By Anna Hoeschen.
Does creative coolness only happen in The Big City?
Urban centers have always been known for inspiring design. Turn any New York, LA, San Francisco, London, or Tokyo street-corner, and you’ll find yourself on the doorstep of another up and coming contemporary great.
Yes, it’s often true that cool design grows best in the big urban petri dish, but maybe it’s time to rethink that: there are enough exceptions to the rule. Antwerp, for example. Portland, for sure. And Minneapolis.
Minneapolis? Yup. A lively and creative energy pulses in the Twin Cities. Creative things are happening there, especially in terms of the arts scene.
Of course, there are gorgeous venues like the Walker and the Guthrie. But it’s the gems that fly under the radar that we’re looking for. You have to trawl, rummage, and hunt to find them, and when you do, it’s exciting.
And when I went hunting for a local someone who could wow me with modern design sensibilities, great craft skills, and a contemporary aesthetic, I finally found her in the world of fashion design.
Her work has a structural appeal, which I’ll attribute to her knack for drapery. Emma knows how to wrap, twist, and manipulate her fabrics so that they look angular and sharp, instead of shabby and drab.
The drapery technique often brings to mind classical and antiquated looks (think toga), but Emma has perfected the technique, making it both contemporary and shapely. I later learned that the lovely shape Emma executes so well stems from one of her signature techniques: making minimal to no cuts. She’ll wrap fabric until her desired shape manifests. It’s a very structured look, but she often opts for bright silk fabrics, adding softness and feminine charm.
But just how does a young designer like Emma juggle two very different jobs, and find inspiration in a town where you’re not running into artists on every street corner? She creates her own scene, that’s how.
What really struck me about Emma was how charismatic and inviting she was when I first stepped through the door of her home/studio in Minneapolis. The girl’s small frame brims with energy and wit. As a founder of the online arts-happenings calendar MPLSART, and a curator at Haus Salon (a fusion between upscale salon and art gallery… who’s up for a new bob and some artwork?), Emma’s long been at the forefront of the Minneapolis art scene.
She has small-town roots, and it’s clear they taught her how to create community and be a leader in the Minneapolis art space.
Emma’s an expert at keeping close and connected. She’s a maven in the sense that she’s finding ways to develop her own ideas, while simultaneously helping others express theirs. Instead of just looking at artists for inspired designs, she’s creating avenues, building bridges, and leaving room for growth.
The creative enterprise, after all, isn’t just about making work. It’s about making ties and connections. It’s more exciting when we get to bounce ideas off of one another and grab a little inspiration from our friends.
It’s almost as if, for Emma, there was never an alternative. It’s like she’s saying, “Well, how else could we go about it?”
What’s it like balancing your life as a Target corporate employee and a designer? How does that influence and shape your work? Well, at Target Corporate, I’ve learned so much about timelines, communication, and professionalism. After I have my collection laid out and know what I want to do, I’m really organized. I have laid out how much left I want to do and it’s a lot of project planning and realizing, ‘Oh my gosh I’m really behind!’
[At Target] I work mostly with a technical team. It’s funny, because I fit that really well. In design, you fall into that too, but you have to come out with a logical solution. My co-workers have been really supportive of me. I think it’s interesting to them to see that outlet. A coworker of mine commissioned a piece. We’d been on the same team for four years. My work changed and became a bigger part of my life. It was exciting for me that she trusted me to create. It is a lot of trust that goes into getting measured and picking a design; it’s a different relationship.
What’s your process…where do you start? I start with my inspiration. Other artists inspire me, people like Frank Gaard, Marilyn Minter. Her her work is lush, sexy, and grotesque. I’ve always been intrigued by the balance of beautiful and ugly.
For the fall collection, I found these incredible pinks. The colors felt almost acidic. I really wanted a new color for fall, contrary to the rest of the collection. Some pieces are fabric first, some end up being draping and taking that piece and figuring out how to put a closure in it and see how it fits. Usually it’s a combination of both. I like to experiment. I picked up this wool fabric and washed it to see how it would turn out. I made these giant pants out of felted wool, and I wore them in the bathtub. I tried to shrink them. I pulled them out and waited for them to shrink more. It was so fun! Like playing.
