Designer interview


Designer Luciana Ellington took an indirect route to design. Born in Rio de Janeiro, Luciana learned to sew from her grandmother, but pursued careers in photography and styling before launching her handbag line. She learned the ins and outs of photography while working at a modeling agency in Brazil. In the meantime, Luciana was skateboarding – a skate competition led her to Los Angeles, where she fell in love with California and met her husband. Her photography career expanded into fashion styling and she began styling shoots, though she always lamented the lack of bold, interesting accessories. She decided to put her sewing skills to use and began designing and making bags for herself and her friends. Demand took off and she was forced to hand the sewing off, though she still makes all the samples herself. Costella’s signatures include interesting, textured leather, rich colors inspired by Brazil and bold hardware. Every Costella bag is now made in L.A., where Luciana lives with her husband and two children. Find out how Luciana balances work and family life and what she loves about her career in design.

Hello Luciana – can you please tell us a little more about yourself?

I am originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and I've been a resident of Los Angeles, CA for 13 years. My hometown, our culture, the colors and aesthetics of both the land and people are what inspire me. Each bag is full of character. Use of color, lots of hardware and textures in our leather makes Costella Handbags unique.

When did you know you wanted to design handbags?

I am also a photographer and stylist. The idea to create my own designs was very organic and came to me while styling my friends for their shoots. The right handbag, shoes, and jewelry can really pull a look together and add depth to a photo. Costella took a while to progress. In the beginning, my handbags were hand-sewn and one-of-a-kind. As momentum grew, the demand for quantity and designs became more complicated.

The road to starting my own brand came with many challenges, being a “one woman show.” Now, I am fortunate enough to have production set up here in Los Angeles and a small team of amazing and very dedicated individuals to support me and help grow my company. I am very blessed.

Can you please tell us about your design process?

I pull inspiration from literally everything around me. It could be a photo in a magazine, a beautiful dress, a pair of shoes, even the colors and textures of fabric... At times, I overwhelm myself and make it difficult to hone in and make decisions. When I get a vibe from something that excites me, I try to translate that in my designs. It's really fun pairing hardware with different grains of leather. The combination of both is the key component with every Costella handbag. I'll make a sample at home, take it to my manufacturer, fine-tune the pattern to make it more functional and create the final product.

I take my time when visiting stores and exploring all of my options. I'm always searching online for new places and gather swatches that way as well. I really try to pair the right hardware with the right leather when brainstorming all of my patterns. The combination really adds character and makes the bag fun.

What sort of creative challenges do you face? And when you initially established your brand, what challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?

The administration side of the business stifles my creative process. Coming up with new designs and just being an artist becomes a challenge when I have to worry about taxes, checking on orders, manufacturers, budgeting, planning, et cetera. Juggling both can slow down the creative process, but when you are an independent designer, it comes with the territory. At the end of the day, when people appreciate your work it's all worth it!

I am a mother of two kids who are three and seven years old. I am also married to a professional skateboarder who travels a lot. Finding balance was the challenge. I learned to juggle taking care of my family while still being able to do something that I am passionate about. It takes patience. I started Costella in 2006 and had to put it on hold. My son was only 1 at that time and I couldn't do it all myself. I made mistakes and I learned from them. Now, I am stronger, more focused and I know what I want. You can't give up on your dreams.

Who is the Costella customer?

I design for the strong, independent, driven, fashion-savvy woman. An individual who is fun, wants to make a statement and isn't afraid to show her personality is the Costella consumer.

Which Costella pieces are your favorites and why?

I am very connected to all of my designs. They are also inspired by and named after my friends (strong and independent women in my life). Each piece is special and all of them are my favorites. I can't pick just one.

Do you have any advice for other independent designers?

Like I said earlier, independent designers are loners and they do everything by themselves. There's no budget to hire people and all of your money is used to buy materials. There are challenges and learning opportunities along the way, but don't give up on your dreams. Keep going and keep pushing. Good things will happen.

You are based in Los Angeles– where do you like to spend your free time and find inspiration?

Most of my time is spent in Downtown LA, home of the fashion district. This is where all of the fabrics and materials are. The [Griffith] Observatory is a great place for inspiration. It's peaceful and you get an amazing view of the whole city. The Farmers Market on Third Street is fun as well. Lots of stores, restaurants and a great place to people-watch.

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