Cleobella, handbag maker to the stars, opens shop

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Cleobella, Angela O’Brien’s line of globally inspired handbags and accessories, has found plenty of favor among A-listers, including Halle Berry, Kate Hudson, Anne Hathaway, Fergie, Emmy Rossum and Jessica Alba.

Now the Huntington Beach native is looking to parlay that success into her first boutique, in cozy Sunset Beach. Local custom urban steel furniture maker Moya Living transformed a 1920s house into a shop that reflects Cleobella’s earthy vibe. The boutique also acts as a showroom for Living, with its display furniture for sale.


O’Brien, an extensive traveler who spent 2006 jet-setting across the world to exotic destinations with her surfer husband, Jim, first found inspiration in Bali. It was shortly after the 2005 terrorist bombing, and O’Brien was moved by the Indonesian people’s kindness and welcoming nature. She was also struck by the simple natural elements there.

O’Brien dreamed of creating her own fashion line, and Bali seemed like the perfect place to begin. She took to the streets for inspiration and sought out unique fabrics and beads at local markets. She was drawn to the rich patterns, colors and texture of Bali’s traditional ikat fabric.

While in Bali, O’Brien designed her line’s first piece, the Mexicana clutch, to fill a personal need. A large wallet with several pockets and zippers, the Mexicana was perfect to secure her passport, itinerary, even lip gloss, during the day and then to use as a clutch at night. It’s now Cleobella’s signature piece.

She’s since added hundreds of bags and clutches to her line, with some made exclusively for Anthropologie and other stores. They sport names like the Kaya Bucket, which looks like a bucket, the Wenona clutch and the Mahala evening clutch. They sell for about $80 to $600 online and at boutiques throughout Los Angeles and New York.

Now the O’Briens spend four months of the year in Bali, two months at a time, so O’Brien can design a full season’s collection there. Much of the work is done by hand and she passes along much of the praise to the women who craft her collections.

The O’Briens continue to travel, her husband in search of big waves and O’Brien in search of inspiration.

South Africa was behind the vision and designs for the spring 2012 collection, dubbed Africana. For the fall 2012 line, out in August, she channeled Cleopatra and envisioned the kind of handbags and accessories the Egyptian queen would look for while on a visit to Indonesia.

Buyers want items that make a difference in society, she says. Each Cleobella bag and clutch is hand-beaded and hand-woven in Bali. They’re also made using washed leathers, with some in the collection featuring recycled brass and antique hardware.

‘Consumers are getting smarter and want to step away from the big labels,' O’Brien says. ‘It’s more about the understated fashion, the craftsmanship in the product and the story behind.'

Cleobella, 16792 14th St., Sunset Beach, open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

--Mona Shadia


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rien, with husband Jim in the Sunset Beach shop, travels the world for inspiration for her Cleobella line. Credit: Kevin Chang HB Independent