Ethan Koh on his inspiration, his new “essentials” collection, and how Covid-19 is changing consumer tastes

Ethan Koh is a familiar name among luxury handbag collectors.

Having founded his brand Ethan K in 2011, Koh’s bags are now available in high-end department stores around the world such as Harrods and TsUM Moscow. A celebrity favourite, Koh’s bags have been seen draped or clutched by the likes of Carina Lau, Hailey Bieber and Princess Eugenie of the British Royal Family.

Having come from four generations of leather tanners, Koh found his calling to design handbags as a teenager spending school holidays accompanying his father to trade shows and European leather fairs.

“A handbag to me is an extension of yourself,” Koh says. “Beyond being a status symbol, a handbag represents one’s personality. I perfected the art of handbags during my years at London College of Fashion and Central Saint Martins, together with my internships with Hermès and Louis Vuitton.”

Carina Lau carrying one of Ethan’s designs.

After designing his first handbag in 2009 and officially launching Ethan K two years later, the brand has been met with enthusiastic private collectors who have acquired massive collections of his work in different variations, designs and colours.

Travel, nature and street style are sources of inspiration for Koh: “I’m incredibly inspired by the greenery as I come from tropical Singapore – trees and flowers bring peace and clarity to my mind.” Koh also loves reading and collecting antique books and old magazines, especially those printed between the 1970s to 1990s which he feels was a golden period of art, fashion and culture. He also credits friend and collector Rachel Koffsky, a handbag specialist at Christie’s London, for helping inspire some of his designs.

Recently, Koh unveiled his latest “essentials” collection, which he says was born partly from desperation. “Handbags in recent years have become too gimmicky in the Instagram age. Post covid, I feel that collectors and consumers are moving towards sensible luxury, going back to true value and objects that stand the test of time, instead of being popular just for a season.”

Ethan K’s Alla bags in ostrich leather.

We have returned to the original purpose of the handbag, he says, which is to serve the needs of modern women, which are constantly changing as well: “The modern Ethan K customer is versatile, sometimes opting for bags that are hands-free such as cross-bodies.”

Koh’s new bags have interesting names that reveal a sense of humour as well: “My favourites are the ‘Can’t Wait’ and the ‘Madhouse’ Tote, which are very functional and multipurpose that are in the accessible range of US$2,000 – US$3,000. Loyal collectors still love our Masterpieces like the Triple Lock Doha bag which sells for US $28,096, which is a true collectible and the first bag in the world to be fully lined in crocodile.”

Ethan K’s triple lock Doha bag fully lined in Porosus crocodile with amethyst clasps.

Currently, Koh has a space in Galeries Lafayette in Paris, which is a collaboration with American interior designer Juan Pablo Molyneux. When asked who his muses are and what kind of women he envisions carrying his bags, Koh says his favourite scenes are Sofia Richie with his iconic Ethan K bag in yellow crocodile and Hailey Bieber with the way she mixes streetstyle and athleisure with his Alla bag. According to Koh, Ethan K women are “confident, stylish and don’t take themselves too seriously – they have a mind of their own.”

(All images: Ethan K)

 This story first appeared in Prestige Hong Kong.

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