Tyler Ellis advocates for the true meaning of luxury
It seems like just about every brand has “luxury” offerings these days, especially as consumers have become more discerning about sustainability and slow production. For Tyler Ellis, creative director and CEO of her namesake brand, luxury is much more specific — and it needs to be protected.
Ellis is based in Los Angeles, California, and she oversees every detail of her carefully-curated brand. Although she is the daughter of famed American designer Perry Ellis, Tyler Ellis did not grow up within the fashion industry, she said. After she graduated from Boston College with a degree in communications, though, she got a job in New York City at the Michael Kors Collection Madison Avenue boutique, and it all grew from there.
Following the recent launch of Bespoke by Tyler Ellis, a personalized handbag service, Ellis spoke with us about her experience in the luxury world, going up against big brands and the duty of luxury designers to be environmentally sustainable. Here’s what she had to share.
What does “slow luxury” mean? How does that philosophy create a foundation for your brand?
I strongly believe if you’re not going to do it right, don’t do it at all. My goal is not to be the next trend, it’s to establish my roots in the luxury world, grow slowly, continue to gain industry trust and respect, while building my Ellis legacy. My views on the importance of top craftsmanship, unique design, timeless appeal, practical functionality and attention to intricate details are the core DNA of my brand. I take extreme pride in my work and make sure each piece produced meets the highest possible standards — my standards.
Today’s society is moving at such a rapid pace that consumers are losing appreciation for goods purchased and are constantly onto the next. True luxury items are not created overnight, but by methodical processes that take time and care. When one must wait for a piece to be handcrafted, a newfound respect arises, forming a higher sense of internal value for the product. Let’s slow down, enjoy the present and appreciate the details and artisanal workmanship that define and separate true luxury items from the rest.
How did you get connected with the father/son team that makes your bags, and what qualities do they bring to production?
What separates the elite world of luxury from the masses is quality, so finding the right factory is a must. This is an extremely difficult process because there are only a finite number of qualified indigenous artisans in the highly sought-after Italian region of Le Sieci on the outskirts of Florence. The big houses control most of the top factories, but there are still a rare few that remain independently-owned. It took three years until I was finally accepted into one of the coveted stand-alone workshops, which to me is the true beginning of my Tyler Ellis legacy. Our partnership was founded upon principles of genuine respect for each other and the thoughtful work that goes into designing and producing each piece.
How would you describe your design aesthetic? What makes your bags stand out?
Understated, timeless, sleek, detail-driven, practical and functional. Quality is of the utmost importance, and that does not solely refer to craftsmanship. Cutting corners on materials can make or break an otherwise beautifully-designed, perfectly-crafted handbag. Twice a year, I visit Lineapelle, Italy, the premiere international leather fair outside Milan, where thousands of tanneries showcase their new collections. I have developed close relationships with a handful of the top tanneries including the HCP Group, the vertically integrated supplier division of the Hermès fashion house, who have been producing for generations. Working with these leading tanneries grants exclusive access to their innovative technologies, ensures product durability and evokes the luxe sense of touch, feel and scent that one lusts after.
What (or who) inspires you creatively?
I’ve always been attracted to Coco Chanel’s timeless design aesthetic. Her iconic quilted pattern and leather-lined chains are recognizable to almost every woman or man alive, decades after her passing. She understood luxury and that it is not a trend but, rather, a lifestyle — one that lives on forever, like she will.
On the business side, Hermès takes top bill. Known for the finest leathers and top craftsmanship, the, until recently, entirely family-owned brand has elevated itself to the epitome of luxury. They are not a flashy company, yet they are rather understated with a bit of deserved arrogance. They have worked hard over the years to maintain this status by not compromising on core principles and have a true understanding of how to control the luxury market.
You seem to have a specific idea about what “luxury” means; how would you define it in your own words? What aspects of your brand make it truly “luxurious?”
I’m afraid luxury is losing its meaning. Today, mainstream, mass-produced and inexpensive brands use the term “luxury” as a marketing tool to promote their machine-made, average quality products. I view luxury items as extremely rare, timeless, perfectly-crafted designs, a concept I strive to bring back to life.
Aside from the incredible sensory stimulation that luxury items give us — visual beauty, sumptuous touch and intoxicating smell — luxury pieces are often 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. The bespoke or made-to-order process was how luxury originally began, and I’m trying to bring it back. Remember, luxury doesn’t stop at the finished product; it’s a lifestyle!
How have you adapted your retail strategy to be more environmentally sustainable? Why do you prioritize sustainability?
I’m always looking for new, interesting, eco/sustainable materials, but they must meet brand standards both physically and visually.
Most recently, I started working with apple leather, made from 50% apple peels and 50% polyurethane, a by-product of the apple juice industry. The repurposing of apple skin also keeps them from decomposing and producing methane that contributes to climate change — a beautiful vegan option that does not produce the large amounts of unrecyclable waste that most synthetic materials leave behind.
I also work solely with CITES (Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species)-approved skins, meaning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has approved and acknowledged that each skin comes from an animal that has been humanely-treated.
What’s coming up next for you and your brand?
I’m in the process of expanding my men’s collection, which include bespoke travel totes, attachés, wine carriers, golf score card holders, passport holders, belts and baseball hats. I’m also an avid dog lover, so, of course, I have designed and added custom pet carriers, collars and leashes to the range.
Most recently, I launched my Alexandra Collection, an array of 24-karat gold, rose gold and white gold-plated bracelets finished with my custom bond closure, which will also be featured on a few of my soon-to-be-released silhouettes, the Winnie Handbag, the Christy Clutch and the Vidal Globetrotter.