Top students earn designer prom dresses (and lesson in confidence)

High school juniors and seniors strut the runway at the "I Am Everything" fashion show, which raised almost $4,000 for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities, on Apr. 22, 2014.

They worked the runway with confidence and style, proudly modeling the latest looks from an admired designer. But the fashions on display were not headed to Milan or Madison Avenue — instead, these one-of-a-kind dresses will be going with their models to the prom.

Thanks to Minneapolis designer Emma Berg, 10 high school juniors and seniors with strong academic records received free custom prom dresses. They modeled them in last week’s "I Am Everything" fashion show, which raised almost $4,000 for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities. But perhaps more importantly, they got a lesson in self-confidence and a unique experience.

“When you put girls in a space outside of their comfort zone,” Berg said, “the hope is that next time they’re faced with that they say, ‘I did this already. I can for sure do this.’”

Fashion designer Emma Berg inspects her collection before the show.

Berg launched her first collection in 2009 and specializes in commissioned pieces suited to the individual. She first meets with clients to talk about their body type and preferences before creating a custom design. “I try to design something that’s perfect for their body,” she said. “I want to make them shine.”

She even designed a jacket for Lady Gaga. Hired by the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, the venue commissioned something Minnesota-inspired to give the singer. She created “a little jacket with a high collar.”

Youthful elements of the show included colorful Doc Martens.
The models sashay down the runway at Emma Berg's show.
The selected group of high school students to receive free custom prom dresses had strong academic records.

When it came time to create her spring/summer collection, Berg said, she wanted “some more personal fulfillment out of it.” She had worked with the Boys and Girls Clubs before and approached them with the idea of making prom dresses.

“At the end of it, I would feel like I had done something more than just create a collection,” Berg said. “I really wanted to engage with these women.”

A challenge was creating something unique but not so unusual that the girls wouldn’t fit in with their friends. “It was fun to work with these very different ladies with different levels of what feminine is and trying to create something that they would feel incredibly confident in.”

A participant in the show gets ready backstage with a makeup artist.
A student reacts to having her hair done for the "I Am Everything" fashion show.

The teens were pampered with hair and makeup sessions and learned how to walk a runway. “But it’s really meant to be beyond that — walking into a room, what does that look like when you’re completely composed and confident?” Berg said.

Berg is not sure whether she’ll do another prom collection but she plans to continue to do projects that help the community.

“Whether it’s raising money for an organization, or this was so beyond that,” she said. “It’s more of the direction I’d like to go.”