Woman of Power Legacy Award honoree and legendary fashion designer Amsale Aberra, famed for designing minimalistic wedding gowns and bridesmaid attire, passed away at the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. She was 64 years old.
Aberra, who was the founder, co-owner, and creative director behind the Amsale fashion label, died of uterine cancer, a company spokesperson said.
“I don’t do bridesmaid dresses that say bridesmaid,” Aberra told Black Enterprise magazine in 2012. “They’re sophisticated.”
For Aberra, simplicity breeds sophistication and like most entrepreneurial endeavors, the Amsale brand was born out of an identified void in the marketplace; and the gumption to fill that void. She rejected the over-the-top wedding gown options of the high-rolling ’80s, opting to design her own wedding dress in 1985, a move that gave birth to the Amsale Aberra Group.
“I was looking for a very simple gown for myself and thought ‘I can’t be the only person searching for this,’ and so I started a small custom business,” Aberra told BE.
The following year, Aberra built from that experience and started her namesake business, specializing in custom-designed wedding dresses.
Aberra, who supported herself throughout her years at the University of Massachusetts working odd jobs, moved to New York to hone her skills at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Upon graduation, she landed a job at Harvé Benard working as Benard Holtzman’s assistant.
“I was his assistant. We did suits and career type dresses,” Aberra, who was honored with a Legacy Award at the 2012 Women of Power Summit recalled.
Aberra landed her first wholesale account with Kleinfeld by trekking to Brooklyn, where the store was then located, to show her collection to Hedda Kleinfeld Schachter. At the time, Aberra was cutting wedding gowns on her kitchen table, according to Mara Urshel, co-owner of Kleinfeld.
“She really was a trendsetter in the business. She was the first one who really introduced very classic lines, beautiful clothes and getting away from all the old traditions of lace, beads and everything that really wasn’t modern any more. She really created the modern wedding dress,” Urshel said in a news release. “Unfortunately, she didn’t have the money to promote it at the time that she did it. And a lot of other people kind of did the same thing later on.”
But Aberra stayed true to her course. You could always tell an Amsale, Urshel said.
“When I received that first call [for a purchase] I thought, someone actually wants a dress from me,” Aberra said of her early beginnings.
Soon, the New York Times came knocking at her door. She was profiled as a new designer in the style section and that she said got the attention of editors who later requested wedding dresses from her.
Aberra’s initial small, custom-based business expanded to an empire and has had her creations worn by school teachers to socialites and Hollywood stars like Halle Berry, Heidi Klum, Salma Hayek, Vivica Fox, Gayle King, and Bethenny Frankel.
“Amsale was not only an inspiration to the company, but someone who inspired and impacted everyone around her with her strength, kindness and humility,” Aberra’s husband, Clarence O’Neill Brown, who also doubles as Amsale’s chief executive said. “Working side-by-side, we spent 360 degrees of our life together, and I know only too well both her creative genius and her infinite goodness. Words cannot express the personal loss that we feel, but we are comforted by the avalanche of support we’ve received and the commitment of our team to carry on Amsale’s legacy.”
Aberra is remembered by colleagues as “the inventor of the modern wedding dress” doing strapless, plain, and sheer allusion necklines and sleeves before anybody in the late ’80s. She was known to have always started her designs with the shape of the skirt, which Mark Ingram, who worked under Aberra for four years, noted was always very simple. She also made a point of limiting dresses to one or two fabrics and maybe adding one embroidered trim in detail.
She is survived by her daughter, Rachel Amsale Brown, as well as her father, Aberra Moltot, and half-sister Aster Yilma.