Stella McCartney and Nicole Richie are prime examples of children that grew up in the shadow of their ultra-famous parents, and who then successfully created their own businesses and made a name for themselves in the fashion industry. Tyler Alexandra Ellis, similarly, is the daughter of the late iconic American designer Perry Ellis, who has been credited with changing the direction of men’s fashion in the 1970s. Inspired by her father’s legacy, Ellis strived to create her own path by setting up her eponymous accessories brand, Tyler Alexandra, in 2010. The luxurious line of bags features structured, architectural, and timeless designs made of python, crocodile, and pony hair. The New York-based designer talks exclusively to Savoir Flair about her dream clients past and present, as well as her plans to expand in the Middle East.
Your father, Perry Ellis, made an everlasting impact on the American fashion industry. How have you stayed connected to his legacy and learned from his achievements, to eventually start your own accessories label?
My father passed away when I was 18 months old, so I never got to personally know him. But I have been lucky enough to meet many of his friends and read about him and his work. He was a big believer in looking your best while being comfortable. He stated that fashion shouldn’t be taken too seriously, and it should be fun, and I am a strong believer in this. He also took pride in making sure his pieces were always of the highest quality – no cutting corners for costs. My bags are a combination of luxury, functionality, and fun. I choose unusual, striking skins, and pair them with classic shapes. I strive for perfection, as my father did. My bags are representations of me, so quality is of utmost importance.
Did you always know you would end up in fashion?
I have always been very passionate about the industry, but had a fear of living in the shadow of my father. After graduating with a degree in communications from Boston University, I realized I couldn’t escape his legacy. Fashion is in my blood and I was destined for it. I moved to New York and worked with Michael Kors, then decided to take the leap and start my own line. It’s the scariest and hardest thing I’ve ever done, but by far the most rewarding.
Your classic, luxury handbags are ideal for everyday. What would you say are your biggest inspirations when designing?
Traveling and functionality. Most of my ideas are from people watching, architecture, and nature. Once I get my sketch down on paper, I try to make it as practical as possible. Even after a style has been produced, I tweak small details from season to season, making the bag as functional as possible.
What is your favorite bag from the Fall 2014 collection, and why?
For a day at the office, or traveling, I would say the ‘Bailey’ tote. I love the shape. It has a zippered compartment on the bottom, where I keep flats, umbrellas, or my makeup. The top is shallow and filled with pockets so I can find my things quickly. For day-to-night I like the ‘Jamie’ doctor mini in blue python. It’s super cute, and fits a lot more than one would think. It’s a striking piece.
Each of your bags has its own name, such as ‘Jamie’, ‘Laura Jane’, or ‘Edwin’. What made you choose these names? Are they named after people or places that are special to you?
All of my bags are named after friends, family, and my puppies. Jamie is a close friend from London who was actually my wedding planner; Laura Jane is my aunt, and Edwin is my paternal grandfather. ‘Bailey’, and two other new styles, ‘Bella’ and ‘Bruni’, are my three puppies.
Would you ever consider designing other accessories?
As of right now I am focusing on my main collection. I am testing out a capsule men’s collection, but who knows where the future will take me!
Who are your dream clients, past or present?
Grace Kelly, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Audrey Hepburn, Cate Blanchett, Angelina Jolie… Strong, worldly, confident, elegant women, with timeless style. And they all seem like pretty cool ladies!
Who are your favorite designers?
At the moment, I am a huge fan of Raf Simons. He has modernized Dior, while keeping the elegance and grace of Christian Dior’s legacy. I was lucky enough to have Raf design my wedding gown. It was absolute perfection!
What is your favorite spot in NYC?
Marea – it’s the best Italian in the city! The food is consistently amazing and my husband and I have become very friendly with the staff. The salt-encrusted Branzino is to die for!
How would you describe your perfect day?
Waking up next to my husband, then going for a hike with my puppies. Coming home, relaxing by the pool, barbecuing, and enjoying some drinks with my closest friends.
Can you tell us something that most people don’t know about you?
I am a bit of a nomad. At one point, I had homes in Beverly Hills, New York, Paris, and London. Since I got married, I have narrowed it down to Beverly Hills and New York… but I’m still in Europe at least once a month.
If you weren’t an accessories designer, what would you be doing right now?
Traveling the world – which I actually get to do now because of my business. I recently did events in Moscow, Singapore, and Jakarta. I love to travel and experience new places. I feel very blessed that I am able to do so while expanding my business. I would love to do some events in the Middle East – hopefully next year!
Do you have any plans to open your own boutique, or perhaps expand into the Middle East?
Right now my focus is on private sales and specialty boutiques. I just got picked up by Boutique N in Kuwait, which I’m very excited about! Hopefully this will be the beginning of a greater Tyler Alexandra presence in the Middle East. But don’t get me wrong, I definitely see a Tyler Alexandra boutique in my future!
Photos: Courtesy of Tyler Alexandra Ellis