We first met designer Ela Kowaleska at an intimate lunch put on by Holt Renfrew, and were quickly enchanted by her graceful disposition and classic beauty. Ela grew up in both Poland and Canada, and since her early twenties, she’s also spent chapters of her life in the UK, Japan, and Sweden. Her career journey began at Hermes Canada, where she worked in publicity, and then continued at Burberry in London, where she gained a terrific knowledge of the fashion industry from the business side. Then it was time to go out on her own: she launched ela with her husband, Martin Aldorsson. Like most successful designers, Ela and Martin decided to stick to one thing and do it really well: luxury handbags.
The collection of ela clutches are feminine and edgy, and command attention. We love the vibrant colour palette and have been dreaming of the studded Editor’s Pouch in Mirror Silver since we spotted our blurry reflection in it. We caught up with Ela while she was sourcing leather in Spain.
Shedoesthecity: Why did you decide to concentrate on handbags?
Ela Kowaleska: Aside from a true love of handbags and a strong entrepreneurial spirit, it was the realization that there was a void in the affordable luxury marketplace. There weren’t many great handbags and accessories that bridged High Street fashion and luxury. I wanted to create handbags that were of authentic design and high quality, but were still at accessible price points.
SDTC: How would you describe the ela aesthetic?
Ela: Humble luxury—modern, authentic, and quality.Designs that always strive to showcase, rather than upstage, the wearer.
SDTC: Why is a good clutch a wardrobe investment?
Ela: It’s an easy piece to incorporate into your wardrobe, as it can often complete the look (for instance, adding a pop of colour to a neutral ensemble). The clutch has become a staple in a woman’s wardrobe, just like a great cross-body bag or a tote.
SDTC: Whose style do you really admire?
Ela: Małgosia Bela and Emmanuelle Alt.
SDTC: How have your Polish/Swedish roots influenced your designs?
Ela: Both Martin and I are nomads with bags always half packed. We grew up from very young ages residing in different countries, from Poland and Sweden to Canada, Japan, England, and the US—so we bring a certain worldly perspective to the designs. The brand is definitely influenced by our roots and experiences.
SDTC: What do you love most about what you do?
Ela: Building and creating something from start to finish, as well as seeing our customers enjoying their ela bags and accessories. Working with my husband is pretty great as well. We work very hard but have a lot of fun together.
SDTC: Your husband is your business partner. How do you divide and conquer?
Ela: I focus on the designs, sourcing, and all the creative execution of the brand, and Martin focuses on sales, logistics, business growth, and PR and marketing. We work together on overall strategy and goals. I think if we didn’t work together we probably wouldn’t see that much of one another, because the business is not your typical 9 to 5.
SDTC: What is great style to you?
Ela: Great style is all about knowing what works for you and personalizing that look. In the words of Yves Saint Laurent, “Fashion fades, style is eternal.”
Check out the stunning ela collection here (it is also available at Holt Renfrew). Which handbag do you love most?