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Now that Amsale is among the best-selling labels in Saks Fifth Avenue’s bridal salon, she is busy honing the skills that helped to get her there.
The Ethiopian-born designer started her business in 1985, after she had trouble finding a suitable dress for her own wedding. During an interview last week in her West 39th Street showroom, she explained, “I wanted something simple and clean. My whole purpose is still modern, but timeless.”
This story first appeared in the May 22, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
In addition to her signature label, which has an average retail price of $4,200, there is the Amsale Blue Label for brides looking for customized gowns and willing to spend $5,000 and up. Her company also produces Kenneth Poole wedding gowns, with an average retail price of $5,000, and Christos, with an average retail price of $3,000. “Having three collections helps me to be more focused on the Amsale bride who is timeless, sophisticated and chic,” she said.
Last year, Amsale launched a collection of short and long dresses for cocktail parties or more formal events. Illustrating the breadth of the line’s appeal, the designer noted how she wore one of the dresses to a black-tie event and her daughter wore another style to the prom. Amsale also has been quietly building her bridesmaid dresses.
Sales of her various labels are said to total $25 million at retail, according to industry sources.
Joseph Boitano, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of women’s and children’s at Saks Fifth Avenue, praised Amsale for being astute about brides’ changing needs. “She has taken a really modern approach to bridal. She understands that, in many cases, brides are marrying older, are having destination weddings and might like a simpler dress. And her quality and workmanship are fabulous.”
Instead of flooding stores across the country with her dresses, Amsale said she prefers to focus on one department store and one upscale boutique in each city for her signature collection. In terms of her one freestanding store on Madison Avenue in New York, Amsale has no plans to add more in other cities. She is cooking up more nontraditional events to hold in her Manhattan store, however. And that location may be about to see an influx of shoppers since Sandra Oh’s character wore an Amsale dress for her wedding-that-wasn’t on the season finale of “Grey’s Anatomy” last week.
After another cast member, Katherine Heigl, wore one of Amsale’s dresses last season to a prom at the hospital, the company was flooded with so many calls that the dress, which had been a one-off, was added to the collection. Even when 53-year-old Amsale appeared on “Oprah” earlier this year to discuss the challenges of being a mother and running her own business, the first topic of conversation was “Grey’s Anatomy,” she said.
The designer also has loaned dresses for “27 Dresses,” a new movie Heigl will be shooting this summer, and for “The Accidental Husband,” a film in production starring Uma Thurman, Colin Firth and Sam Shepard, and directed by Griffin Dunne.
The bridal company is in the process of changing ad agencies and is considering doing more local advertising in key markets, the designer said. Amsale also remains keen to expand her brand. Jewelry, shoes and handbags, especially evening ones, are possibilities in the future, she said.