In the Fall 2018 issue of MunaLuchi, we had the pleasure of producing a fashion editorial shoot in tribute to the late Amsale Aberra. The Editorial featured new wedding gown designs by 4 prominent black wedding gown designers. Each designer also had the opportunity to discuss how Amsale has influenced their careers in the fashion industry. Over the next couple of days, we have been sharing each designer interview with you, as seen in the Fall 2018 issue. Take some time to get to know these talented designers.
Next up is Nneka Alexander of Brides by Nona.
She stumbled into wedding gown design and has been making a huge name for herself over the years. In addition, Nneka has just launched the bridesmaids gown portion of her business, called Bridesmaids by Nona.
When did you begin designing wedding dresses?
I started designing wedding dresses approximately five years ago – it actually started in a very funny way which I will chronicle in more detail later on in this article.
How do you describe your design style?
Sculptured lines and cuts with a significant amount of detailed crystal embellishments.
What do you believe are the cornerstone design elements of every wedding gown?
The fit! Every wedding gown should be perfectly tailored to the bride’s unique body shape. Whether it’s a simple gown or a debutante one, the gown should hug every curve on the bride’s body.
How do you define the line between gown and wedding gown?
Great question…especially in recent times where brides are walking down the aisle in more unconventional designs and are therefore blurring the lines between a regular gown and a wedding gown! In defining the line between a regular gown and a wedding gown, I think it is more sentimental than anything else. The entire wedding journey (the planning, selection of bridesmaids, scouting the perfect gown and its matching accessories, hiring of vendors and other wedding professionals) is usually a once-in-a-lifetime event for most brides and so they attach a great deal of sentimental and emotional value to every part of the process. Hence, whatever attire the bride decides to wear (no matter how unconventional) becomes a wedding gown to her because of the sentimental value the gown represents.
Do you remember the first time you saw an Amsale gown?
Absolutely! I remember very clearly the first time I saw an Amsale gown and the first time I actually tried on an Amsale gown – two very special moments which I will explain. The first time I saw an Amsale gown was shortly after my husband proposed to me in 2006. I started watching every single wedding show on T.V. to draw inspirations for my wedding and one wedding show that I particularly loved watching on WE TV was called Platinum Weddings. I remember one wedding gown caught my attention on the show and the designer was Amsale. From that day I was completely enamored with Amsale gowns and I knew I had to see and touch one for myself in person. That was the first time I laid eyes on an Amsale gown!
Now to the second special moment – when I actually tried on one! I always knew I would design my own wedding gown and it would be a princess silhouette gown, but I really wanted to get the experience of going gown shopping and trying on gowns of different silhouettes. As I bounced from one bridal atelier to the other in Manhattan I remember stumbling on Amsale’s boutique and I was completely floored as I stepped in. True to what I had seen on the T.V. shows – the ambiance, the layout of the storefront, the mannequins, the gowns were all breathtaking! I was greeted by an associate and asked if I was interested in any particular style. Boy! If only she knew that if I could take them all I would! I was interested in ALL the styles! I tried on a couple of gowns and I absolutely loved them!
Amsale’s design drive was in creating transcending fashion statements. When thinking of fashion that transcends, what immediately comes to mind? How do your own designs transcend fashion?
When thinking of fashion that transcends, what comes to mind for me is being a nonconformist and rising above the norm to make a lasting impression in the fashion world.
I love making bold statements with my designs and so prevalent throughout my designs are oversized bows, exaggerated sleeves, 3-D embroidered lace atop sheer illusion necklines, royal length trains, crystal embellishments and structured shapes.
Amsale believed that true style is timeless. What design elements do you find to be timeless?
I am a tad bit obsessed with royal lineages (thanks to my Mom who always kept up with them as far back as when I was an adolescent). When I think of elements of timeless designs my mind goes straight to royal weddings of the past: Queen Victoria I, Queen Elizabeth II, Grace Kelly, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, the people’s princess Lady Diana, and of course the most recent Meghan Markle. What made their designs timeless? The fabric alone, the dress silhouette, the cut, the structured details, and of course those darling cathedral and royal length trains that filled the aisles of the cathedral churches leaving us speechless! Rarely did we see a royal wedding gown that was drenched in embellished details. Instead we saw simple, structured gowns made from the finest fabrics available. All these make up for the design elements which I find to be timeless.
