By Jae-Ha Kim
Tribune Media Services
June 28, 2011
Fashion designer Amsale Aberra — known professionally simply as Amsale — is synonymous with upscale wedding gowns that can cost brides $75,000. Aberra stars in the WE tv reality series “Amsale Girls,” which focuses on the brides who frequent her New York boutique and the women who help them pick out their fantasy dresses.
Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the 58-year-old Manhattan resident came to the United States for college. After earning a degree in political science, Aberra — who had been making her own clothes to save money — enrolled at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology to hone her skills. She designed her first bridal gown 26 years ago for her own wedding.
Q. Which city has the best-dressed residents?
A. Milan. The Milanese are always put together so well. Whether someone is a housekeeper or a countess, Milanese women and men care about the quality of their clothing.
Q. What is your favorite vacation destination?
A. Italy. I enjoy visiting Capri, Positano, the Amalfi Coast, Rome and Florence. Italy is one of my favorite places to visit because of the food, the people and the fashion. It has such a relaxed, warm lifestyle, which puts me in a relaxed and inspired mood.
Q. Where are your favorite weekend getaways?
A. Any weekend getaway is wonderful, as long as it’s relaxing with family and close friends. One of my favorite weekend getaways is the Hamptons. There are so many choices there and they offer the best of the best of what is found in New York City. Depending on your mood, you can go out to a great restaurant or go to a benefit to be sociable or you can be reclusive and just relax by yourself.
Q. What are your favorite hotels?
A. One favorite international hotel is the Peninsula, specifically their locations in Tokyo, Shanghai and Beverly Hills. It’s luxurious but not pretentious. The staff makes it a point to know who you are and they make you feel comfortable. Their service is first class in every way, but not stuffy. Another favorite hotel is the Banyan Tree Club & Spa in Seoul, South Korea. They really create a spa feel right in your very own hotel room. For example in the living room, they have a hot springs bath and incense. It may seem impractical in many ways, but to me it’s a unique way to relax right in your own room at the end of a hectic day of traveling. I also like to investigate small local boutique hotels that are not parts of large chains.
Q. What are your five favorite cities?
A. New York City is absolutely my favorite city in the world. Rome and Florence. Tokyo is hectic but it’s fascinating and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I have family there.
Q. Where would you like to go that you have never been to before?
A. India. From the business side I would really like to see firsthand how they work on their amazing embroidery. And personally, I love that India is so colorful. I love Indian food, so I would also like to experience the food and culture in an authentic way. Everyone knows of India, but few experience it firsthand.
Q. When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?
A. I travel very light. I always have to have comfortable shoes and even if it is 90 degrees every day, I still have to have a lightweight scarf or cover-up with me just in case.
Q. What would be your dream/fantasy trip?
A. I would love to take a group of my close friends back to Ethiopia and be their tour guide.
Q. What is your guilty pleasure when you’re on the road?
A. When I am on vacation, everything I am not supposed to have is justified. I can eat comfort food. It can be as simple as the guilty pleasure of stopping to get french fries when passing by a hot dog stand at the beach. I am less critical of myself when I am relaxing on vacation.
Q. What is your favorite vacation memory?
A. When we took my mother-in-law to vacation in a villa in Barbados. We rented a villa for her and her close friends, and just being around family was great. Another memorable vacation was a trip I took to Kenya and Tanzania. My husband and I went on safari and my experience in Kenya was so different than anything I had ever done. The land was so untouched and it was so spectacular to just be driving and suddenly see thousands of zebras at one time. I can’t compare Africa to anything. We stayed at the Mt. Kenya Safari Club and the hotel was designed to cater to your comfort. You could watch wild animals all day and then sit down to a seven-course dinner that night. It’s not at all as harsh as people think it will be. As far as unmemorable experiences, I once spent a day in Beijing and we went to see the Forbidden City. It was 106 degrees. All I can remember is how hot it was, and nothing else. The conditions took away from the experience.
© 2011 JAE-HA KIM
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