An Interview with Ethan Koh

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After all, the handbag is the second home of a woman.” – Ethan Koh

Ethan Koh is the founder and designer at Ethan K, a luxury handbag company that specializes in stunning handbags and clutches made of crocodile and alligator leather. Koh set up his brand three years ago, and today, at just 27 years old, he has over 600 customers around the world that he creates bespoke pieces for every year. Savoir Flair sat down exclusively with the man behind the brand, to discuss how it all began, his favorite fairytales, tailor-made services and plans for the future.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself – about the path that led you to designing accessories?
I am now 27 years old. Everyone thinks that crocodile skin bags are always designed by old people, for old people, but I think one of the reasons why I started Ethan K is because there is a lot of mass production, and you know if you go into every single city, every single duty free, you see the same luxury products everywhere. So one of my goals was to really create a special couture house that some of the top customers in the world can really personalize and create bespoke pieces. I am not just an entrepreneur, I am also an artist. I come from four generations of heritage that started in the early 1900s, when my great grandfather, a British artist, founded a tannery behind the family home after World War II. So as a young kid I was always very exposed to the craft, and I would go and see so many beautiful skins and colors, which sparked my interest at a very young age.

What did you study?
I studied at the London College of Fashion in Central St. Martin’s and I just graduated two years ago, but I’ve been really fortunate that everyone has been so supportive. I started the business around three years ago, and today Ethan K has more than 600 couture customers around the world. More than half of them own at least 10 bags each. I started this business with just a couple thousand pounds in my pocket, which my father gave to me as a loan, so I’m very fortunate. The way I met some of my customers was purely by word of mouth, and by pure love and passion for my bags. I love bags and it became a business, not the other way around. It is not just a job, it is a passion. After all, the handbag is the second home of a woman.

So how would you describe the aesthetic of Ethan K?
It is always very whimsical, and it’s all about beautiful colors, which are influenced by my Asian heritage. As a young kid, I was surrounded with beautiful plants and trees, like mangos and coconuts. Plants and spices in beautiful places around the world help bring my collections to life.

Can you tell us a little bit about your bespoke services?
We have made-to-measure and made-to-order. Sometimes we are inspired by our clients’ favorite colors and animals, so we try to personalize bags in different ways. Clients come to me for bespoke pieces when they have something really specific in mind, because I always say, ‘dream a bag and I will create it for you’. Recently, I was visiting a client in Boston, and she really loves frogs. So I told her in order to represent the love between you and your husband, why don’t we do two frogs kissing each other? Sometimes we just spend an afternoon with our customers, and then they walk away with a few orders. That’s the way we are.

An issue we have now is that we can’t produce enough to meet the rising demand.  I always have to tell to customers that making a crocodile bag is not like baking a cake. It really takes time – our artisans are in Tuscany, the skins are hand-cut, and all of the bags are personally designed by me. I am still very close to my customers.

What is one accessory that every woman must have?
For me it is of course a handbag, because it really is the second home of a woman. You can be tall, short, thin, slim, big, but you have a beautiful bag, so it kind of brightens everything. I love jewelry, and in a way I think bags are like pieces of jewelry.

What is your favorite place in Dubai?
My favorite place in Dubai is The Palace Hotel in downtown. I think the spa there is really beautiful. It is all thoughtfully done, even down to the scent, decor, the ceiling, and the service. It is very authentic.

Are you planning on expanding in the Middle East?
We are all about exclusivity, so at the moment we are not looking at big stores here. Right now we are really trying our best to meet the rising demand. Most of my customers are bespoke, and some fly to London for one or two days to visit my private salon. This afternoon, I am visiting a special customer’s home and visiting her wardrobe to design a special bag for her and she is cooking for me – this is a very personal experience.

Of course we never rule out the possibility of opening a boutique in Dubai. When we are ready, we will do it. Right now we are just enjoying really spending time with customers and getting close to them.

If you were not an accessories designer, what do you see yourself doing?
I think I would own a patisserie, because I love food and pastries. I think you can express exclusivity, not just in bags, but also in food. I feel that as the world continues to globalize, you see the same restaurants in every city.

So what would your patisserie would be called?
‘Ethan K’ or ‘My Private Kitchen’. Guests coming and having the feeling like they are visiting my kitchen. My clients that place orders today feel like they are entering my closet. Intimacy is very important.

Click through the gallery below and discover the Ethan K bag collection.

Photos: Courtesy of Ethan K

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