Style | The Bespokesperson

This young handbag designer has bags of experience

How to create the ideal handbag: first, choose your crocodile

This young handbag designer has bags of experience

February 23 2011
Avril Groom

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.

See also

Ethan Koh, Handbags, Bags