Fashion Focus

Tyler Ellis Creates Luxe Bags Beloved by A-Listers

Marilyn Monroe may have asserted that diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but most women will tell you that, as friends go, no sparkling stone rivals a truly great handbag. After all, a tennis bracelet can’t be trusted to ferry one’s precious cargo. A superlative purse, in which utility, practicality and good looks combine, can be a life-enhancing companion. This insight informs every piece in Tyler Ellis’s collection, from workhorse totes to streamlined clutches. Ellis’s pragmatic glamour — understated, elegant, functional — is more than just a savvy design signature; it’s an homage to her late father, the seminal fashion designer Perry Ellis.

During her travels, Tyler Ellis noticed that well-heeled women around the world were all carrying handbags by the same heritage brands. She decided to create bags as impeccably crafted as those of heritage houses but with the indie charm of niche makers’ products (portrait by Ari Michelson). Top: Candy in black/silver splash python, Jane saddle in white Himalayan crocodile, Jamie clutch in kaleidoscope python and Candy in black/purple alligator. Shoot styled by Chloe Daley

“He wanted to make fashion fun but also comfortable,” Ellis says of her father, who died in 1986 when she was just a toddler. “He made beautiful clothes that made women feel comfortable, and that’s my view as well. I believe in functional luxury.”

Caroline tote in rose alligator

If Ellis’s time with her father was brief, her brand has enabled her to commune with his legacy. Perry pioneered a distinctly American style, designing clothes that chicly served a woman’s everyday needs at a time when his European counterparts were proffering flash and frippery. Ellis is taking the same approach to what women carry. “It should be beautiful,” she says of her design MO, “but also practical for women who are running around.”

Lee Pouchet in orange lizard

That translates to lightweight silhouettes, thoughtful details like abundant pockets, materials that seamlessly transition from day to night and a removable cross-body strap for every model. Since launching her brand, in 2011, Ellis’s clean, restrained designs have struck a chord with Hollywood’s elite. A regular fixture on the red carpet, Tyler Ellis clutches were sported at this year’s Academy Awards by Jennifer Lopez, Glenn Close, Lupita Nyong’o and Helen Mirren.

Although it may seem that Ellis was destined to design, that wasn’t always her plan. After growing up in Los Angeles with her mother, television writer and producer Barbara Gallagher, Ellis moved east to study communications at Boston University. Her creative impulses eventually led her to New York, where she began her career with Michael Kors. Working behind the scenes on runway shows as well as in Kors’s Madison Avenue flagship, Ellis was able to follow a collection from concept to sales floor. The experience not only honed her eye for style but educated her in the real-world needs of customers.

Jamie Doctor in gold/blue fade lizard
Anjuli clutch with gunmetal hardware

A self-proclaimed “accessories girl,” Ellis had always been been drawn more to bags, shoes and jewels than to clothing. “I’m a pretty conservative dresser,” she says. “Jeans, T-shirt — very L.A. But then, I’ll have a fun pop, some excitement with my bag.” So, when it came time to plot her next step, accessories design seemed a natural move. She’d been traveling the world and noticed that style-minded women from Singapore to San Francisco were all carrying the same few purses from the same ubiquitous brands. Each woman had her own unique look, but their handbags were far from original. And so the idea for Tyler Ellis began: handbags of impeccable quality equal to the heritage houses but with the indie charm of a niche maker.

From the get-go, Ellis zeroed in on timeless shapes rendered in sumptuous materials: canary-yellow lizard, lipstick-red alligator, bubblegum-pink satin, cobalt-blue calfskin. One of her first designs was a ladylike top-handle tote, refreshingly unadorned save for a gold-toned closure and feet sculpted to resemble pinecones (her one signature motif, chosen for its ancient association with the third eye). She continues to riff on this model season after season, trimmed with leather fringe or framed with whip-stitched edges. Ellis’s clutches — graphic envelope pochettes and hard-sided minaudières shaped like emerald-cut gems — quickly became perennial favorites among gala-going celebrities and socials.

Anjuli clutch in rose alligator

When asked why her clutches have become the red-carpet accessory du jour, Ellis is characteristically thoughtful: “If you’re wearing a big, extravagant gown, you don’t want your bag to overpower it. You want something that’s clean, sleek, feels nice in the hand and fits all the essentials.” Although these purses are ideally suited to evening affairs, she’s adamant that they shouldn’t be reserved for after dark. “Even in crushed velvet or crystals, I’ll wear them to lunch with jeans. A lot of people feel they need to protect the bags, especially the exotics, but I work hard to make them durable. Take them out, have fun with them!”

