New Orleans-Based Brand Elysian Proves The Enduring Power Of The Pop-Up And Hand Crafted Goods
When Emily Morrison took a vacation to Turkey, she got an inclination that she couldn’t let go of. Despite a successful career in finance, active school-age triplets and a husband to share her St. Charles Avenue lifestyle with, Morrison was missing a creative outlet. While exploring Istanbul in early 2019, the mother of three and financier discovered and became enthralled with Ikat fabrics.
Morrison began to plot a business from a commercial and creative standpoint centered around the most typical products made from Ikat fabrics like caftans, tunic-style shirts, mule slippers and pillows. Fate stepped in when during the pandemic of 2020, her finance firm eliminated her role, thus freeing up Morrison to follow her design dreams. Elysian, a reference to heaven, was born.
The company was started with an initial $4,000 investment of her own money. Before the pandemic, Morrison called upon some of the Turkish artisans she had met months earlier to create pillowcases and clutches. In December 2019, she hosted two pop-ups in New Orleans at Em’s and Judy at the rink, each time selling out of stock.
“We started out selling silk velvet and silk ikat pillows, silk velvet and silk ikat clutches and small ikat zippered pouches. Next, we introduced the silk velvet classic totes. We sold over $15,000 in the first pop-up in three days and over $12,000 in the next pop-up in two days,” Morrison recalled. The first pop-up funded the second and thus far, the brand is entirely self-funded.
Morrison returned to Turkey to procure more product styles just prior to the pandemic in late January 2020, a move that would prove invaluable as the gig initially started as a side hustle was building momentum. But then, of course, Covid-19 hit.
Once things opened up a bit in the summer of 2020, Morrison took her wares on the road driving with her husband to boutiques and friends’ homes in Richmond, Virginia and Tampa, Florida. Next, they headed West and sold the wares roadside in tony affluent areas like Telluride, Aspen, and Deer Valley.
In the fall of 2020, a pop-up in her hometown led to a permanent store on New Orleans on Magazine Street, which is filled with funky and unique shops. Wholesale accounts are also targeted to posh locals like Charleston’s Garden and Gun Field shop in the Dewberry Hotel, Kemo Sabe in Aspen, Caspari in Charlottesville, and Belle Cose, which has shops in Jackson Hole, Carmel and Vero Beach.
Thus far, her gamble is paying off. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic and Hurricane Ida, the business was profitable in 2020 and 2021.” 2021 was a particularly challenging year because of Hurricane Ida and the challenges of Covid plus all that New Orleans faced in the last year,” she continued. The brand’s online sales grew 40% in 2021, our trunk show sales grew 15% and our retail store sales grew 15%. The company has done over $1M in sales since its inception. Elysian is projecting 30% growth in 2022 between three business lines—a retail store, online store and trunk show business to continue to grow. “We also expect the business to expand with new wholesale and trade relationships,” she added. Her target includes several high-end boutiques around the country, larger retailers, online retailers such as wedding registry sites and hotels.
The concept is based on the idea of artisan-made fashion. Silk suzani, smooth cotton wovens and nubby silk velvets fabrics come from Turkey and Uzbekistan, trims from Afghanistan, which becomes one-of-a-kind hand-loomed caftans, capes, kimono and fur-trimmed embroidered coats with a distinct Seventies boho vibe. Velvets are used for flat slip-on mules and sneaker shoe styles. The pillowcases have expanded into a home category that includes table linens, upholstery fabric and even lampshades. Recently Morrison designed a line of hand-painted ceramics, expanding further into the lifestyle arena.
“I’ve learned a lot about slow fashion and slow batch and what that means with the hands-on journey these pieces go through,” Morrison noted, adding, “Elysian is Luxury beauty and effortless; you don’t overthink it.” She observes that customers skew older as they possess a deeper understanding of the handmade craft and the uniqueness of the product.
Due to the pandemic, which limited travel and partly due to her husband’s connection to the country, Morrison has also sourced artisanal-made goods from Mexico. “My husband grew up in Mexico as his grandfather was a banker in Madeira. When we couldn’t get to Turkey during the pandemic, we launched some hand-beaded jewelry, cotton dresses, and straw hats made by a women’s collective in Mexico,” she continued. This season she is offering custom patches for the shoes and interchangeable purse straps made by an artist Carla Valencia from Houston.
However exotic and faraway the influence is, Elysian is well-rooted in New Orleans, where Morrison has lived for over 23 years. Fellow business colleagues include Chef Jason Goodenough, Mixologist Neal Bodenheimer of Peychaud’s, Executive Chef Tom Branighan and Sommelier Molly Wismeier of the soon-to-open Mamou, and many connected to the city’s coolest institutions and up-and-coming haunts such as Miss River, Maison de la Luz, Preservation Jazz Hall and Justine restaurant.
It’s the sort of lifestyle minus the deep fashion industry connections that JJ Martin of La Double J—an American-founded brand in Milan, akin to Italy’s answer to Tory Burch—has. “I love how she has incorporated vintage designs into contemporary modern pieces. She lives the brand, with a beautiful aesthetic reflecting her lifestyle and travels and products that incorporate both fashion and home,” Morrison said. With a brand deeply rooted in the design district of New Orleans channeling the craftsmanship of Turkish textiles, Elysian certainly has the potential.