Local fashion designer gives custom prom dresses to teens

  • Article by: AIMEE BLANCHETTE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 17, 2014 - 10:27 AM

Local fashion designer Emma Berg gives teen girls custom prom gowns – and a chance for them to express themselves through their designs.

The early morning sun pours into Emma Berg’s south Minneapolis home, shining a spotlight on a wall lined with candy-colored dresses. The sewing machine makes a “chuka, chuka, chuka” noise as the needle punches holes through a swath of lavender silk chiffon. The machine quickens, making a whistling sound, an alarm of sorts, reminding Berg the deadline is looming.

“What time is it?” Berg asked, barefoot and without a trace of makeup.

It’s 8 a.m. on a Wednesday and Berg has been working since 4:30 a.m. Dodging fallen pins and piles of fabric, she weaves in and out of a maze of dress forms that dot her house-turned-atelier.

Pin, sew, drape. Repeat.

The process is far from glamorous, but the end result has to be. Ten teenage girls are counting on it.

Berg — a data solutions consultant by day, fashion designer by night — has devoted her spring and summer collection to a group of high school seniors from the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities.

She’s making prom dresses, inspired by and created especially for the girls, who will wear them in a fashion show Tuesday evening at the Ritz Theater in Minneapolis. While Berg, 38, has been introducing new collections for the past five years, this one is special.

“It sounds corny, but I love to inspire people with my collections and feel like I’ve made a difference,” she said. “It’s that moment in these girls’ lives where they’re figuring out who they want to be. And, well, it can be everything.”

That message is one that Berg wishes she’d heard much earlier.

Berg grew up in Stacy, Minn., in an old white farmhouse with siblings. When she needed alone time, she retreated to Elle magazine, admiring the glossy avant-garde images that filled its pages.

“They all seemed a nice escape,” she said.

She first took to the sewing machine to make stuffed animals and sleeping bags for her Cabbage Patch Dolls. Soon, she was raiding her mother’s fabric stash and a chest of her grandmother’s old clothes to make outfits for herself.

“For one concert in grade school, I wore one of my grandmother’s dresses,” Berg said. “I remember that it wasn’t really acceptable, but it didn’t really matter to me, either.”

By middle school, she was designing tops to pair with her Gap jeans. She found materials in unlikely places, such as the mesh liner she used from her baby sister’s crib.

“That was something that I’d pack in my backpack and try to pull off at school,” she said. “My mom had limits about what should be worn.”

A matter of personal taste

Still, Berg never felt like her style was unusual. She simply wore what she liked.

“At my 10-year high school reunion, I had a dress on that I thought was fairly normal,” Berg recalled. “One of the girls there was like, ‘You’ve always dressed crazy.’ What? Weird, I didn’t even know that.”

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