LJ large tote in butterfly lizard

Ellis’s core collection offers a wealth of choices, but her bespoke service enables those seeking a one-of-a-kind treasure to realize their dearest handbag dreams. “If you’re wearing a yellow gown and want to match it, I can take your satin swatch and source a yellow alligator to match it exactly,” she explains with glee. “We’re also getting into bridal, monogramming the back of the bag with Mrs. X or whatever your wedding hashtag is, just allowing people to put their own spin on the pieces.”

All Tyler Ellis bags are crafted by a father-son duo based in Florence, the mecca of haute leather goods. The factory’s intimate operation gives Ellis the freedom to produce one-off or complicated designs. “They love doing bespoke because it’s like art for them. They’ll come to me with ideas,” she says. “Working with them is really a collaboration.” Besides yielding superior wares, Ellis’s close relationship with her Italian manufacturer means that custom pieces can be turned around in one week — a time frame unheard of at larger brands.

Ashley tote in white fox

A few of the bespoke designs have made their way into the brand’s permanent collection, including a decadent dog carrier and a wine bag. When I comment on their appealing irreverence, Ellis laughs: “I mean, it’s just my life — I have three puppies, I make bags, I should make some for my puppies. And then my husband said, ‘What about me?’ We enjoy wine and go to Napa a lot, so I was like, ‘Ah, ok!’ ” The pieces exemplify Ellis’s talent for elevating the pedestrian to lust-worthy heights.

Anjuli clutch in red Nile crocodile

Many more everyday objects are ripe for an Ellis upgrade. Her latest foray has been into homeware, as a result of her own home renovation. “I was looking at my counter,” she recalls, “and was like, I’ve never seen a really striking tissue holder. So, let’s make one! Now, I’m thinking a trash can.” Functional luxury, in the truest sense.

Tyler Ellis’s Talking Points

“The Anjuli clutch’s customized metal slide-lock closure is meant to be aesthetically pleasing while also providing an extra-secure clasp when using the optional cross-body chain. The rounded gusset was purposely added to maximize interior space, and the eye-catching python insures that you will make a splash!”

“Caroline’s elongated silhouette flawlessly showcases the succulent beauty of the exquisite blush alligator hide. The strategically thought-through details elevate this tote to extreme excellence by making traveling or running around town seamless. It offers built-in phone-charging capabilities, our internal super-pocket and zippered pocket, two hidden exterior pockets, an optional cross-body strap and a computer slot and features our signature pinecone feet and Thayer blue lining.”

“The LJ in butterfly lizard has an exceptional variety of radiant hues, making it the perfect complement to an array of looks. The subtle pop of pink alligator under the top handle and cross-body strap makes the already-special piece even more enticing!”

“The vintage-inspired Lucite handle lends a sophisticated accent to this playful piece. Carry Ashley with a cute dress in the summer, and pair her with a chic snow outfit in the winter — you can’t go wrong with fluffy white fox!”

“The David wine carrier was designed for the discerning wine connoisseur. Finished in a spectacular metallic silver alligator hide, this dual-compartment wine-carrying case is equipped with an exterior wine-opener pocket and a hand-held strap, and it features our custom pinecone zipper pulls.”

“The extremely rare and timeless Himalayan crocodile skin perfectly complements the Jane saddle’s clean, curved silhouette. The electric-blue alligator accent under the strap adds an unexpected burst of color and provides an excellent finishing touch!”

“The Ben attaché is an impeccable accessory for the fashion-savvy businessperson on the go. The sleek, matte alligator hide adds an understated elegance to this incredibly functional piece. It features internal pockets and credit card slots, holds an iPad or small Surface Pro and is finished with a custom snap closure.”

“My longstanding partnership with industry legend Swarovski recently hit an exciting new high as we collaborated to create an exquisite leopard-print Lee Pouchet entirely embellished in radiant, sparkling crystals. This extremely rare piece is the result of a meticulous process involving one of Swarovski’s most sought-after innovations, Crystal Mesh — a treatment in which crystals are securely faceted to a flexible mesh backing, creating one of the most durable and desirable materials generated by the brand. It’s an honor to be one of the original ambassadors.”

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