Every year, the bridal industry unveils fresh collections of wedding gowns and a breathless list of the latest trends.
However, the truth is that there has not been a significant and lasting shift in what women wear down the aisle since the late 1980s.
That was when a young bride, disappointed and frustrated by the mountains of tulle, lace and beading that defined wedding gowns at that time, decided to design her own streamlined dress.
A post shared by Amsale (@amsale) on Mar 24, 2018 at 7:45am PDT
Amsale Aberra, a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology, sketched out an elegant A-line gown with a high waist and sheer sleeves.
It was 1985, and that dress formed the creative seed for the bridal-wear business she founded the following year and that she ran with her husband Neil Brown until her death on Sunday, at the age of 64, from uterine cancer.
Aberra, a native of Ethiopia, helped to change the way that women presented themselves on their wedding day.
She recognised that not all women wanted to walk down the aisle looking like a Disney princess, a sweet ingenue or a modern-day Marie Antoinette.
She offered women an alternative to the extravagant and ostentatious fashions of the 1980s.
Aberra created gowns that exuded sophistication, sensuality, confidence, restraint and maturity.
Other designers, similarly inspired by the dearth of simplicity and finesse in the bridal market, soon followed with their own refined sensibility, most notably Vera Wang, who popularised illusion-netting and Monique L’Huillier, who quickly became known for her celebrity clientele.
Yet, Aberra, whose eponymous business continues to be based in New York’s Garment District, was one of the earliest proponents of wedding dresses as a reflection of a bride’s personality rather than a one-aesthetic-fits-all costume.
Over the years, Aberra expanded her business to include bridesmaids dresses as well as formal evening gowns.
She opened a flagship boutique on Madison Avenue in 1996 and dressed celebrities such as Julia Roberts, in the 1999 romantic-comedy film Runaway Bride, as well as Salma Hayek and Halle Berry.
A post shared by Amsale (@amsale) on Mar 21, 2018 at 7:14am PDT
Aberra was one of the few black designers at the helm of her own multimillion-dollar fashion business. Before her death, she chose a successor to take over design responsibilities: Margo Lafontaine, who served as senior studio director of Vera Wang for 12 years.
“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,” Brown said.
“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.”
The brand will present its spring 2019 collection on April 13.
A post shared by Amsale (@amsale) on Mar 13, 2018 at 9:44am PDT
Aberra was not a household name, in part because she kept her focus on the bridal market rather than ready-to-wear and because her signature gowns could cost US$8,000 to US$10,000.
She was featured on television and in magazines, but she did not have the kind of flamboyant personality that captivates 21st-century media.
She did not create a singular iconic dress. But she helped to redefine what it meant to be a bride.
She recognised that it was simply a title that described a woman on a single day; it did not fundamentally change her into someone else.