What’s your background? I studied at University of Minnesota Duluth. I spent a long time up there. It was a childish decision, trying to get far from home. I’m from Stacy, MN. I had this whole idea that I wanted to get away from my parents! Eventually, it got to the point where I thought, ‘I can’t be in Duluth anymore… it’s time to get to the city and just get some more!’
How did you get started in design? I studied costume design for a while and moved to fine arts. I focused on ceramics, and I had been sewing as a kid. In junior high I would change in the bathroom, because I wore clothes I loved, but that my mom wouldn’t let me buy! I sewed through high school but really took it up in college.
When I first got back here, I sold at a small boutique in St. Paul, but it didn’t last long. I had been on the design panel for Voltage (Voltage periodically hosts fashion events that function national forums for local designers), and I was buying a lot of stuff and still try to.
One night over drinks, my friend Maurita was talking about her upcoming designer show, and she was like, ‘You have to be in it, you’re in!’ I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t know if I’m ready for this’ but I needed that push. This was in 2008, and I had just gotten back from India. People go to India, and always say, ‘I’m going to figure out my life.’ I came back and thought … ‘I wanna sew.’ That’s what I went to find out?
I was there 3 ½ weeks. At every shop, you were welcomed; ‘Come in, pick your fabric, and we’ll make you a sari.’ These kinds of luxury fabrics can be hard to find here. The colors are explosive. The sights, the sounds, the colors, the smells. It’s everything times 10! I was drawn to that customer experience.
You also curate local galleries. What’s that experience like? At Haus, we are doing quarterly shows and trying to find a different audience. It’s similar to if we have a client who’s exposed to different haircuts. We’re asking, ‘Are there different reactions?’ We’re looking for different reactions. It’s a lot of local and contemporary work. I have a website and through that, I’ve met a lot of artists, and I like to help expose them and find them opportunities to exhibit. Broken Crow mural artists exhibited in 2006 and 2007. [Emma had them do a mural on the back of her house]. That, in comparison to what they’re doing now, is just juvenile.
Do these artists have an influence on your work? Pretty much every collection. I pull inspiration from an artist and it’s usually local. I do ten looks. For one collection, there was a painting by a local artist that I actually bought. It was by Ruben Nusz. I asked if I could use it as inspiration. We created an overall pattern with it, and it was a sparkler firework. That was the entire thing; this energy that you couldn’t contain. For this last collection, Frank Gaard had a collection at the Walker and Fox Tax. I reached out to him and asked if I could use his images. Usually, there’s a direct tie to a local artist. I start with a solid theme or inspiration; in 2011 my spring collection was all headlines from 2010.
What designs do you yourself gravitate towards? I wear the designs I make. You asked about people wearing stuff… I think of my collections as marketing pieces, with the intent to draw more people in. For me and my pieces, it’s this idea of helping a woman be an individual. Allowing her to stand out as a one-of-a-kind person and just go with that, I guess. It’s a bit avant-garde. I want modern, but with an understanding of history.
Fabrics? Silk, silk, silk! Silk-gazar, silk-satin faced organza, duchess satin. I like the unexpected. There’s fringe, there’s dyed Mongolian goat; it’s fun to see how things react.
I love that silk dress with painted flowers from the Midnight Garden Collection. Tell me how that came to be. My roommate Max painted it! It’s eight yards of hand-painted silk organza. It was such a fun project. He laid out the fabric and painted it yard by yard. And then I hung it and draped it all without a cut in it. Then, we went back and created the dress. The seam comes up around and down and ends up on the other side of the shoulder.
…What a roommate! Who’s he? Max Lohrbach. He went to fashion school in Chicago and he does women’s wear, dabbles in menswear. He’s lived here a little over a year.
Who plays you in the movie of your life? Hmmm…. maybe if she gets her act together… Katie Holmes.
What kind of movie? Can it be a Woody Allen film? But I don’t know that he would let Katie Holmes be in it…
Hardly a dim-wit and she gets the laughs. Emma, it was a pleasure.
All images courtesy of Jenny Wesser.