Perry Ellis was openly gay. His partner was a man named Laughlin Barker. Perry asked Barbara Gallagher, a longtime friend, and T.V. writer-producer, in her 40’s to have a child with him via artificial insemination. Perry thought Barbara – one of the original producers of Saturday Night Live – was one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen.
While this is almost commonplace today, it was virtually unheard of at the time. Barbara gave birth to their daughter, Tyler Alexandra Gallagher Ellis, in November 1984.
In the mid-1980s, Perry Ellis became seriously ill. Tyler was 18 months old when her father succumbed to AIDS on May 30, 1986, at 46. Ms. Ellis hoped to achieve success without falling back on her dad’s famous name. She worked in fashion from the bottom up. She interned for Michael Kors before moving to Paris.
In 2011 Tyler founded a luxury bespoke handbag line and named it Tyler Alexandra. Perry’s penmanship of Tyler’s name became her logo, which makes him a part of everything she does. Tyler never knew her father, but his legacy continually inspires her
Why bags? “I think subconsciously I moved away from clothing because my dad did it. With bags, I can just be me” said Tyler. She also admits that living in L.A., she is a “jeans and tee-shirt kind of gal”, and so, accessories- especially luxury handbags – have always been a very important part of her look. FYI, while Tyler describes her look as very casual, for her wedding to Ben Shriner in 2014, Tyler wore a contemporary handmade Dior Haute Couture dress by Raf Simons. Raf said he is a big fan of Perry Ellis.
A group of vividly colored top-handle bags made with PVC from Tyler’s most recent collection caught my eye; I wanted to find out more about Tyler Ellis, and I wanted to tell her about my special connection with her late father. In a phone call, I explained that I met Perry Ellis in the early ’70s at the beginning of his career. As a fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar, I covered his collections, and we periodically lunched at Sardi’s (his favorite place). I brought Perry Ellis to the attention of Carrie Donovan, who was a senior fashion editor. Carrie and Perry became great friends.
On June 19, 1986, members of the fashion industry gathered at the Ethical Culture Society to remember Perry Ellis, whose clothes were known for their casual grace and inventiveness. Carrie Donovan was one of 10 speakers. In front of a veritable ‘Who’s Who’ of fashion, she recounted how I kept bringing in Perry’s exuberant designs and effectively credited me with ‘discovering’ Perry Ellis.
Perhaps one of the things that impressed me most about Tyler is that she waited many years before changing the name of the company to Tyler Ellis in 2017. She needed to find the right factory and the production had to be perfect.
“I did not want just to use my name, I wanted to earn it. I wanted to be proud of what I was doing, and that takes time,” said Tyler.
Tyler’s fresh interpretations of classic silhouettes are brought to life in Florence, Italy, where they are handmade by some of the world’s top artisans. Prices range from approximately $1250 for an envelope style clutch to $15,750 for a weekend bag in alligator. Marrying the finest materials such as plonge leather, crushed velvet, and government-approved exotic skins, with a sharp aesthetic, each bag represents an ardent commitment to couture and craftsmanship that has earned Tyler a cult following.
Tyler feels that the word “luxury” has lost its meaning. For her, “Luxury” used to mean the best of the best: sourcing top-quality materials, creating handmade pieces by trained artisans, and incorporating the utmost attention to detail. Now, bags made by machines in China claim to fall under the same umbrella. Tyler believes in a return to the purest form of luxury – luxury without compromise.
Among the stars who have been photographed on the red carpet carrying a Tyler Ellis bag are JLo, Gal Gadot, Allison Janney, Lily Aldridge, Diane Lane, Reese Witherspoon, Helen Mirren, Tracee Ellis Ross, Caitriona Balfe, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Scarlett Johansson, and Cindy Crawford. Last year, Cate Blanchett carried Tyler’s Ivy bag in Cannes, and the star’s photograph was seen in many media outlets. Publicity is very important in bringing awareness to a relatively young luxury brand such as Tyler Ellis.
Tyler’s business is 65% bespoke design. Customers can choose the skin, hardware color, and monogram initials and create a kind bag. Tyler said she is lucky that her factory can produce one bag at the same price of making 100, and they can ship it from Italy within three weeks. Tyler’s bags have no outward labels, only her signature “Thayer” blue lining, and pine cone zipper pulls and feet. Tyler explained the pine cone represents the highest form of spiritual awakening and your third eye going back to ancient Egypt.
I was curious to know how COVID-19 has impacted Tyler’s luxury business. There is a Red Carpet Collection on Tyler’s website, her small evening clutch bags have become a mainstay on Hollywood’s international red carpets, yet, there are no events to attend. Tyler observed that pre-COVID, the ‘Red Carpet Collection,’ was her biggest seller, specifically the Lee Pouchet and the Perry Clutch, named after her father.
Those styles are still selling, but customers are leaning toward more relaxed materials like Plexi and crushed velvet vs. the more formal Swarovski crystals. In the last few months, she has been selling mostly day bags from her e-commerce site. But, Tyler also emphasized that she designs in such a way that most pieces can be carried and worn from day tonight.
“I believe in functional luxury. Pieces that not only look beautiful but are also incredibly practical, a concept I’ve inherited from my father. He believed women should look beautiful in his designs and feel extremely comfortable wearing his clothing”.
Tyler Ellis sells mostly at private shopping events and online. In addition to her website, Tyler’s bags are also available on farfetch.com. Last year, Tyler became the first brand to be sold on 1stdibs.com, putting Tyler in the same category as top luxury houses like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, and Dior. Tyler has not ruled out selling her collection at a brick and mortar store (London is of particular interest), but it has to be the right store with a sales team that could speak to the brand and educate clients.
Tyler Ellis is a boutique brand with a high price point that completes with the big labels. “I don’t have logos on the outside, so people might not understand why my price point is $1200. Once you understand the brand, it makes sense,”
Right now, Tyler is putting the finishing touches on spring-summer 2021. She did not attend the 2020 Lineapelle trade show in Milan because the pandemic was hitting Italy hard at that time. As a result, Tyler has had to use older archival skins in bold colors, which she is laminating to modernize.
No doubt, her father would be very proud of his young daughter. Perry would be especially pleased that Tyler gifted Dr. Katy Kinsella with her Jane Saddlebag for her tireless work combating COVID-19. She has donated her luxury clutches to brides whose special day was affected by the pandemic.