Clothes that speak louder than words

Local designer Emma Berg breaks artistic ground with an intriguing spring line.

by Sally Hedberg

Fashion is often taken at face value, and in some sense thatâÄôs OK. ItâÄôs accurate to say that much of it is purely concerned with aesthetics (e.g. the tailoring of a jacket, fabric choice, color scheme, the way a dress hangs, etc.).

Of course, in an industry where the very standards of whatâÄôs trending change by the season, the emphasis lies on the immediate visual appeal. But this shouldnâÄôt limit designers from conceptualizing their lines to be broader than the sum of their individual looks (ahem, let us recall the late visionary, Alexander McQueen).

Haute couture is perfectly capable of having substance. And within the local scene no one knows this better than Emma Berg.

Art has always been a fixture in BergâÄôs life. Upon her initial move to Minneapolis as a studio art graduate from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, she plunged right into the local arts community.

Since then, she has curated galleries, established a calendar that tracks art openings ( and carried her clothing designs to the runway. Much of this was fueled by her undeniable love of art, but itâÄôs also wrought from an inherent interest in the artists themselves.

âÄúTo me itâÄôs just this idea that itâÄôs so inspiring,âÄù Berg said. âÄúWhat drives me to the work is the passion that artists have. It helps them evolve.âÄù

When it comes to BergâÄôs clothing design work, that evolution plays out in her ambitious design concepts. Having such a strong knowledge for visual art, she sees no reason why clothing canâÄôt be held in the same regard.

âÄúPeople think fashion is shallow, and thatâÄôs my hang up,âÄù Berg said. âÄúWith visual artists, itâÄôs a little different because in fashion youâÄôre trying to sell your work and with art thatâÄôs not always the goal.âÄù

But Berg sets out to challenge that very notion, and her spring collection (which debuted during MNfashion Week) is a firm testament to that. It may be available for sale at a local boutique, June, but âÄúTragicomedyâÄù reaches far beyond the realm of turning a profit.

A cinema enthusiast of sorts, in the past Berg has drawn influence from especially poignant films. This has included material such as surrealist director Terry GilliamâÄôs âÄúBrazilâÄô and the Japanese art film âÄúDolls.âÄù

However, for âÄúTragicomedy,âÄù Berg instead turned to the media. The concept makes perfect sense as she explains it: Over the course of the year, we are exposed to an emotional rollercoaster of constantly changing headlines.

Though the drama transitions and fades, it doesnâÄôt ever completely disappear. Her 20-piece collection can be seen as a reflection on the false impermanence of current events and how weâÄôre conditioned to await the next big thing.

âÄúI had originally wanted to do something light and carefree,âÄù Berg said. âÄúBut by the time the elections were happening there was all of this ignorance and it was so absurd to me and I started looking. There was so much fear and so much scapegoating, so I took that and used it as an outlet for my work.âÄù

The resulting collection is as diverse as the year in news sheâÄôs trying to encapsulate. The looks are brimming with highs and lows manifested in the subtle cuts and nuance of each design.

At times, she makes bold statements, as seen in a vivid red dress with a screen-printed âÄúit gets betterâÄù situated under a royal seal. In other instances the projected vibe is playful. Just like in an art gallery, the interpretations are left to the viewer, but at the same time, itâÄôs clear that sheâÄôs reaching for real communication.

In an industry where redundancies only bore, Berg is here to gracefully assert that fashion is capable of demanding the same artistic respect as a painting, an edge that will only maintain her distinction.