?
“My inspiration usually comes from people watching. I’m constantly on a plane, a train or seated at a cafe somewhere around the world surrounded by eclectic groups of people, whose styles are very often wildly different from mine. A small detail will catch my eye and I’ll jot down a quick sketch on a cocktail napkin, or whatever is near and revisit it later when I’m on my own.
Next, I will expand on the idea, flush out all of the intricate details and then send the final sketch and notes in an email to my factory in Italy. Usually the factory has very few questions and they start the process of creating the first prototype of the design.
Now comes the really exciting part and perhaps my favorite part of the process! When the bag is finished, the artisan sends it to me alongside my original, little sketch. There is nothing more gratifying than seeing that sketch, which came from some chance detail on a person I will most likely never see again turn into reality! Well, aside from Oprah Winfrey’s team reaching out and saying that she was interested in carrying one of my bags to the Global Globes— that happened too!”
More and more young brands are confronted early on with managing both global production and global clientele, what was your strategy for managing these obstacles?
“I have had my company for six years and it took me three of those six years to find my current factory, which was game changing. I feel so honored to work with true artisans that have the same eye for detail and take as much pride in Tyler Ellis bags as I do. This incredible relationship enables Tyler Ellis to customize bags for clients all over the world in a timely manner.”
Who is the Tyler Ellis client? Is it the same person you imagined it would be when you first started designing?
“My clients tend to be worldly, strong and whimsical women who appreciate luxury and functionality. One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is traveling all over and getting to meet incredibly interesting women, many of whom have become close friends and avid collectors of my bags. To answer your question I would say, yes; when I initially started the brand I had the same vision for the Tyler Ellis woman, but it has taken a lot of growing, life lessons and hard work!”
How does celebrity styling play into your communications strategy? Do you have a celebrity you’re dying to see with one of your bags? Which bag do you think would suit them?
“As an independent luxury brand, my marketing budget can’t even compare to the big fashion conglomerates, so I have to look for other ways to get my name out there.
Celebrities have played a major role, not only in sales but also in brand legitimization. Before most people are willing to spend on a luxury item they have to believe in the brand and what it represents. And what better way to build trust than by having strong and inspirational women like Oprah Winfrey, Meryl Streep, Reese Witherspoon, Salma Hayek, Gigi Hadid and Kaia Gerber choosing to carry my bags, when they have access to anything and everything that the world has to offer?
It has been incredibly humbling to watch these women on the red carpets or spotted on the streets with their Tyler Ellis designs. I work very hard to create functional luxury bags that cater to what women want; whether it be a phone charger in a tote, an extra-long key fob (for easy access) or a detachable cross-body. I’m always looking to tweak and improve my designs, as they are all representations of both my lifestyle and myself. I strive for the best.
I have been very fortunate to have many of today’s most influential celebrities carry my bags, but looking back, I would have loved for Diana, Princess of Wales, to have carried Tyler Ellis. She represented what I like to think is the ethos of my brand: worldly, timeless and honorable. I could imagine her carrying my Lee Pouchet to events and my Jamie Doctor around town. That being said, in today’s world, I would love to see the Duchess of Cambridge carry my Kelly Box. It’s hard, rectangular shape finished off with my spear-lock closure is a classic design combined with a modern twist— perfect for a future Queen of England.”
What has been the greatest challenge in sourcing and incorporating exotic materials in the Tyler Ellis line?
“The language barrier has created issues with tanneries. Misunderstandings on front cut vs. back cut of a skin can really change a design. I’ve also received wrong quantities and colors, and in a couple of instances nothing at all. But, I do work with an incredible father/son owned factory outside of Florence. Their close relationships with the tanneries that I source from helps make the sourcing process as seamless as possible. I pride myself on quality, so I source from only the most highly regarded tanneries like Paris-based HCP– Hermes Cuirs Precieux, owned by Hermes and the Tuscan based Caravel, owned by Kering.”
Tell us about the Perry Ellis archives: Are there plans to make the Perry Ellis archives accessible to the public in the future? Do you have a favourite piece within your father’s archive?
“I personally don’t control the Perry Ellis archives. The company was sold in 1999 to the Miami-based Feldenkreis family.
I do have vintage pieces of my father’s designs that were given to me by family and friends, which are very special to me. Recently, I was at a dinner party at the home of Lisa Eisner, the incredible Los Angeles photographer and jewelry designer. She told me that she had a gift for me, and asked me to close my eyes. She quickly returned and placed what felt like a coat on my shoulders—I opened my eyes and found the most incredible cropped shearling jacket, in perfect condition, finished off with my dad’s signature dimpled shoulder. He had given it to her in the ‘70s and it couldn’t be more relevant today.
My father’s pieces were so revolutionary at the time because he created women’s wear that looked super chic, but was also wearable and comfortable. He made fashion happy and fun, which inspires me every day.”
Where do you see your brand in the next five years?
“I’d love my brand to become a household name, but one that still creates unique, exclusive and exciting designs, and always strives to find ways to create the best products out there.”
Where can we follow you? And where can we check out your line?
“You can follow my brand on Instagram at @TylerEllisOfficial and check out the collection on TylerEllis.com. If you happen to be in London, please stop by Harvey Nichols to check out some of my special pieces in person!”
In their clutches! Hollywood’s showing off their Tyler Ellis’