The Mantras Of Nashville Designer Ceri Hoover

At first glance, Nashville designer Ceri Hoover’s handbags appear to be minimalist designs favoring function over form, an eternal design-world tug of war. A clutch is a simple rectangle of leather that folds across the middle; a tote is fashioned from a piece of material with two handles. But upon closer inspection, the finer details emerge: a gold ring handle, slouchy pleats that gather as organically as petals, a strap to transition a sweetly small over-the-shoulder bag into a clutch. Simplicity is a statement for this designer, who has expanded to design shoes, jewelry and apparel, which she describes as “timeless and unadorned.”

Hoover taught herself to sew by borrowing a sewing machine from her mom and watching YouTube tutorials until she could sew herself a pillow, which is surprising considering the high polish of her designs. With a previous career in real estate and interior design on “the ‘design coast’ of Florida,” as she describes it, she tumbled into bag design in early 2011 when she realized that a cowhide throw pillow she was sewing—before inserting a cushion—made a cute clutch.

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Her longstanding passion for home and interior design sparked a love of textiles, which she also carries over into her designs. A “quality-over-quantity” mantra elucidates, as the designer opts for durable, high-end leather and fabrics meant to stand the test of time. “I still carry one of the first bags I ever made,” she says. “And I’m really proud of that.” On her website, she reasons that the goal is not to reinvent the handbag. Rather, it is to craft designs that aid women to feel sophisticated, comfortable and empowered.

Browsing through her catalogue, it’s also apparent that Florida has played a significant role in inspiring her designs. Composed of soft lines, her bags and apparel have a beachy ease to them, and her earlier collections show a love of sea colors: light blues and beiges, like pale ocean bluffs, and a gray suede the color of wave-washed sand. Her new Fall 2017 bag collection, however, features bolder autumn colors—burgundy, marigold, sunrise pink, rich brown—that suggest fall leaves in Nashville, where she has lived since 2010.

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With a brick-and-mortar flagship shop that opened last year in the 12 South neighborhood, Hoover has fully embraced Nashville’s creative scene and culture of designers. She knew the city for its reputation as a music hub before moving, but upon arrival she discovered there was much more. “I was so pleasantly surprised by the community of creatives: visual artists, musicians, fashion designers—what have you. I was immediately struck by how creative a city it is.”

The community has also given way to new partnerships and collaborations. Hoover often sources leather and suede from local Tennessee tanners, and has partnered with other local artists like Nashville-based textile designers Jamie + the Jones and McQueen Pottery, who made wheel-thrown ceramic cups for Hoover’s first line of candle.

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However, she doesn’t fail to give a voice to the challenges of starting a business anywhere. “It’s been full of ups and downs. Now, we’ve settled into a nice groove.” That groove looks like what one could call a slow design dream. Her products are carried in 150 boutiques nationwide, and she has a home base shop, but it seems she hasn’t expanded—or perhaps hasn’t allowed her business to expand—in the ways that often push a designer to sacrifice quality to meet growth demands, reflecting her conviction,“I design for myself, first of all, because that’s what I know.”

Portrait photographed by Zachary Gray

Additional images by Elaine Akin

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