Remembering the Life and Work of Amsale Aberra

By Madeleine Luckel
Photo: Courtesy of @amsale

For a brief period, I was a fervent reader of wedding magazines. This phase did not however take place during an appropriate point of adulthood. Instead, I was around twelve years old. The magazine of my unerring focus was InStyle Weddings, of which I had somehow acquired a few copies. But the image in one such issue that I returned to again and again was not from an editorial spread. It was an advertisement for Amsale.

Amsale was a mysterious word at first, which I later learned was the name of Amsale Aberra, the brand’s founder and chief designer. But at the time, the advertisement contained everything I needed to know. Two dresses were featured, both of which were strapless gowns with fitted bodices and full ball skirts. One had a white chiffon overlay with off-white appliquéd lace. The other (my favorite) was seen from the back, in order to dramatically reveal its cascading and rusched white satin train. Its silvery, gem-encrusted waistband, along with the old Hollywood curls of the model, made for a very glamorous look.

In many ways, this image encapsulated what Amsale Abrerra, who passed away earlier this week at age 64, did best. The gowns included were both detailed and clean lined. And somehow, they seemed like dresses that could make any woman look exactly how she wanted to feel.

Amsale Abrerra, and the Amsale house, never gained the same level of fame as the likes of Vera Wang or Oscar de la Renta. But Abrerra was part of that same wave of pioneering bridal designers who changed the wedding dress market in the late 1980s and 1990s. The shift that these companies instigated—which altered how wedding dresses are conceived, conceptualized, and executed—will forever be a part of Abrerras legacy.

But Abrerras enduring impact extends well beyond that. Born in Ethiopia, and educated at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Abrerra was one of the few black designers to lead a multi-million dollar fashion business. She ran her company alongside her husband, Neil Brown, and picked a successor within her own lifetime. Margo Lafontaine, who spent twelve years at Vera Wang, is undoubtedly a worthy choice. Amsale will present its spring 2019 bridal collection in two weeks, on April 13. We’ll be sure to be watching.