Wednesday, June 16, 2010


A Fashionable Life: Gelila Assefa & Wolfgang Puck

For the L.A. couple, nothing is more important than family, effortless style, and making magic in the kitchen

By Jenny Hontz

Ethiopian-born designer Gelila Assefa sips champagne in the kitchen of her Beverly Hills home, wearing a flowing leopard-print James Galanos gown, while her fiancé, celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, fries up some steaks. Suddenly, flames shoot out of the pan, and Assefa jumps back, protecting her dress. "We'll see if it's fireproof," he jokes, laughing heartily.

Such is the playful dynamic between the couple, each of whom runs a business while raising their children (Oliver, two this month, and Alexander, six months) and planning their upcoming three-day wedding this summer in Capri. Most details are a secret, but a few things are certain. Assefa will wear a J. Mendel gown, while Puck's colleagues will oversee the feast.

"I'm the happiest woman on the planet. I feel like he's a gift," says Assefa, 37. The two first met in 1997 in L.A., where she had studied fashion at Trade-Tech College. After she relocated to New York in 2002, Puck arrived, declared his love, and swept her back to L.A. "It was the most powerful thing I've ever experienced," she remembers. "I'm lucky to have him in my life."

Theirs is a busy life, to be sure. Puck, 57, who also has two boys from a previous marriage, runs a $300-million-a-year food empire that includes the 25-year-old Spago and the hot new steak house Cut, as well as a show on Food Network. He recently made headlines for partnering with the Humane Society on a farm-animal treatment program.

Meanwhile Assefa, who used to design couture gowns, is focusing on her own handbag line, Gelila, which includes simple, classic ostrich clutches and colorful crocodile bags. She takes pains to note that the animals are not killed for their skins but are used as food. "My handbag line is definitely not for a client into labels. I find them vulgar," she says, wrinkling her nose. "I don't walk around showing my underwear. Logos should be tucked inside."

Assefa works out of the couple's five-bedroom home, which houses sculptures by Alberto Giacometti, art by Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg, and antiques from L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue in Provence. She plans to open her own store in L.A. this fall. "We all have this energy that needs to be addressed in some creative way," she says. "The handbag line is manageable, to where I can be a mother to my children. That's my first responsibility. I still want to use my talents without it being too demanding." Fiercely proud of her heritage, Assefa also serves on the board of the Ethiopian Children's Fund.

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