With a penchant for vibrant colour, semi-precious stones and characterful styles, Ethan Koh describes his eponymous label as "one of the world’s best-kept secrets"...
Growing up in Singapore, the London-trained designer hails from a family of highly specialised skin tanners that has counted the likes of Hermès and Prada as clients, but Ethan is building on the family business in an all-new way – using the skins to design his own exquisite pieces, with a brand ethos that focuses on quality and exclusivity. Welcome to the colourful world of Ethan K.
"I like to think I’m an ideal combination of East meets West – being a designer who came from a tropical climate, of course that sparked my imagination at a young age. But more than that, while in the West being a designer is about creativity, in the East it’s also about philosophy and different schools of thought. I like to think my creations have a deeper sense of meaning.
"I grew up as part of the fourth generation of the family business – my father and my grandfather were always very enthusiastic about us joining the business, so I started learning how to select skins as a kid. All of our crocodile skins are treated through a sustainable program. Our family mission is to achieve a greater understanding and appreciation for crocodile and exotic skin bags."
"I launched Ethan K in London in 2011, and at first everyone said, ‘Oh in this city, everyone only wears black’, but this has changed. While previously crocodile skin bags were only really available in black or brown, our family tannery has been able to help change the way that people view exotic skins, seeing them as more youthful and fun."
"In the beginning, it was the tropical climate, exotic fruits, plants and spices of my childhood that influenced my use of warm and bright colours. In more recent years, I’ve also been inspired by art – contemporary art, as well as artists like Monet. I think colour is a great way to express oneself."
"Semi-precious stones are part of my heritage – different stones mean different things. I’ve always been motivated to try new materials and be innovative; I would even say that we were one of the first brands to have that breakthrough in using of exotic skins and semi-precious stones. When I first started the brand, I told my friends that I wanted to combine the two and everyone just laughed and said I was being too idealistic. I’m really proud that we’ve found the right way to do it – we’ve used malachite, sodalite, lapis lazuli – and I’d even say we started a trend. It’s really great to inspire people, as today you see lots of designers doing the same…"
"People ask: 'Can one have enough Ethan K pieces?' The answer is always never."
"I’m very fortunate to have a tight group of couture collectors who have a way of keeping my creativity alive – I’ve created everything from a bespoke guitar case to a bag with a secret trap door for them. My customers are the people who really appreciate luxury, and I love to hear their stories and encounters; for them, the sky is the limit. I would say that the ultimate Ethan K woman is someone who is not aspirational – she has already arrived, because it’s not about showing off a piece or outdoing others, it’s about enjoying a real luxury for oneself."
"We have very exciting plans to share our creativity much more, in different ways and through different product categories. We are creating a select edit of pieces for our special male customers currently. Acting on the increased demand for men’s styles, we wanted to move away from exotic skin bags for men being briefcases or travel bags only, and make them in a number of forms."