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Photography by Tim Melideo

Ciao, ’Bella!

by Michelle Pulfrey | Riviera Orange County magazine | August 27, 2012

It’s been four years since Angela O’Brien and her husband, Jim, spent 12 months exploring places like the Pacific Islands, Southeast Asia and India. “We lived in a camper van in Europe for five months,” she says. With that adventure came inspiration to design a line of boho-chic bags and baubles that are carried in stores like Fred Segal and Kitson—and now, at her own boutique in Sunset Beach (16792 14th St., 562.310.2911, cleobella.‌com). She sat down with Riviera to chat about her brand, her bags and why Bali holds a special place in her heart.

Tell us about your global journey. What was that like? Incredibly inspirational and memorable, to say the least—the year we were away we had free minds, bodies and spirits. We bought a ticket around the world and followed the waves.

Is Cleobella the result of some of that inspiration? Cleobella was inspired by a dream we had to create a lifestyle that involved doing what we love, which is art, travel and surfing. We live in Bali part time—it’s where I design four collections a year. I feel so fortunate to be doing what I love and supporting the local artisans who bring my sketches to life.

So how would you describe the Cleobella style? Handmade, rustic-chic, travel-inspired.

And yours? I like mixing unique pieces that I discovered from my travels, and I’m addicted to flea markets and finding treasures that are one of a kind.

What else inspires you? My mother, Cleobella, who was born in Northern Ireland and raised in Southern California—she was a hippy child of the 1970s. I’ve always admired her style and the way she finds balance in life. And both of my grandmothers are artists.

Tell us a little more about Cleobella. Cleobella’s handbags and wallets are handmade by artisans who pay attention to the small details. It’s easy to see all the love in each creation. And a percentage of the profits is donated to CARE, a humanitarian organization fighting global poverty.

Nice. Let’s talk fall. Fall 2012 was inspired by a theme I call Cleopatra Goes to Bali. It’s very luxurious, mixing metallic leathers, rich suede, pebbled leathers, pyramid studs and embroidery. We’ve continued with our secret Velcro pocket in many of our bags. Our newest creation, the Lolita bag, has interchangeable pockets to switch up the look, and our signature hand-tooled ikat and macramé fringe styles have been updated.

What’s next? Expansion in other categories, including home furnishings and clothing. I can also see new retail locations, perhaps in Bali, New York or Australia.