In 1985 Amsale began her journey into the world of fashion with wedding gowns. In a time marked by inflated forms and elaborate details she went against the grain with clean, elegant designs of “quiet impact.” How has your work gone against current trends? How do you define “quiet impact?”
I remember when I started officially designing wedding gowns five years ago the bespoke process was not very popular. Brides were flooding traditional bridal stores and purchasing gowns off the rack – it was a safer and easier approach for them – they see the gown they love, they try it on and they purchase it. Being that my brand focuses on bespoke gowns, I knew I had to work extra hard to convince brides to patronize my brand which had only been around for less than a year. I noticed that brides loved embellished details on their gowns and the selection of embellished gowns available on the racks in bridal stores was very limited so I capitalized on that. I began creating gowns completely embellished from top to bottom and in different silhouettes to offer these brides the variety they wanted. I allowed brides the “controlled” liberty of choosing how much sparkle they wanted on their gowns and what areas on their gowns they wanted these embellished details. It worked! They didn’t have to settle for the limited selections on the racks in stores – I offered them a “wonderland” of details and design options which they had always dreamed of.
My definition of “quiet impact” would be understated influence. The use of subtle means to drive long-lasting change, as seen in how Amsale revolutionized the modern American wedding dress through the introduction of her sophisticated, clean designs in a time marked by elaborate details.
How has Amsale directly or indirectly influenced and inspired you and your own work?
Being of Ethiopian origin, Amsale paved the way for designers of African descent like me to make an indelible mark in the world of fashion. Amsale’s incredible journey began in the 80’s when wedding gown fashions were elaborate and overstated. She introduced pared down designs with little to no fluff or flounce, transforming wedding gown fashions to the modern minimalist aesthetics that we embrace so wildly today. Amsale’s “dare-to-be-different-while-staying-true-to-yourself” story is a great inspiration to me. In a world where it is easy to get lost while following trends, it is important to understand your own unique gifting and pursue it relentlessly even if you do so alone.
Amsale’s first step into the industry came out of necessity. How has necessity shaped your own path?
Mine is a very interesting story – though not arising from necessity. My twin sister had just got engaged and was planning her wedding. It was in the year 2013 and I was ecstatic for her. We were both celebrating milestones in our lives – I had just had my first child and she was getting married. It was all great until she dropped the bombshell and asked me to design her six bridesmaids dresses, her wedding gown, her wedding reception gown, her pre-wedding dinner gown, and my gown as the matron of honor…10 gowns in total! I vehemently refused! There was no way I was going to make 10 gowns as I was still recovering from childbirth but she wasn’t taking no for an answer so she escalated it to my parents. In the Nigerian culture parents are pretty much the highest form of authority in the community so they have the final and ONLY say in the outcome of a situation. I could not compete with the parental veto so I proceeded to make all 10 gowns, begrudgingly! Fast forward months later to the wedding day and all 10 dresses were a hit! Her wedding was featured in the national newspapers in Nigeria and broadcasted on T.V. stations. On social media her wedding was a viral sensation with photos of the dresses making their rounds on major wedding blogs on the internet with my brand being credited as the designer. Long story short, I woke up one morning to 100 emails in my inbox from brides asking me to design their wedding gowns and the rest is history!
What do you love most about an Amsale design?
If I could use three words to describe Amsale’s designs they would be: effortless, understated glamour! Her gowns are simple yet iconic. Having personally tried on her gowns in the past, I loved the way her gowns fitted me and the proportions were just right! The waistline of her ball gowns wrapped around my waist like they were made just for me. The necklines were immaculately cut with perfect precision and the pleats around the skirt were so perfect you couldn’t tell the back from the front. Perfection in every single gown!
To learn more about Nneka, visit her website at www.bridesbynona.com
Photography: In His Image Photography
Assistant Photography: Nana Annan
Hair: Hair by Sadiku
Makeup: Juicy Looks by Abby
Earrings/Headpiece: Headpiece Heaven
Styling: James R. Sanders
Cinematography: Yamean Studios