As one of Singapore’s most recognisable luxury designers, the affable Ethan Koh needs no introduction. His exotic skin handbags, often adorned with the brand’s signature hedgehog motif, have been seen on the arms of high-profile women, including Hong Kong actress Carina Lau, model Hailey Bieber and Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice.
But while the designer has long established a London base and his designs can be found in exclusive retailers such as Harrods, fans in Asia have been awaiting a shopping space in the region. In November, he launched the world’s first Ethan K standalone boutique at Scotts Square, making it much easier for fashionable bag ladies to get their hands on his latest drops, which include the popular multi-strapped Mini briefcase and 24/7 clutch.
What spurred you to launch a standalone store in the middle of a pandemic?
This was actually a natural step. We have had many loyal collectors and huge fans from Southeast Asia and I felt that the Ethan K label has been really taking shape with iconic designs like the Alla and Duchess bags. So having a standalone store allows collectors here to experience the brand firsthand.
The flagship store is an introduction to the brand and is also the first store to have a Temptations room, a meditative space where the team can work on special orders for collectors.
With many retailers going online, why did you move in the opposite direction with a physical store?
An omni-channel experience is important. With our e-shop, we have great pictures that show the angles of the bag. But at the end of the day, the handbag is the second home of a woman and it is the physical interaction with the bag that seals the deal.
How has the definition of luxury changed over the years?
It used to be about having that eye-catching piece to wear to the best occasions. Now luxury is more casual and interactive, with the rise of millennial and Gen Z customers who are into sneakers and streetwear. For me, functionality is key, so the bags come with multi-straps and can be worn from day to night.
Why have you diversified into working with different materials like calf leather and soon, vegan leather?
I think every great accessory designer has to challenge himself and although we have a heritage of four generations in tanning and exotic skins, I really wanted to cater to more collectors. Working with different materials is also a great way to express myself and this has helped diversify our customer base, where we have clients aged from 18 to 70.
What is the biggest sacrifice you’ve made as a designer?
Last year, everyone was skeptical about the future of luxury and my team told me I had to stop creating as funds were limited. But I believed that as long as I create something beautiful, people will love it, so I invested my own savings to design new bags. The pandemic turned out to be the best time for me to create without distractions, and certain designs, like the Mini Briefcase, are now among our bestselling styles today.