Celebrated accessories designer Tyler Ellis talks to us about how exploring her creative urges helped her step out of her father’s shadow and enjoy their shared passion for design.
Your father was a high profile designer (Perry Ellis), did that influence your choice of profession, if so, how?
Contrary to what many think, I did not grow up in the fashion world. I had a very happy, normal childhood in LA, where my mom, Barbara Gallagher, chose to raise me, so I could grow up in a more private way, away from the NYC fashion scene, which seemed very daunting to me. I always loved bags and accessories, but chose to study film and TV in college and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communications. Yet soon after graduation, I realized I couldn’t escape my DNA. I moved to NYC and took a job as a sales consultant at the Michael Kors Collection store on Madison Avenue. It was an exciting time to work for the company and the job helped me to have a better understanding of the luxury consumer and retail market. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work directly with Michael Kors and Lance LePere, his Creative Director and husband, styling the Michael Kors Collection runways shows over New York fashion week, where I learned the importance of quality and attention to detail. Working at Michael Kors changed my view of the fashion world and inspired me to take the leap and follow my dream of creating luxury handbags!
What are the best and worst things about having a famous/accomplished parent?
My father, Perry Ellis, passed away over 30 years ago, making my situation a bit different from someone who has a famous living parent. To me, the best part about my father being such an incredible icon is hearing stories from his close friends and/or people who he worked with. There is so much love and admiration for him as a designer and colleague. I constantly hear about how unique a man he was, a perfectionist with the best sense of humor, someone whose quiet presence commanded any room – a man who truly touched people’s lives. Employees have told me working for him was the highlight of their careers. As his daughter nothing makes me happier and motivates/inspires me more than hearing these stories about my father!
A down side has been people assuming my career is a hobby and not taking me seriously. I have worked very hard to build my company and create pieces I’m truly proud of. I believe in cutting no corners and making the best possible product I can.
Intricate details are at the core of Tyler Ellis because everything I create is a representation of me, and I, like my father did, strive for perfection. Like my father, I don’t believe in cutting corners. Attention to the details both in design and in my business operations has differentiated me from my competition and it’s an honor to have the clientele I have. I feel very blessed.
Did you feel in his shadow when you started and how did you navigate that?
I chose to launch my company under the name Tyler Alexandra (my middle name) because I didn’t have the professional confidence, nor did I feel worthy enough to use my iconic last name, Ellis. It took around three years to find my current atelier, which felt like the real beginning of my career and an inflection point in the growth of my business. It’s hard to believe that design has it’s own language but it exists. I can sit with my factory knowing very little Italian and carry on ta two-hour conversations with my hands and eyes fine tuning my products. Working with a father/son owned atelier, whose highly skilled Italian artisans value details and quality as much as I do, finally allowed me to produce pieces I was proud of, enabling me to refine and solidify my artistic voice. At the beginning of last year, I moved my company headquarters from New York back home to Los Angeles, and re-branded as Tyler Ellis, honoring my father’s legacy and working to create one of my own.
Can you tell us more about your upbringing?
My father passed away when I was 18 months old, so my mother raised me as a single parent and I am incredibly lucky to have such a strong woman as my mom. She left her incredible career in TV and devoted her whole life to raising me. My grandparents stayed with us for six months of the year during my childhood because my mom wanted me to grow up with a male influence in the house. She taught me to always respect myself as well as others, to give my best effort and stay true to me. I’m so lucky to have her as my mom and to be surrounded by such amazing friends and family.
What advice would you give to other people trying to step out of the shadow of a famous parent or perhaps even someone leaving a high profile job to go it alone?
Make sure you absolutely love what you do. Be prepared to be judged, but channel any negativity into motivation. Work hard, give it your all, make sure to always stay true to your vision, and as Michael Kors once told me “Surround yourself with the best people possible”. You are nothing without a great team.
What have you learned about yourself on this journey?
The evolution from Tyler Alexandra to Tyler Ellis has been as much of a personal journey as it was business. Anyone who is creative understands the personal connection to their work. They’re exposing themselves to public scrutiny and it can be hard to hear negative opinions of your work. I’ve learned you can never take anything too personally and should never take yourself too seriously. I really enjoy what I do and love the people around me. It makes the success on the end that much sweeter knowing you went through some tough times of growth to get here. Persistence over everything else.
If you have a child, what is the best advice you could give them?
Respect yourself and others. Always be aware and trust your gut! Trust but verify.
If you weren’t in this profession, what do you think you’d be doing?
An undercover travel writer/reviewer. I love to travel and see the world.Experiencing new cultures meeting new people is a huge part of my life.I’d love to write extensively about my experiences. There may be a book in my future but I think I still have a lot to experience in the world before that happens.
What advice would you give to your 16 year old self knowing what you know now?
In the business world: Speak up, don’t be afraid to share your opinion because you think it will upset someone. Be a boss and listen to your gut!
What do you hope for, for yourself next?
My team and I have taken the last 18 months to refine my business operations. There are many unglamorous aspects to running a fashion brand; it’s not just beautiful products. If the backend can’t scale, no matter how great your product is, neither can you. While working through this process, we have been redeveloping our brand book, which is dedicated to educating our consumers on the skill, time and effort that goes into creating each Tyler Ellis design. I’m now ready for the next chapter focusing on our exciting new venture Bespoke by Tyler Ellis,a hands-on program designed to engage our clients in the design process,and curating the proper international outlets for the brand. 2019 here we come!
Why are your bags priced the way they are?
In today’s world high-street brands use the word luxury to describe their products, proving luxury has lost its meaning in mainstream society. When I think of luxury, I think of: lavish, rarity, quality, exclusivity not: mass-produced, mainstream, inexpensive. When you purchase a Tyler Ellis design you are returning to the purest form of luxury. You are receiving a handmade, unique product, produced by top Italian artisans, in a small village outside of Florence, the Mecca of the handbag world. I do not take large markups on designs like the big fashion houses, who do so just because they can. I purchase many of my skins from tanneries owned by Hermes, LVMH and The Gucci Group, the hands of my artisans are the best in the region, I custom make all hardware for each design (down to my dog clips) and pride myself on creating luxury bags that are not only aesthetically pleasing, but also functional. I am a woman, so aside from designing for consumers, I too am designing for myself. Tyler Ellis is a boutique brand, but when you purchase one of my pieces you are getting the quality of the established fashion houses, paired with exclusive, unique designs. I am also privately funded which allows me to produce pieces without being forced by investors to cut corners and drop to a lower, more competitive price point. After feeling and experiencing Tyler Ellis designs,you begin to be aware of other brands and what details they choose or don’t choose to feature, and I promise you will understand what you are paying for and remember what luxury used to mean – and what it means to me.