Famed Ethio-American bridal designer passes away
Amsale Aberra, the celebrated Ethiopian born designer and founder of a bridal line, Amsale, passed away on Sunday of uterine cancer.
Until the last days of her life, she was said to launch her spring collection that will still take place on April 13 in New York City.
“Growing up with a mother who pursued a creative passion and turned it into a thriving business is increasingly inspiring,” Rachel Brown once said of her famous mother. “Because of her example, I never had to think twice about pursuing my dreams – it’s just what you do.”
“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,” her husband, Neil Brown, the CEO of Amsale said in a statement. “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.”
Born 64 years ago in Addis Ababa, she was raised by parents she adored. It was only after her parents divorced that she was made aware the man who raised her, Aberra Moltot, a noted government minister during the era of Emperor Haile Selassie I was not her biological father. But that did not matter to her. She loved him and tried to emulate him in her own life.
He supported her and became her greatest inspiration. “He was more than a father,” she once said. “He was everything to me.”
She moved to the United States in 1973 to attend the Green Mountain College with financial support by Aberra. However, his support abruptly ended as he was removed from his position as vice-administrator of the Sidamo province.
She had to fend for herself and she did. She would earn a political science degree and later complement that with yet another degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology while working numerous jobs.
She was said to be beautiful like her mother Tsadale Assamnew, a housewife who later owned bars and restaurants within the capital after divorcing her husband. As her mother became sick, she would often fly to Ethiopia to be by her side and afforded her adequate medical care and financial support.
She has worked as a tailor for others for many years; something that would give her the foundation to follow and make it her true calling as a designer in her adopted city of Manhattan.
It was the lack of a simple, sophisticated dress for her own wedding in 1985 that propelled her to try her hands at designing her own wedding dress. It was in 1986, she started designing for others. She was said to be turned off by the flamboyant wedding dresses that were the norm then and was taken aback by how much it made brides look like a Disney princess, instead of maintaining the natural look.
The success of Amsale was immense. It has inspired many to pursue their own American dreams. Her dresses were worn by celebrities, including Halle Berry and Julia Roberts that costs upwards of USD 12,000. “I love the process of creating developing a vision and watching it come to life,” she once reflected.
Henok Assefa, a local Ethio-American entrepreneur and owner of Precise Consult saw her as a role model and looked back on how much her success meant for him.
“I remember walking by Madison and seeing the name Amsale placed on a storefront on Madison,” he said. “Her success was a roadmap to how far an Ethiopian immigrant can go and a testament of how much she valued excellence in such a competitive market”.
Her work became her life and each bride was special to her. “Always keep your focus and be true to what will make your day most special for you and your groom,” she advised. “There is no ‘perfect’ wedding, only a wedding that can be ‘perfect’ for you.”
To appease her fast-growing clienteles and have her legacy continue to inspire future brides, she anointed Margo Lafontaine, the one-time long-time studio director at Verg Wang.
She was last in Ethiopia for a short three-days visit during the State of Emergency and came despite repeated warning to postpone her visit. She was said to be determined to come and spend much of her time in Debre Libanos with her husband and child. She was said to keep her disease within her family and many are said to be shocked by her death.
Amsale Aberra leaves behind a stepfather, husband, a daughter who is pursuing music and a half-sister. She is to be buried in New York on Monday and her step father is organizing a local memorial service for her at St. George church on Thursday morning.