A great handbag — one with an ergonomic design to effortlessly fit all of one’s essentials and is perfectly styled to be a staple accessory to any outfit — can be a work of art in its own right. With their new collaboration, Tyler Ellis, the Los Angeles-based handbag and accessories designer, and Matt Rogers, the California-based visual artist, have joined forces to embody breezy, idyllic West Coast living in Ellis’ Spring/Summer 2022 collection of made-to-order purses.
The daughter of fashion designer Perry Ellis and Hollywood writer and executive Barbara Gallagher, Ellis’ eponymous brand has become a mainstay on red carpets all over the globe. Founded in 2011, the brand merges sensibility with the luxurious to create pieces that are perfect for daily wear and special occasions.
Tyler Ellis offers made-to-order envelope pouches, clasped clutches, handbags, saddlebags and backpacks in a variety of materials, including sustainable leathers, velvets and satins embossed with metals and crystals. The brand also offers a bespoke service, wherein clients can utilize the personalized experience to create a one-of-a-kind handbag that is personalized to their unique specifications.
Rogers’ paintings embody California’s geography through a marriage of landscapes and pop art styling, depicting his subject matter in a contemporary style featuring bold colors and gestures. One of Rogers’ most well-known collections, the “Dark Horse” series, is comprised of large-scale paintings of horses and riders and racing hooves depicted in an abstract, black and white aesthetic. As a lifetime Californian and a lover of the outdoors, Rogers explores the complicated nature of California living through his work, from the sunshine and palm trees to the earthquakes and fires.
Ellis and Rogers’ collaboration for the Spring/ Summer 2022 collection reimagines the Tyler Ellis LJ Handbag with abstract, gestural paintings of tall palm trees in colors that evoke the beauty of a Californian sunset. The LJ Handbag, a semi-structure purse with a triangular front-flap featuring a custom spear-lock closure, is available in a small and large size. The top handle, removable strap and oversized stitched leather details are available in palm green and pink kiss colorways in the small size and in magenta, bordeaux and orange sunrise colorways in the large size. Each handbag is hand painted to order by Rogers so that each one is a truly one-of-a-kind piece of art.
We spoke with Ellis and Rogers about their collaboration, and they shared insights into how they each approached the collaboration from their individual creative sensibilities, the ways that growing up in California has molded the way that they see the world and how the art and fashion worlds may continue to merge in the future.
How did your collaboration for the Spring/Summer Collection come about?
Tyler Ellis: I was at a friend’s house and saw one of Matt’s iconic paintings, which instantly sparked a vision of his whimsical palm trees dancing on the front of my LJ silhouettes. I mentioned my admiration of the painting to my friend, and she serendipitously mentioned that Matt was a very close friend of hers and that she would be thrilled to connect us. The rest is history.
Matt Rogers: Our collaboration started through a mutual friendship with Amanda Harlan — all good collaborations should start with a friendship! We then ran into each other on a trip to Cabo, where Tyler was doing a collaboration with another artist at the Rosewood Hotel, Las Ventanas al Paraiso. We got talking about how that collaboration was working and how she enjoyed working with artists. She later asked if I would be interested in doing some kind of collaboration, which I gladly accepted.
How did you marry your artistic and fashionable visions to create the aesthetic for this collection?
TE: My factory in Italy sends Matt the front panels of the LJ handbags and he goes to work, painting his magical palm trees. I then choose an exclusive color for the leather trim that I feel best highlights his beautiful work on each unique piece. The panels are then sent back to Italy for assembly and voila… the one-of-a-kind works of art are born!
MR: Tyler was familiar with my artwork. I had been doing a theme called “California Dreaming.” The imagery was palm trees and beach scenes, classic cars, sunshine and hummingbirds. I think she felt that the colors I used would be a natural match for the palette she uses with her handbag designs.
What does “California living” mean to you?
TE: I was born and raised in sunny Los Angeles, and it’s positive and relaxed lifestyle has rubbed off on me. The weather allows for indoor/outdoor living year-round, a luxury never to be taken for granted. The ocean, the mountains and lakes are all within driving range, making it a bit easier to escape the craziness that life can sometimes give. You definitely get spoiled living out here, but it truly can be a magical place.
MR: This is a big question. I’m a fifth generation Californian. It means you grow up looking at sunsets, appreciating warm weather and slow rides in convertible cars. It means taking your time to soak things up. It means appreciating your outside as well as your inside. It means you have been affected by your environment and you owe something to it. You know what the ocean tastes like. You appreciate the sunlight through a grove of Redwood trees. You know the difference between food that was grown in your yard versus bought at the store. You know what a ripe tomato is supposed to taste like. You know what an avocado is in all its various, delicious applications. White wine is chilled but not cold. Shorts are better than pants. Beers are best after a mountain bike ride. Being different is to be appreciated not scoffed at. There’s no such thing as too much color.
How did you approach painting each piece? What was most surprising about using purses as a canvas?
MR: My process is the same whether it’s a canvas or the side of a purse: Start with a sketch. I try to come up with a composition and see how the objects will fit into that space. I allow the creative process to dictate how it moves forward. The leather was a bit challenging: I had to find the right medium that would adhere to it.
For me, I like to wonder, where do [the handbags] end up? I hope that they are enjoyed and bring joy to those who are using them. Accessories are great conversation starters, especially handbags. Palm trees are fairly universal and easily relatable. It’s a great icon … everyone has a story about a palm tree!
What are your clients looking for when customizing their own hand painted bags from the collection?
TE: Typically, when a client orders a bespoke handbag, they choose the decorative aspects of the desired silhouette. This collaboration has been a totally different experience as our clients have deferred entirely to us on the customization because they are not just handbags, they are pieces of art!
How do you feel that the combination of art and fashion can redefine the bespoke luxury industry?
TE: The beauty of our collaboration is that each bag is a functional, fashionable piece of art. The colors of each leather trim will only be used once, and the hand-painted palms will differ on every bag. Creating a bespoke handbag is an incredible luxury, but the hand painting adds a whole other layer!
MR: I love the idea of taking something that’s been thoroughly thought out creatively and giving it utility. To take a moment of a visual vocabulary from an artist’s vision and insert it into the creativity of a specialty product creates a symbiosis. It’s fun to celebrate an exquisite object melded with something precious to create something treasurable.
I think we’re going to continue to see collaborations in all industries among artists, designers, engineers and more. The continued fusing of different genres of creativity is going to lead to greater inspiration — it’s kind of like a creative superhero. We want to continue to blend fascinating things together to bring more joy.
The Tyler Ellis and Matt Rogers Spring/Summer 2022 collection is currently available for purchase at tylerellis.com, and the prices range from $4,000 to $5,000.