THE LINE’S CO-FOUNDERS TALK ABOUT CHANCE ENCOUNTERS & BUILDING A BRAND
Story by Laura Chang
Photo provided by Ela
It was a chance meeting with accessory designer Jimmy Choo that convinced Ela Kowalewska that she should follow her dreams of designing handbags. “My friend said to me, ‘You must meet this friend of mine,’” she recalls, laughing over espresso with her business partner and husband, Martin Aldorsson. “And it’s Jimmy Choo! He saw my sketches and encouraged me to pursue it.”
Choo’s eye for talent was unmistaken. Today, Ela is cementing its reputation for beautiful bags that are inspired by the “curious, cool but effortless” to evoke an idea of “humble luxury.” With an understated elegance, Ela handbags strive to complement rather than upstage the wearer.
“Humble luxury is that certain je ne sais quoi,” Aldorsson explains. “It’s in how you carry yourself. You look someone in the eyes, you listen rather than speak, you believe in quality over quantity… ”.
Kowalewska’s design process for Ela is far from routine and relies on creative instincts to determine her direction. “I don’t always start with sketches of potential handbag designs, which is the conventional first step,” she explains. “Sometimes I’ll start by forming a paper model of a bag, working with the shape and pattern I picture in my head. We find ourselves surrounded by paper bags.”
The magic of her innovation materializes at this stage. Made with one hundred percent Italian leather and hardware, each Ela bag “speaks the same language” with a signature asymmetrical flap and slanted clasp. By asking herself what one wants from a handbag, Kowalewska has created a harmony of utility and fashion. “Accessories should be expressive without being over the top,” she says of the brand’s design philosophy. “It’s about something that is beautiful to touch and see.”
The very first Ela purse, the “M.I.L.C.K”, is a classic clutch inspired by the traditional envelope shape. The “M.I.L.C.K” bag caters to fit a woman’s daily necessities: money, ID, lipstick, cellphone, keys. Clever details, such as the well-sized compartments and key-strap, seamlessly integrate into a life no longer burdened by the frustration of searching for keys (or, for that matter, ID, money, lipstick…).
“Every bag has a story behind it,” says Kowalewska of her Ela mentality. “We really try to think of features that can provide that effortless sensibility, right down to the strap length, so it’s comfortable and accessible.” This means saying goodbye to awkwardly positioned handbags that compete with one’s elbows all the time. Ela branched into messenger bags with the second bag, the “Chibi” – meaning “little one” in Japanese – that bears no extra weight on a busy day.
Ela’s sophistication can be attributed to Kowalewska and Aldorsson’s ten years of experience in the industry. She started her career by working in PR for Hermès Canada before moving on to work in wholesale handbags and accessories for Burberry London. “I’ve always loved high-quality leather goods, and appreciated great craftsmanship and design,” Kowalewska reminisces. After meeting Jimmy Choo and hearing his wise words, she returned to work for Roots Canada and furthered her knowledge in design production. Ela’s co-founder, Aldorsson, has a background in marketing and branding, and most recently served as the brand manager for Havaianas in North America. He met Kowalewska in London, and moved to join her in Canada. In September 2010, Ela was founded.
Together, they create a happy fusion of creativity and business logistics. “It’s important that we are on the same page and building something together,” says Aldorsson of their work ethos. “We both wanted to take something away from our experiences to develop something original.”
Which brings Ela to the present, only a little over a year later. Kowalewska’s mind constantly buzzes with ideas, although she and Aldorsson agree that it’s important not to spread themselves too thin just yet. “I would love to work with more accessories, like wallets or belts. And unisex bags…”, she says as a sneak preview of what one could expect. He chimes in, adding, “I personally wear the Ela canvas tote. It works for anyone.”
Spring 2012 promises an additional line of handbags that incorporate “a peek of rabbit fur and animal print” for a hint of brazenness, and a new petite wristlet size. The collection will also offer the classic “M.I.L.C.K” clutch in an array of appetizing colours to fit any character.
You can find these pieces at several Toronto retailers including Chasse Gardée and The Narwhal; the thrill of being stocked in such chic boutiques doesn’t escape Kowalewska and Aldorsson; “That was a proud moment…seeing the rainbow assortment of clutches, beautifully lined up like macaroons in the store.”