Elaine Turner’s life story weaves through many worlds—she’s a Texas girl with a Cosmopolitan sense of style. She has traveled the globe as a child and plans on doing it again with her own young children. She naturally sees the wonder and adventure in everything, spinning a creative vision all around her, but it is her instinct for business that introduced her to the fashion world.
“I created the collection to communicate my dreams and how I wanted to make women feel”
In April 2000, Elaine launched her eponymous lifestyle brand, starting with those eye-catching handbags, modern designer classics with her signature touch. A little sexiness, a lot of glamour, always feminine, Elaine Turner designs exude refined elegance, dynamic energy, all-around fun. “I created the collection to communicate my dreams and how I wanted to make women feel,” says Elaine. “An ostrich purse and ballet slippers may evoke images of Paris, a beachgrass tote and linen thongs beckon the Caribbean, but ideally they all embody an escapism that you can incorporate into your everyday life.”
Indeed the exotic textures, material mixes, brilliant colors and custom hardware translate perfectly into her vision of attainable luxury. There’s a sense of adventure, but a very tangible and tactile one. “You don’t have to be at the Louvre or in Anguilla, these accessories perform at your local restaurant and even on the soccer field,” she laughs, in that genuine contagious way that makes you want to laugh too, if only to catch some of her irresistible enthusiasm.
It certainly makes sense that Elaine’s inspired by those that don’t take themselves too seriously—Dorothy Draper, for instance, and her playful irreverent movement. “I get a kick looking through the lens without rules,” she says. And it’s obvious in the way she interprets color and mixes materials, sidesteps the predictable and fantasizes the familiar. “I always look at color first, it’s emotional, it’s where my eye goes. Next is shape and movement where art, architecture and the third dimension come into play,” she explains. “The process is never the same. It’s an experience that starts with a theme, a destination and a muse who conjures up an image. I love the unexpected combinations, traditional menswear tweed piped with a sueded metallic or raffia with patent leather. I also love custom prints and fabulous leathers.” She even developed her own alloy for the custom hardware throughout the collections, a shade that compliments both gold and silver.
Where did all this creativity develop? Elaine's design aesthetic was sparked by the family vacations she took as a child. She was swept away by the effortless, laidback luxury of island living. “I remember being awestruck as I watched my mother on the beach with her oversized hats, bags and sunglasses—she epitomized elegance and beauty to me. She took pride in putting herself together and had fun with accessories and the statement of fashion,” remembers Elaine. “We also tagged along on my dad’s business trips to Europe where I began to admire the urban architecture and the energy of the city. It became a natural progression for me to incorporate the feeling of cityscapes with dreamy getaways.”
After designing for an apparel brand in New York, Elaine co-founded her company with her husband Jim. Her goal was simple: use the language of design to create affordable and luxurious accessories that make women smile. “I always knew I would have something of my own and then Jim walked into my life and really understood that this was more than a dream, it was built on reality and he could develop it into a tangible business.”
Of course, Elaine comes from a family of entrepreneurs; her mother is a writer and owns a publishing company with her brother. Her sister had an accessories retail store until recently and her father founded and built a business in the energy field. In fact, Elaine was a finalist for the 2011 Texas Business Woman of the Year Award. Perhaps growing a business was really in her blood—in addition to handbags, she introduced a shoe collection four years ago, and currently is looking at jewelry, sunglasses, swimwear and even tabletop.
Headquartered in Houston's historic Rice Village, Elaine's design loft is directly above her flagship boutique in an art deco building painted the brand's signature color—pink. A second store in CityCentre opened in February 2011. “Rice Village is like your chic Aunt from Palm Beach’s living room with hi-shine floors and chandeliers,” says Elaine. “CityCentre has midcentury influences, an indoor/outdoor sensibility, more of a mod edge to it.” The shoe salon with its plush pink couches is at the heart of both stores, inviting customers to relax, socialize and enjoy a glass of pink champagne. The merchandise is a playful mix of her handbag and shoe designs, as well as her favorite jewelry, clothing and home decor. Many of these items can be found in Elaine's own home and closet.
In fact, Elaine's first handbag was inspired by raffia, which she was using to re-paper the walls of her Houston home. As a joke, her husband suggested that she should cover a handbag in raffia—and voilà - the Jackie bag that launched her fashion empire was born. Her use of exotic materials like raffia, bright grasscloth, glitter hair calf and cork—along with her pink jacquard lining, bamboo accents and crown hardware —became the DNA of her brand.
A part of her personal DNA is giving back, a part that is also essential to her business philosophy. Her philanthropic nature comes into play often, intersecting all her worlds. She is an avid supporter of Breast Cancer Awareness and has donated and raised money regularly for organizations including the Nellie B. Connally Breast Center at M.D. Anderson, where her mother receives treatment. She generously throws fundraisers and parties at her stores for organizations including TUTS, National Heart Association, Heroes for Children, Snap, Center for Success and Independence and more. Elaine is always open to collaborating for a worthy cause, going beyond donating funds to donating time and her very passionate creative vision.
Along with her flagship stores in Houston’s Rice Village and CityCentre, Elaine’s collection is carried in Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and specialty boutiques worldwide. She and her signature designs have been featured on The Today Show, ABC’s Mirror/Mirror and in Glamour, InStyle, People, Lucky, Self, O The Oprah Magazine, Real Simple, Southern Living and many more.