Amsale Aberra came to America from Ethiopia at age 19 to study art, but her direction in life took a sudden and unexpected turn. When Amsale was planning her wedding she had a hard time finding a dress she liked. Instead of compromising, she stitched her own gown—and before she knew it, she was creating gowns for others.
In 1986, Amsale started her own custom wedding dress company, and over the next two decades, business skyrocketed. Now, Amsale—whose company had $25 million in sales in 2006—is one of the top couture wedding dress designers in the world!
Amsale creates gowns that are simple and elegant because that's what she wanted to wear to her own wedding. "Around 1985, things were just overdone—tons of beading on it. That was not something I wanted to wear. I was looking for something very simple," Amsale says.
Bella models "Chloe," a gown that Amsale describes as "very classic, but with a twist." The top of the gown is made from Alençon lace and is bare in the back, and the A-line skirt is organza.
Erica wears the "Guadalupe" gown that Amsale modeled after a famous dress she once made with a blue sash. "People still ask for that dress, but I did a version of it—a little sexier," Amsale says.
The blue sash isn't Amsale's only foray into color—she designs bridesmaid dresses and evening gowns. Amsale was even asked to design the mauve gown worn by Katherine Hiegl, the actress who plays "Izzie", on the 2006 season finale of Grey's Anatomy.
Amsale says this organza dress with lace, named "Bali," is perfect for a destination wedding. "It's very popular now. It's very airy. You can wear it for a garden wedding," Amsale says.
Amsale describes this ruched-bodice gown, named "Candace," as "soft and feminine and really traditional." She says she thinks her clients relate to her penchant for simplicity. "I guess people who came to me have the same concern like me. [Other dresses were] just too overdone for them, so they trusted me," Amsale says.
Amsale's daughter, Rachel, models a gown from her mother's new evening collection. Rachel, a freshman at Harvard University, says she loves her mom's gowns. "I think they're amazing," she says.
Amsale says she was raising Rachel at the time that her business was expanding. Now, she is looking forward to the day when Rachel will wear one of her wedding gowns. "I imagine one day my daughter walking down the aisle with her dad. That is the moment I'm really waiting for," Amsale says.
Though Amsale says strapless gowns have become very popular, she wanted to make one with a V-neck. "[The 'Sofia'] actually frames you really well. The ruched bodice is very flattering. It's sexy, but all kinds of body can wear that," Amsale says.
Amsale calls "Stella," a high-waisted gown with a flowing skirt and beaded top, "sexy and glamorous but simple."
Amsale says "Veronica," a taffeta gown with a sparkling, beaded bodice, is her favorite. "[It's] a ball gown, over-the-top for an evening wedding. It's really like wearing jewelry. It's also really flattering, because you don't see any wrinkles," Amsale says.
This taffeta wedding dress, called "Ibiza," has a balloon skirt, a high waist with bows for embellishment and an open back. "It's fun. It's a taffeta, playful wedding dress, but different," Amsale says.
After using the sewing skills she learned as a child to build a multimillion-dollar business, Amsale has a message of hope for other women. "If you really desperately want it and really work hard on it, I do believe that your dream can come true," she says.