Sunday Slideshow: Studio Visit with Emma Berg

Emma Berg is nothing short of an icon on the local art/fashion scene in Minneapolis; she’s an avid fashion designer, the director and founder of mplsart.com, and a curator for The Gallery at Fox Tax.

View the Sildeshow on Flickr.

Photos and interview by Kelsey Johnston

Secrets: Where are you from?
Emma: I am from Stacey, Minnesota.

Secrets: When did you come to Minneapolis?
Emma: I’ve been here since 1999.

Secrets: What came first sewing or designing?
Emma: Sewing, as a little girl I was always trying to piece things together. It was never really patterns though so maybe it was designing. It’d be hard to say “I’ve been designing since I was eight” though, so designing!  (laughs)

Secrets:  Tell me more about your education with design.
Emma: I started with a business degree and then moved on to costume design. After awhile I decided that as much as I love designing, the theater world wasn’t for me. Now I’m looking at ways to expand my technical skills around sewing. I am always referring back to all of my books from costume design and construction but there is so much more to know.

Secrets: Tell me about working with Kevin Kramp.
Emma: Kevin and my runway show will part of the MNFashion Week Shows.  It will be held on April 14th.  Kevin is in Paris right now showing in Paris Fashion Week so we haven’t worked together much yet.  We thought artistically we would be a good pairing because both of our lines have an artistic feel.  It’ll be a really exciting runway show, he’s doing all men’s, I’m doing all women’s and we’re doing about 20 looks each.  There isn’t any collaboration happening between lines so you will get two very distinct collections.  We are hoping to get videos done and special promotional images done. For me getting to work with Kevin helps me to push my own designs. His shapes are inspiring so it pushes me to go further with my own garments.

Secrets: How would you describe your style?
Emma: It’s not avant-garde but it’s not typical either. In my head the garment concepts are always more outrageous than when I complete the final garment.  My ideal as a designer is to appeal to the woman who is driven by the creative side of life or at least has a strong appreciation for it.

Secrets: Tell me more about your process with transforming a concept into a design. For example: your most recent project with 2010’s headlines.
Emma: The new collection for Spring 2011/Summer 2011 — I was really hoping to be more uplifting. I had Lucille Ball as my muse and it was going to be really cheerful.  With the election and looking back at 2010 I was like “that’s crap!”. It’s not like “oh well that’s okay it was last year”. To me, on face value, I like saying “I’m a fashion designer” but if I start to focus on it I have personal hang-up with it.  There is so much going on in the world and so many issues.  People are doing real things to solve those issues and I’m sewing on sequins. So for my own personal reasons it was nice to shift my focus for this co9llection to incorporate my feelings about last year especially.  I had been really excited with the small changes that Obama was making with Health and Financial Reform.  When the Republicans came in and blatantly stated that they would assure that he wouldn’t be re-elected and that their goal was to reverse everything he had done it felt like a cruel joke.

So, that’s the history behind the concept of the collection, titled Tragicomedy. It’s going to be 9 or 10 headlines of 2010 ranging from the oil spill to Haiti to health care reform to the Joel Burns You-tube video. With the Joel Burns You-Tube, it was such a positive message to go viral, but on the flip side it was needed because of all of the suicides occurring due to bullying of these children that have no place to turn and no one to understand.  Even to look at the comments left on the You-Tube video is tragic, there is so much hatred out there and people continue to post such awful things knowing what the impact is. With that, each of the headlines will get two looks, one look will be a graphical representation and when possible I’m going to reference historical, political, or culture slogans that mirror current day issues. For the No Mosque on Ground Zero debate, I’m looking at Nazi propaganda posters during WWI, using the Jewish people as the scapegoat for all issues. I’ll try and take that imagery and bring it in.  The second look will be focused on the emotions that are stirred by the headlines and attempting to create that mood in the garment by fabric, cut and draping. Having the viewer understand which piece is what headline is not what is important to me and I don’t expect it to be easily read that way.  It is important to me that I do create a certain tone with the collection.

Secrets: What’s your take on art meets fashion?
Emma: I know that when I’m drawn to a designer or a collection it’s usually because it feels like an art piece almost in itself or because of strong references or inspirations such as Viktor & Rolf, Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood.  For me the visual arts are my inspiration in most everything

Secrets: What is the best thing about the art community in Minneapolis?
Emma: The fact that it is a strong community. We have so many amazing establishments like The Walker, The MIA, and The Weisman creates a solid foundation for creativity. We also have a really strong non- profit gallery scene.  There used to be a time when there was a strong commercial gallery scene as well and hopefully we can see that again one day.  Commercial galleries create competition and, this might sound a bit un-Minnesotan, but I think it is a vital part of having a successful local scene that supports its artists financially.

Secrets: What’s your favorite part of Minneapolis?
Emma: Because the scene isn’t cut throat there are a lot of opportunities. When you want to do something, you can put in the hard work and time and it usually will get noticed.  There are also a lot of great organizations to volunteer with which help in networking.  A great example is MNFashion.

Secrets: What is your favorite establishment in Minneapolis?
Emma: I probably go to Club Jager the most as far as establishments but I also love Jetset and Nick and Eddie’s.

Secrets: Childhood dream career.
Emma: Fashion designer.  It’s been a dream for a long time but not until recently has it felt like something that could actually happen if I worked hard and focused.  It’s always been a bit intimidating to me.