Ella McHugh: Lawyer Turned Luxury Handbag Designer

Luxury handbag designer, Ella McHugh.

Luxury handbag designer, Ella McHugh.

Alec Baldwin, Billy Joel, LL Cool J…Long Island has fostered some of the greatest. Next up: luxury handbag designer Ella McHugh, who grew up in Locust Valley and Garden City.

Pulse caught up with the emerging artist about her career path 180 from lawyer to designer, inspiration, memorable experiences and favorite style advice.

Corinne Blithe

The Corinne Blithe bag.

Long Island Pulse: You’re a Long Island girl, grew up in Locust Valley and Garden City. What are your favorite things to do when you come back for a visit?
Ella McHugh: I visit my friends that are still out there, and my mom has a place out in Locust Valley and I go out to see her on the weekends sometimes. I love Walls Wharf. It’s a beach restaurant and a fun place. There are so many different parts of Long Island. I think people think of it as just one thing but there are so many different things.

Pulse: How, if at all, did your life on Long Island inspire your line?
McHugh: My oldest friends are friends I have from that time. The silhouettes of the bags are named after a woman in my life that has been supportive of my career change and also just supportive of me, and a lot of them are named after my oldest friends who still live on Long Island.

Pulse: It was quite a career change from lawyer to luxury handbag designer. What was the motive to transition to a creative field?
McHugh: I’ve always had a love of handbags. It runs in my family. My grandmother had a huge collection of handbags and always said that you can tell so much about a woman by her choice in handbags.

When I wanted to do something more entrepreneurial, I thought, “Well I’ve had this idea, so I might as well explore it.” I took some classes at FIT just to see if my creativity would stack up and I showed some of my ideas to people I knew in fashion who I thought knew me well enough to tell me the truth, and a number of them were like, “These are actually pretty good! Go back and go give it a shot.” I was expecting people to just say, “No, go back and be a lawyer!” (Laughs) I went to Italy and looked for a factory, and I was lucky that I knew the people who were re-launching the Mark Cross brand. They were kind enough to let me intern with them for a few months while I was taking the classes at FIT just to get a sense of how it worked.

Corinne II Lightning

The Corinne II Lightning bag.

Pulse: Speaking of lucky, you showcased your bags with Bibhu Mohapatra at NYFW in February!
McHugh: I’ve always been a huge fan of Bibhu’s for years, it’s been a goal of mine and I really wanted to do something with him. It worked out and I‘m thrilled to have been able to do it.

Pulse: A lot of celebrities have been seen carrying your bags. What was that feeling like, to see someone famous sporting your creation?
McHugh: It’s fun to see woman who pretty much wear anything they want wear your stuff and enjoy it! [The bags] are day to evening and depending on how you style them you can do a lot of different things. It’s fun to see different women style them in different ways.


The Pattimand bag.

Pulse: You mentioned earlier that the bags are named after your friends, was there any other inspiration behind the line colors and textures?
McHugh: The line in general has an art deco inspiration, modernized with hardware and an interesting mix of materials.

Pulse: If you could give any piece of fashion advice to the women of the world, what would it be?
McHugh: For every occasion there’s a handbag, and there’s a handbag for every occasion.