While her husband, Craige, and son, Luke, watch sports in the living room, handbag designer Ceri Hoover curls up in bed and turns on the PBS show The Mind of a Chef — not for the recipes, mind you, but rather for food for thought.

“It’s not because I’m looking for colors or styles,” says Ceri. “I’m looking for motivation. I’m looking for passion. These chefs have it, and it just blows me away ... The next day, you wake up and say, 'I’m going to conquer the world. I can do this!' ”

And can she. The 41-year-old Ceri started her handbag line four years ago, and it is now carried in 150 stores across the country, including Anthropologie. She has expanded into shoes and clothing, although apparel is only carried at her recently opened 12South store.

Perched on a stool in her boutique and wrapped up in a nubby brown Billy Reid cardigan, the Outer Banks, North Carolina, native is as down to earth as her designs. Originally in interiors, she made pillows, recovered antique furniture and refashioned flea market finds to make them her own. Until one night, while in the midst of making a cowhide pillow, she tossed the hide to the side. It naturally folded over, and — voila! — she had a clutch.

“And I just thought, oh my goodness,” says Ceri. “All this time, I’ve been making a clutch. It was a revelation.” She began playing with various leathers and suedes, and soon, the Currey Cross Body was born. “My very first model, her name was Currey, and she was also my very first babysitter for Luke. It was perfect.”


Ceri’s designs are clean and simple. In her fall collection, she gravitated toward earth tones although there is an occasional nod to color, such as a pair of ruby red suede booties with a block heel. “I always have my grandmother’s closet in mind when I’m designing,” she says. “What would I want to pull out of my grandmother’s closet? What would I want my grandchildren to find in mine? What is going to age in a way that’s going to make it feel really, really special and evolved?”


Most of the bags have names with meaning. The Alys collection is named after her mother’s best friend from when she was growing up. “She was my Maw Maw, and I love her,” Ceri says. “There was nothing fashionable about this woman. This is a woman who had seven children and boys who made her crazy, but she was just so strong. I loved her strength, and that’s what I channeled when I designed the Alys collection.” Ceri’s favorite is the tall Alys, a stately bag with a single stripe down the middle.


Ceri hadn’t planned to add shoes to her collection but found she had lots of leftover scraps of leather and suede after making all her bags and didn’t want to waste them. One day, the solution came to her in the form of mules, sandals and booties. She was referred to a factory in Los Angeles run by a man who goes by the moniker Kevork. An experienced shoemaker, he knew the importance of comfort. Bolstered with hidden foam, her shoes not only look good, they make your feet happy.                                   


For her spring collection, Ceri drew inspiration from a recent research trip to Italy. She brought in cobalt blues, goldenrod yellow, moss green, a stony white and black calfskin. The colors of Florence and Tuscany strongly influenced her palette. “I really want a white house with yellow shutters now,” she says. Her clothing line embraces simplicity, and the pieces are comfortable but flattering. The sleeveless dresses and high-waisted pants with coordinating tops in raw silk, linen and canvas cotton, Ceri says, “give you a little pep in your step."

Photographs by Brett Warren Photography