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Dress designer to the stars set for reality TV show

From Andrea Mineo, CNN
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Making brides look their best
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ethiopian-born Amsale Aberra is a bridal and evening-wear designer
  • Her custom designs can cost thousands of dollars and are worn by A-list celebrities
  • She launched her business after not being able to find a dress she liked for her own wedding

Every week CNN International's African Voices highlights Africa's most engaging personalities, exploring the lives and passions of people who rarely open themselves up to the camera. This week we profile Ethiopian bridal and evening-wear designer Amsale Aberra, whose elegant dresses are a hit with celebrities.

(CNN) -- For many brides to be, picking out the perfect wedding dress is the best part of planning their wedding, but for Amsale Aberra it was also a eureka moment.

Unable to find a simple, understated gown for her wedding in 1985, Ethiopian-born Aberra decided to take things literally into her own hands and design her own dress.

Working from her loft in New York she went on to launch her own bridal gown design business, called Amsale, expanding into couture evening wear that has been worn by the likes of Halle Berry, Julia Roberts, Salma Hayek and Kim Basinger.

Aberra says her understated, sophisticated designs came about in response to the the lack of options available when she was shopping for her own wedding dress.

"In the mid 80s, at that time, if you really knew the bridal fashion, it was lots of beading and mermaid -- just completely overdone," she said.

Stylish dress design
Designer to be reality TV star
Gallery: Designer Amsale Aberra

"That was the look I was seeing and I was really surprised. For someone who really wanted something simpler, there really was no choice."

Two-and-a-half decades later, her business has grown to encompass three collections -- Amsale, Christos and Kenneth Pool.

"If I had a goal, I probably would not have done it," she said. "I'm being really incredibly honest from the beginning because I think my idea at the beginning was completely just a passion."

Aberra's custom creations, which can cost thousands of dollars, have been worn by movie stars and featured in TV shows and Hollywood films.

It's all a long way from Aberra's early years in Addis Ababa, when she would nurture her love for fashion by creating and sewing her own clothes.

Aberra left Ethiopia as a teenager in 1973 to study commercial art in the United States.

But while she was in college, Ethiopia entered a period of political and financial unrest which forced Aberra to settle in her adopted country and work a number of odd-jobs to support her studies.

However, her design talents didn't stay under wraps for long.

"I always wanted to make dresses," Aberra said, "so when we'd go to parties, I would go out and get my own fabric to make my own dress.

"People were just amazed that I'm making this stuff. Then they would say 'you know, you should really study fashion.'"

Following her friends' suggestions, Aberra enrolled at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology. She went on to work as a design assistant for Harve Bernard before launching her business.

She says that being both an African and an immigrant made her realize early on that she had to work hard to become successful in her profession.

When I design Amsale, I have to keep that bride in mind. She is simple, she is clean and sophisticated.
--Amsale Aberra
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"Nothing would discourage me or (make me) complain about it and that to me is the benefit I get just being an immigrant and completely believing in the American dream," she said.

Aberra is now gearing up for a new chapter in her career -- her bridal boutique on New York's Madison Avenue is going to be the subject of a new reality TV show, scheduled to air in the United States in April.

She says she was initially anxious about the idea. "Many reality shows are about drama, about conflicts, and I wasn't interested in that. But the concept is a pursuit to perfection. And it fits my principle, it fits the philosophy," she said.

For Aberra, a wedding dress is perfect when it reflects the bride. "It makes her personality and makes her comfortable, and when someone is comfortable they look beautiful," she said.

"When I design Amsale, I have to keep that bride in mind. She is simple, she is clean and sophisticated."

 
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