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How a tiny Toronto handbag company got Gwyneth Paltrow to promote it on the red carpet

Gwyneth Paltrow with Tom Ford at launch of her lifestyle blog goop.com

If you doubt the power of celebrity and its Svengali-like influence over consumer behaviour, consider this:
One day after actor Gwyneth Paltrow was photographed in London in a Tom Ford dress and a studded black clutch in her hands, the handbag in question – the MILCK silhouette by Toronto’s Ela Handbags – sold out at Holt Renfrew stores across Canada.

Even now, almost a year later, “customers still walk into the store and say, ‘I want the Gwyneth bag,” said Martin Aldorsson, one half of the husband-and-wife team behind the Ela brand. Ela Aldorsson is the company’s namesake.

That life-changing moment, frozen in time with the click of a camera shutter, was no accidental happenstance.

Anyone looking to attract the eye of a star or starlet to a particular item -- be it a handbag, clothing line, jewelry or novel – should be prepared to sweat.

It takes strategy, money, determination and connections to get a product in a celebrity’s hands.
For the celebrity to be seen with the item, and, more importantly, be photographed with it at a red-carpet event, requires a near miracle: the right event, the right agent, the right outfit and the right product.

The Aldorsson’s journey to Gwyneth glory began in October 2010 when the couple, both 33, launched their first Ela line.

The pair, with their own movie-star good looks, met by chance in London, England. Polish-born Ela Aldorsson was handling public relations for high-end fashion houses Burberry and Hermes.
Martin Aldorson, a native Swede, worked for an international ad agency handling clients such as Gillette and Microsoft.

They were married in 2012 and moved to Toronto where they now make their home.
Ela, the company, was born out of a shared entrepreneurial interest and a desire to create something that combined quality and artisanship. The company soon found its niche as “approachable” luxury, with a price point that starts in the mid-$200s and moves steadily up to $1200 for bags from Ostrich and other rare skins.

They landed first in boutiques, then won over luxury retailers Holt Renfrew and Saks Fifth Avenue in Canada and the U.S.

The designs, noted for their sleek, subtle styling, and rich buttery leather, have drawn rave reviews in the press, including popular fashion magazines such as In Style, Chatelaine and Elle. Toronto Life magazine went so far as to call the MILCK (an acronym for money, ID, lipstick, cell, keys) the “perfect” clutch.
“We always strive to showcase rather than upstage the wearer,” said Martin Aldorsson of the brand philosophy.

It always made sense to seek the endorsement of a star. The Aldorssons agree it’s an important ingredient in a complex recipe of marketing strategies and they went about it with meticulous care.
They began by drawing up a short list of celebrity women they believed fit the image of the dream “Ela girl.” Gwyneth Paltrow, an Oscar-winner, writer and all-around fashionista, was at the very top.
Once they knew exactly who they wanted, the Aldorssons hired a public-relations agency in New York whose job it is to cultivate relationships with celebrity stylists and managers. In Paltrow’s case, the agency worked with two stylists to bring the Ela products to their client’s attention.

The austerity of the list had as much to do with who they wanted to wear their handbags, as it did cost. An A-list starlet is a huge score, and a designer should be prepared to “gift” his or her product many times over with absolutely no guarantee it will ever see the light of day. It can quickly become an expensive endeavor if not managed correctly.

“There are a lot of pieces,” said Martin of the celebrity-endorsement puzzle.  “We absolutely know that it is an important aspect of what we do, but we are also aware it is nothing that we overdo, just because we know how hard it is to have this person actually end up wearing the product.”

Paltrow’s stylists finally came calling last year. The event was the summer launch of Paltrow’s lifestyle blog,goop.com. She needed a handbag with a bit of edge to go with her Tom Ford dress, and the MILCK clutch was deemed a perfect fit for the occasion.  The Aldorsson’s obliged with a complementary bag in black.

And there it was: The photo of a grinning Paltrow standing next to designer Tom Ford himself, zipping its way around the Internet and onto the pages of fashion magazines and newspapers in Europe and North America.

At home in Toronto, Martin and Ela Aldorsson still can’t quite believe their good fortune. It was an amazing moment topped only by the day Paltrow’s people came back on their own and asked for a second Ela bag, this one a tote bag, for their client.

Now that’s true celebrity endorsement, said Martin, and “for us to be along for the ride has been pretty special.”