Deseri Kelley, a native Texan with roots in Trinidad and Tobago, has adored fashion since she was young and always dreamed of someday designing her own handbags. As an adult, she and her family moved to Spain, where one of her sons was chosen to play soccer for FC Barcelona and train at La Masia. During her four years in Europe, she visited Spanish textile factories, where the traditional fabrication methods impressed her. “You don’t have a bunch of machines just spewing things out,” she says. Instead, artisans cut patterns by hand from Spanish and Italian leather, which is reputed to be some of the highest quality leather in the world. It seemed like the perfect place to make her longtime dream happen.
Other than the headaches of dealing with international shipping and travel, the whole operation came together so smoothly that she has been able to take her time and make sure the bags conform to her exact specifications. When the first sample was unsatisfactory, she pushed back her production deadline. “We’ll go to production when it’s right, when it’s perfect, when it’s something I know everyone will be proud to carry and hold,” she told the factory.
Kelley designs the bags for her Deseri (pronounced Dez-ree) line herself and works with the factory to draft the final patterns. To ensure that her designs are timeless, she looks for staples that have stayed around, the items she sees repeated in her own closet.
“If you want something fun and funky, you can get it customized,” she says. “But the bag is going to look simple and timeless. The lines are clean, it’s very modern, and it goes well with any outfit.”
Crafted from leather that has been dyed a single color (neutral black, brown, or beige, or eye-catching red or pink), each bag is hand-painted on the raw edges and embellished with the Deseri name, a double-D emblem, or a gold fox head. The fox represents an attitude, Kelley says. “A fox is confident. The fox will walk through the forest and think they’re untouchable.”
Status brands may sell their leather goods for exorbitant prices, and Kelley could, too. As she points out, her bags are produced at the same factory as the others, with the same materials. “This is the same leather, the same quality as these other handbags,” she says. But she keeps Deseri prices relatively low—from $375 for a wallet to $755 for a top-handle bag. “I know how much it costs, and I’d like to make it accessible to everyone.”
This story originally appeared in the June issue of D Magazine with the headline, “In Her Bag.” Write to [email protected].