EAST ST LOUIS — Cameo Phillips is meticulous.
A quintessential Type A personality, the East St. Louis native likely knows what she's going to say and wear for a meeting weeks in advance. (For a Zoom interview with the BND, she's wearing a black and white off-the-shoulder top with gold hoop earrings and red lipstick.) She's always prepared.
But she didn't expect to catch COVID-19 only two weeks after relaunching her handbag line last month.
She had the virus for nearly a month and was hospitalized for pneumonia during that time.
"That was so crazy and completely turned my life and my calendar upside down," Phillips said. "It's just been crazy."
Fortunately, Phillips is now on the mend and COVID-19 free. Her calendar is gradually getting back in order. First on her list? Refocusing on , Phillips' clutch handbag line that she relaunched last month. It's Phillips' first collection since her mother's passing in 2019.
"I've taken the past three years to figure out who I am without her, fully expecting to never return, never be inspired again, never have the motivation to be an entrepreneur again," said Phillips, whose mom died from cancer. "It takes a huge degree of being vulnerable to run your own business, and I just didn't have the wherewithal to do it. I thought I didn't. Something just sparked this year, and I kind of felt led to just begin entertaining the idea of putting myself back into my creative space."
My Sheri Amour
The new collection, aptly titled My Sheri Amour, honors Phillips' mom, Sheri McCottrell.
My Sheri Amour features five purses that are named after details of McCottrell's life. For example, there's an intricately designed mixed-print purse titled 1958, McCottrell's birth year.
Monique, McCottrell's middle name, is a brown handbag, and a vibrant blue clutch bag is named 1220, which is McCottrell's birth date. Phillips said she has sold about 60 handbags in the collection so far.
My Sheri Amour only having five bags was intentional, considering previous Cameo de Boré collections with more designs to choose from. Phillips wanted the latest collection to be as intimate as possible so that her customers could understand how special her mom was. In the spirit of the 1969 Stevie Wonder hit "My Cheri Amour," McCottrell was Phillips' "pretty little one" that she adored.
"She owned the room (Own. The. Room is the name of a purse in the collection) and you just watched her and you were just kind of in awe," Phillips said about her mom. "Up until the season of her passing, she was always so put together. I've never seen my mom without earrings. I've never seen her without lipstick."
Brittany Bell, of O'Fallon, is a longtime customer of Cameo de Boré. She owns one of the purses in the latest collection. Although Bell said she never had a relationship with Phillips' mom, she said she'll never forget the impression McCottrell had on her.
"Every time I met her mother, her mother just exuded confidence and poise, something that I know Cameo got from her mom," Bell said. "Just a classic beauty. Whenever she walked into the room, she almost had this mystery about her. Just very poised. You always just kind of wondered about her because she was so beautiful."
With her new collection, Phillips is happy that customers can reflect on her mom's character.
"Creating a collection and having it speak to who she was as a woman and her ladylikeness, in a way, it's helping me to continue to process this break that I have and just honor her in such a way that allows everyone to get a little piece of who my mom was," Phillips said.
Dedicating a collection to her mother is somewhat of a full circle moment for Phillips, considering her mom is among the women who sparked her interest in fashion. Phillips credits her mom and great-grandmother for showing her how she can exude confidence through her clothes.
"East St. Louis, way back when, I'll say at least in 1980 when I was born in the '80s, my (great) grandmother worked at (a) dress shop in downtown East St. Louis right on the main strip," Phillips, 41, said. "It was known for its refinement, kind of higher-end pieces there, so she had the basis for putting things together, being creative and really expressing herself through her clothing, but her environment there, having access to those pieces in the shop, made it much more attainable."
Growing up in East St. Louis furthered Phillips' interest in fashion.
"I believe, culturally, our people are a unique and wonderfully creative people," said Phillips, who now lives in Collinsville. "I think, especially in East St. Louis, there is a boldness or a mentality that says to me 'I refuse to shrink just to make you comfortable' approach to fashion. When they wore it, it didn't matter what they thought of it. They owned that thing."
'Her clutch line really helps women feel confident in themselves'
It's part of the reason why she wanted to bring some of the fashionable items she saw on television to the area. In the early 2000s, she remembers watching iconic TV character Joan Clayton ("Girlfriends") and Carrie Bradshaw ("Sex and the City") wearing oversized clutch handbags.
"I remember seeing those characters whose stories took place in New York and also on the West Coast (wearing) these wonderful handbags and they were just beautiful," Phillips said. "I watched these characters Joan Clayton and Sarah Jessica Parker's character in 'Sex and the City' and was just like man, 'I wish we had something here like that.' I started googling things in 2014, 2015 and I couldn't find anything."
So, she decided to make them herself. That was the inception of Cameo de Boré. Since 2014, the online brand has worked with various celebrity stylists and has been featured on runways during New York Fashion Week. The handbag line has nearly 4,000 followers on Instagram and over 2,000 likes on Facebook. The momentum came to a halt in 2018 when her mom was diagnosed with stage 4 gallbladder cancer.
"One day, she was in a car accident," Phillips said about her mom. "Someone just kind of rear-ended her, not anything too involved. It wasn't a crazy accident or anything like that, but from that, she started having some aches and pains. She had an issue with her sciatic nerve or just little things like that.
"She started mentioning she had a pain in her stomach, and after six months of her going to the doctors and then thinking that it was just a pulled muscle....that's when they discovered that she had cancer and they gave her 5 months to 18 months to live."
Phillips, as the oldest of three children, assumed responsibility of being her mom's caregiver and stepped away from her business. She describes that time as the "greatest work I've done to date."
That period in her life encouraged to become more bold in her business pursuits.
"I feel like I was given the strength I needed to go through that season...whenever you encounter cancer, it should change you in some way," Phillips said. "For me, it has totally changed me in that I'm fearless in a way that I've never been. I have goals. I put a little strategic planning in place, but I don't mull over it too long, because I have nothing to lose."
Brittany Bell, who's also Phillips' mentee, said she likes how that nurturing and fearless aspect of Phillips' personality is translated into her handbags.
"Cameo is a very sharp and on point person and because of that, she's always somebody that people go to for advice, for help. Her personality lends itself in many ways," Bell said. "Yes, she is very creative, she is Type A, very on top of her stuff and in addition to that, she's always willing to help people.
"I love the way her clutch line really helps women feel confident in themselves , which is what she strives for. She's just a very poised woman and she wants other women to feel that way too."
Vera Clay, Phillips' cousin who participated in the photoshoot for the latest collection, also feels more confident when wearing a Cameo de Boré handbag.
"A person like me, who is fine in a T-shirt and jeans, I don't notice, until it's time for me to get dressed up, that I should have a clutch and I should have shoes that will match this or complement (this)," said Clay, who lives in St. Louis. "The way she puts things together sometimes, you don't think those pieces are going to work and then you add this piece, this bag, this clutch, and it does make you feel confident. I do think it's the bag, but I think it's trusting Cameo's fashion sense as well.
Next on Phillips' internal to-do list is becoming reacquainted with the fashion community and potential partners. She's also gearing for a bridal collection next year, and (in case you were wondering) yes, she already has a good idea of what that will look like.
She has the confidence to take on anything.
"I often say the hardest thing I've ever had to do to date, I've already conquered that," Phillips said. "I don't know how, but I took care of my dying mother day-to-day, and so now, I'm going for it. While I miss her like crazy, I am spewing in such an incredible way to honor her legacy."