Friday, June 1, 2012

Au chante! Angela O'Brien of Cleobella.

All handbags, Cleobella. Photography by joielala.

As I'm contemplating the change in seasons (is spring over already???) and getting ready to usher in another glorious summer, I'll happily trade in my riding boots for sandals, sweaters for tanks and trench coats for maxi dresses. Seems like every summer I find myself striving, yet again, to perfect that effortless boho chic look, but no one I know does it better than Angela O'Brien, the founder of handbag and accessories line Cleobella. Angela launched Cleobella in 2008 after a round-the-world adventure which included an extended visit to the island of Bali. Inspired by the rich culture and simplicity of Balinese life, Angela discovered not only gorgeous vintage ikat fabrics, recycled hardware and washed leathers, but an incredible group of talented artisans. It was there, in Bali, that Cleobella (named after Angela's mother) was born.

Cleobella store in Sunset Beach, CA. Clockwise from top left: Cleobella clothing, one of many gorgeous displays of Cleobella handbags, a selection of Cleobella necklaces and bracelets. All photography by joielala.

 Recently, I caught up with Angela and asked about her typical day, travel essentials, favorite shopping destinations and what she's learned since becoming a mom.

How did Cleobella start? In search of change and adventure, my husband and I left our jobs and comforts of home to travel around the world for a solid year. My desire to have my own business lead me to designing my first collection in Bali.

How and when did you discover Bali and what do you love most about it? Surf was the catalyst for our adventure which brought us to Bali. What I love about Bali is the feeling I get the moment I arrive. The kindness I feel from the locals, the warm weather, beautiful beaches and the mix of artists and travelers that I relate to.

Who makes Cleobella bags? Cleobella handbags are made by local artisans in home industry factories. The men build the leather bags and the women do all the embellishments, including hand beading, macrame, hand weaving, etc.

The Balinese artisans who bring Cleobella designs to life. 

Where do you find inspiration for your designs? Each season I take inspiration from a new place I have experienced. For example, Spring 2012 is inspired by my travels through South Africa.

What is your typical workday like? There really is no typical day - the fashion business is forever changing and I do my best to stay current with the constant movement. Having a small business means that I wear many hats - whether I'm designing, working with production, sales, marketing or other operations.

When you aren't working, what is your favorite way to spend a weekend? On the beach, with my family.  I can be anywhere in the world, as long as I'm detached from my cell phone and with my family, I'm happy!

5 things you never travel without? My Ipad to entertain my one-year old on the long flights and to keep in contact with business at home, my "Mexicana clutch" to keep me organized and to wear day or night, a batik sarong which can be used as a scarf, blanket or beach towel, my favorite vintage sunglasses and of course, my SPF.

Angela O'Brien in front of her Sunset Beach, CA boutique. Photography by joielala. 

You recently had a gorgeous little boy. How has motherhood changed you? It's allowed me to see the world through his eyes - everything is a little more colorful and beautiful.

Any advice for juggling work and family? I do my best to be present in everything I do. Being mindful of what is most important and understanding that if I can't complete everything in one day, there is always tomorrow.

Tell us a little about your new flagship store in Sunset Beach. Our new store is a dream come true! It's a lifestyle choice to open our first retail boutique minutes away from our home in Seal Beach. It's my little bohemian sanctuary, steps away from the beach, in a white cottage built in the 1920's. 

A few of Angela's favorite things.

Who or what inspires you? Travel and the people I meet along my journey inspire me.

Favorite places you've visited? India, by far the most interesting place on earth!!!

Describe your personal style. Eclectic, bohemian, vintage. I wake up in the morning and wear what I'm feeling.

Favorite places to shop? Local markets on my travels, flea markets in the L.A. area, Planet Blue Malibu.

A few of Angela's favorite things: sushi, fresh squeezed green juice, a yummy espresso, Jo Malone Vintage Gardenia Perfume, Chanel lip gloss, Capri Blue Volcano candles, lingerie, turquoise stones.

To learn a little more about Angela, her life in Bali, and get inspired to pack up your bags and head to the airport, watch this beautifully shot documentary here. Cleobella is available online at,,, and and is also on Facebook and Twitter. But if you live here in Southern California, you can treat yourself to a visit to the new flagship store in Sunset Beach, CA. Filled with reclaimed wood, steel, and gorgeous vintage fixtures, the store features the complete line of Cleobella handbags, jewelry and clothing along with a selection of Assouline books, Savon de Marseille soaps, and beautiful home furnishings. I would challenge anyone to try and walk out empty handed. 

More photos from the flagship store, clockwise from top left: a wonderful rainbow of wallets, perfect details like vintage hooks provide a place to display bags, Summer 2012 line sheets in the adjacent design studio, me carrying my Kaya bucket bag. All photography by joielala. 

Here's to the first week in June - I'll be playing at the beach and reading up for another great blogging class taught by the creative and talented Holly Becker of Decor8.  Have a great weekend everyone! 


Anonymous said...

I love those handbags and wallets in the bright colors. I'm so tempted to get one, but I need another bag like a hole in the head.
See you in BYW (I want to know what you think of the on-line magazine tutorial).

Theresa / InspirationCOOP said...

Wonderful interview, Jennifer. Love that you got the opportunity to chat with Angela about her beautiful, inspiring business and personal life. You know, many of us are inspired by our travels, but very few actually return and begin an entire business based off that inspiration. Kudos to Angela for making it happen. No small feat.
Have a wonderful weekend, Jennifer!
PS~See you in class. ;)

California Chic said...

@Teri - honestly, I have the Mexicana clutch and use it non-stop. I hear you on the purse front - my husband always says I have way too many, but I don't think I'll ever stop collecting! I'm late to class tonight, so I'm going to dive in now.

@ Theresa - She is such an inspiring and beautiful person inside and out. Everytime I see her I want to quit my day job and move abroad to begin a new adventure.

Erin said...

Amazing interview, Jennifer! I admire that you go out and scout these people and aren't shy about asking for interviews with them! I love those bags, and without this interview I'd never have known about them. I'm also a big fan of the Capri Blue Volcano candles (you've smelled one, haven't you? heavenly!). Thanks so much for turning me on to Cleobella! Or maybe i should be cursing you, because purses are my absolute weakness ;)

tina said...

I LOVE those coloured wallets and would have one in each colour.

Great interview. Why are all those women that you choose always sooooo beautiful with the perfect husband and child and perfect business:)

No seriously, very inspiring. Thank you!!

rooth said...

Thanks for featuring Cleobella - I'm a really big fan of her clutches. Perfect for the summer, no?

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