Outtakes with Caroline Clarke: Wedding Dress Designer Amsale Aberra

How she build her bridal empire

The name Amsale has become synonymous with some of the most alluring bridal fashion in the world. The designs have captivated modern brides and industry insiders alike, who snap up her dresses for their personal weddings as well as for famous weddings portrayed on film (Grey’s Anatomy, 27 Dresses).

But the woman for whom those dresses are named, Amsale Aberra, is no scene stealer. To the contrary, this petite, soft-spoken designer is most in her element constructing patterns, not socializing at the lavish parties for which her gowns are made.

In fact, it was her own hunt for the simplest of dresses for her own wedding to Brown that sparked her business. Unable to find what she wanted among the racks of heavily beaded, fussy confections, she designed and made her own. Within months of their wedding, she hung out a shingle (by taking out an ad in a major bridal magazine) and the rest, as they say, is history. Millions of dollars worth of history.

But when I sat to interview the Amsale and her husband, Neil Brown (her co-CEO) in the midst of their Manhattan workshop, Aberra almost dismissed her success, saying it all began as “an expensive hobby” that “she barely took seriously” as she “knew nothing about business.”

It was Brown who set the record straight. Here is an excerpt of his slight correction:

“When Amsale talks about not having high expectations, what you’re really seeing is an example of her humility, which has been reflected in her philosophy of the business all along. The business has never been about her; it’s been about her customers.

“She hoped that she’d attract some customers and sell a few dresses. It turned out that the customers she was attracting were editors and creative directors and people who were particularly appreciative of her work and influential in the industry and in helping her develop a level of confidence to build her business.

“Each time the feedback she got was so positive and so strong that it led her to move to new levels. It’s true that she didn’t sit down and say ‘I’m going to be the next great American fashion designer.’ But she did approach the product with such a level of focus and commitment that the reception in and of itself led her to the level of success she’s had. She’s worked very hard for it.”

Aberra listened to him intently, then turned back to me and said, “Well…he’s right again!”

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  • Kate

    “In fact, it was her own hunt for the simplest of dresses for her own wedding to Brown that sparked her business. Unable to find what she wanted among the racks of heavily beaded, fussy confections, she designed and made her own. Within months of their wedding, she hung out a shingle (by taking out an ad in a major bridal magazine) and the rest, as they say, is history. Millions of dollars worth of history.”

    These sorts of recounts of “how I started my business” are so annoying and unhelpful! This is NEVER how a business starts. It’s not as simple as that. There are steps that are taken, challenges that are faced, realizations that occur – talk about that! This simple-minded account of “how I started” is just a waste of time and not helpful to readers and burgeoning entrepreneurs.

    It misleadingly makes the process sound easier than it is. It also leaders me at least to infer that you simply don’t think readers are worth the time and effort to share a somewhat more in-depth account of your start-up process.

    While such simple accounts of “how I started” of course get her press, they give little value to the readers themselves. I’d like to see more relevant and informative accounts of “how I started” – instead of this simple-minded account.

    However, I thank you for trying. But, we can do better.

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