Thunder Minaudiere CPJ March 2016

In the first of our series highlighting some of the truly inspirational work being done by some incredible entrepreneurs and emerging brands I have had the pleasure of meeting along the way, Emily Cheetham of designer hand bag brand Elyse and i shares some of her insights, inspiration, and driving forces.

Emily Cheetham of the eponymous brand Elyseandi
Emily Cheetham of the eponymous brand Elyseandi

 What do you love most about what you do?

I love the creativity and freedom of expression in design the most – there is an unimaginable

joy in seeing your idea translated into a product, seeing that stocked on the shelf of a

beautiful store. The pride in a bag being featured in the press or admired and worn by

someone is immeasurable.

What’s your signature style?

My design signature style is what I hope by now, a recognisable handwriting and

something that sets me apart from other bags in the marketplace. Our hero bags – the Nell

and Suki – are a series of knot inspired bags, made with sculptural pipings of leather in

interlocking loops and knots. They are always present in the collection, with seasonal

variations to colour and materials and represent the heritage of the brand and continue to

be the most sought-after pieces. Our other bags compliment these anchor pieces but will

be different in silhouette, patterns, and finishes, perhaps more trend-based or simpler in their

aesthetic. Yet there is always an overarching unity in all of the designs which is stemmed in

a desire to marry each bag perfectly with textural excitement and utilitarian function – after

all we use a bag to carry all our clobber around, so it needs to work.

Emily Cheetham_pave earrings_web

What inspired you to start your business?

Starting my business was very spontaneous and fueled by not having found my career

groove in my nine-to-five PR job. I had been making bags as a hobby and as I looked for a

new job, the demand for the bags grew so I figured while I was young, without dependents,

I would go for it and start the brand in earnest. It was over 10 years ago so I guess it was the

right decision!

What’s the best business advice you’ve ever been given?

I was lucky enough to sit down with Roger Saul who founded Mulberry many years ago – I

literally sat down with him around his kitchen table, chatting to him about my business while

he ate left-over pheasant stew. At the time, I was having some production issues but my

priority was on sales and how to get in front of the right stores. He put things into simple

perspective – without the right product you won’t ever get into the stores or get any

customer loyalty so put production back at the top of the list. He was right. I flew overseas

the following week to rectify the production issue and have made sure that high quality and

on-time production are at the top of my priority list ever since.

Who or what inspires you?

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t spurred on by the success of others or inspired to get busy

when I see other bag brands being featured in the press or lining the shelves of stores I want

to be in! The spirt of competitiveness is human nature.

Recently I was very taken by what Elizabeth Gilbert author of ‘Eat, Love, Pray’ had to say in a

radio interview – in fact, I was shouting at the radio in agreement when she said “Creativity is

an engine within us waiting to be revved”.

For design inspiration I bank ideas every day – making notes on my phone or in a pad,

tearing out scraps of magazines or picking things up from stores – it could a note on anything

from a wonderfully structured chair, an art movement, piece of fabric, old fitting or a screen

grab of vintage purse. I recently went to the newly re-opened National Gallery of Singapore

and found some glorious botanical prints. I don’t know how they might feature in an

upcoming design but took photos to use an aide-memoire for the colours, vivacity of the

print etc.

botanical prints national gallery_web

What are you reading at the moment?

Oh bad question – I am the world’s worst reader. I think my last book was 50 Shades

(shameful admission). I joke with friends that I’ll start a Box-set club rather than join a Book

Club. I read the FT at the weekend, BBC News and the New York Times on my phone via

their apps. Having said ALL of that, I have just ordered Ed Burstell’s book ‘At Liberty – from

Rehab to Front Row’ – I heard a BBC interview with him recently where he recalled how he

talked himself into getting a job on the shop floor at Macy’s after going through some

personal issues, then he worked his way up to being a buyer at Bergdorf Goodman and

Bloomingdales to his current role as MD of Liberty. He was so inspiring to listen – especially

from the perspective of a buyer and how intense and busy it is – so I can’t wait to read the

book as I think it will be really helpful for me in terms of understanding the pysche of a


Favourite piece of art that you own and one you would love to have?

I’m hankering after one of Piers Bourke’s pieces – he’s a British artist who resides in

Singapore and works with printing in a refreshing, unique way. I’m after one of his (brilliantly

titled) ’Lick My Rear’ pieces or one of the Malay Tigers. We have a blank wall waiting for it!

Lick My Rear Green red12p.web_web
‘Lick My Rear Red Green’

I’d also like to own one of my cousin, Claire Desjardins’ original canvasses – we

collaborated on the Thunder minaudière recently which is now sold in Anthropologie and it

would be amazing to have one hang on our wall. Her canvasses are so colourful with

energetic patterns and movement.

Thunder by Claire Desjardins
‘Thunder’ by Claire Desjardins

Celebrity you’d most like to find yourself sitting next to at dinner?

My inner teen says Rob Lowe or Ryan Gosling. My Monroe fascination says Marilyn. My

discerning answer might be Sheryl Sandberg. But I think I’m going to plummet for Ed

Burstell as I think I’d learn so much from his fascinating life – as well as unlocking the key to

being stocked at Liberty!

 Your favourite handbag designer – other than yourself!

Oh I think Anya Hindmarch is brilliant. Her quirky, whimsical attitude is magnetic and her

designs so fearless.

And finally, extravagant necessity?

Regular pedicures, plentiful Nespresso capsules, Chanel make-up.