Tyler Ellis never knew her father, Perry Ellis, the fashion designer who transformed men’s looks in the 1970s with a fresh approach to fabric and tailoring.
She was just 18 months old when he died. But he lives for her in the memories of her mother — TV writer-producer Barbara Gallagher, one of the original producers of “Saturday Night Live” — and their family and friends.
“One of the positives of having a father who was a public figure is that there are lots of books and biographies about him,” she says. “Friends come up to tell me stories.”
From those stories, a picture emerges of a man who was “engaging but at the same time perfectionistic. I see a lot of him in me.”
Certainly, she has inherited his attractiveness and charm. No sooner do we request an interview regarding a fall appearance at Mary Jane Denzer in White Plains with her sumptuous line of handbags, than she is on the phone, all California breeziness from her home in West Los Angeles.
But Tyler has never been one to trade on her father’s name. Indeed, when she launched a limited collection of purses in New York City in 2011, she used her first and middle names, Tyler Alexandra. It wasn’t until she established her current brand six years later that she named it Tyler Ellis.
Why handbags? “So I’ve always been an accessories person,” says Tyler, who serves as CEO and creative director of the company. “I travel a lot and I would always see women carrying the same bag.”
Tyler realized that bag could be hers. But instead of a prominently featured designer label, her purses remain logo-less. “It’s all about the bag.”
And how. A perusal of her website will have women who love purses that are rich in texture, pattern and color — which is to say every woman — salivating. The large Caroline tote in rose alligator ($14,815) is designed with a group of hidden and zippered pockets, a computer slot, a cross-body strap and the company’s signature pinecone zipper pull and feet, because for Tyler, God is always in the details. The large Jane saddlebag in glossy red ombré alligator ($12,630) has a rounded three-quarter front flap, a magnetic snap closure, a custom infinity bar and a detachable guitar strap. Out for an evening or at a wedding? The Kelly Box in light pink lizard ($3,010) should do it. The Kelly is a vertical box big enough for an iPhone 8+ with an interior mirror, a custom spear-lock closure and an optional cross-body chain. Or like Ciara, Felicity Jones and Kylie Jenner, you may opt for the Perry. Named for her father, this is a hard-framed clutch whose emerald shape echoes the cut of her engagement ring.
These are just a few of the styles, colors and materials that make up the line. (Versatile day-to-night crushed velvet is a favorite.) All of the purses have two things in common. One is the Thayer blue inner lining, a signature cobalt color that makes it easier to find your wallet, lipstick, phone and other contents.
The other is Tyler’s commitment to craftsmanship. Her company sources its animal skins from Lineapelle, a leather fair in Milan, and works with Hermès Cuirs Précieux, the tannery division of Hermès International, which shows its skins there. (Tyler doesn’t use the skins of any animals on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s endangered list. She also makes vegan bags and purses in clear, colored PVC, a kind of plastic.)
In launching her current brand, Tyler moved production from Paris to a father-and-son atelier outside of Florence that is part of what she calls “the culture of Italian leather.” She will send them a sketch that they turn into a sample made from salpa, a bonded leather material “like a soft cardboard” that she can draw on. The Italian team translates her modifications into a leather version that is the final product “although sometimes we might have to go one more round.” If it’s a new style — like the Tiffany and the accordion-shaped Stella, both made of bombe alligator — she’ll road test it. The ultimate road test? A friend who Tyler says is hard on handbags.
We suspect the friend’s name begins with a “B.” The letter has played a significant role in her life, she says. She was raised in Brentwood on Los Angeles’ west side and graduated from Boston University.
There are other letters that have been, important, too, including “M” and “K,” for Michael Kors, with whom she interned.
“I had a ‘Devil Wears Prada’ view of the fashion world,” she says. “Michael showed me it could be a family.”
Tyler’s own is filled with more “B”s. Her husband’s name is Ben. And they are the pet parents of three — the Maltese Poodle Bella, the Cavalier Maltese Bailey and the Pomerian Poodle Bruni. “They are my babies,” she says, as are her bags.
At Mary Jane Denzer, she will have a chance to show off some of her babies to clients, taking custom orders for those who want a bespoke purse. Tyler uses words like “spectacular” and “insane” to describe her creations. Clearly, she’s in love with them.
“I am,” she says. “You have to be.”