February 23 2011
Though only 24, Ethan Koh has been designing handbags for 10 years, since he asked his father for a black crocodile skin to make his mother a bag appliquéd with a metallic Peruvian lily motif. As the fourth-generation scion of an exotic-skin-tannery-owning family, his career path was never in doubt. But where his family supplies luxury brands with top-quality skins, his interest is in design, and he set up his Ethan K label 18 months ago.
His involvement stretches from choosing animals at farms from Zimbabwe (for smaller-scaled Nile crocodile) to Louisiana alligators, through deciding on the craft-worked finish at the family’s Singapore workshops – patent-polished with agate or worked to ultimate softness over a metal pole (“no sci-fi injections, just five hours’ hard work”) – to designs made in small Tuscany ateliers and inspired by environments from Florence to London, where he is completing a degree at the London College of Fashion.
You will find a few of his beautiful croc or python clutches or box minaudières (python from £786, crocodile from £1,358) at CoutureLab in London, but most bags are made to order for a select group of “Koh-i-knowers”, who choose skin type (he also uses ostrich and lizard), colour, finish, lining fabric and colour, inside configuration, engraved initials and date, and hardware (often influenced by architectural details) in a range of metals. (Pictured: The Grosvenor bag.)
Koh says he meets 90 per cent of his clients, as he currently produces fewer than 150 bags a year. Some have inspired, and given their names to, styles for both women and men. Small crocodile bags start at £3,000, large from £7,000. Orders take from two weeks to six months to deliver.