Knitwear designer Steven Berg
blends vintage style with Hollywood verve
By Shelly Meinhardt
He dresses like a rock star, complete with a shimmering shirt, black jeans and eye-catching bling on his fingers. He describes himself as “loud and brassy” and once dreamed of becoming an actor. But talk to Steven Berg for even a minute and you’ll discover his true lifelong passion.
“I started with doll clothes,” says the Minneapolis knitwear designer. “I did sequin-embellished Barbie dresses. Mohair collars on little swing coats. It was the late sixties, I was eight years old and I already knew I wanted to be a fashion designer.”
He knits as he talks, whipping up a cappuccino-colored poncho, one of many projects scattered around The Yarn Garage, the Rosemount shop where he sells high-end yarns, teaches knitting and designs custom knits for private clients. His specialty is “chunky funky” knitwear, using multiple yarns and hefty needles to create show-stopping sweaters and accessories -- like the $300 scarf he just delivered to an Edina customer, which caused a commotion in Caribou Coffee.
“I was meeting with the client to show her the scarf, and by the time I finished my coffee, the entire table was crowded with people, and I was giving knitting lessons in Caribou, and taking scarf orders, and people were telling me I should do a TV show.”
TV seems like a natural next for Berg’s to-do list. His career has already take him to the four corners of the world: from designing fabrics in Hong Kong to consulting for Versace in Milan, Bill Blass in Montreal, and the urban Stacy Adams line in Miami. His vintage-inspired hand-knits have also made him a hit with young Hollywood -- including one trend-setting star who literally dropped into his lap while he was visiting the set of the indie film “The Good Girl.”
“Jennifer Aniston sits in my lap and says, ‘I hear you knit sweaters and I would like one,’” he recalls. “So I showed her my swatches.” Aniston picked out a cable pattern and Berg knit her a sleeveless turtleneck in chunky blue cotton. She liked it so much she ordered another for a friend -- as in “Friends” co-star Lisa Kudrow -- and faster than you can say “high profile,” Berg started getting regular requests from Hollywood stars and stylists. You can spot his wares on Brad Pitt, Lucy Liu and babe-of-the-moment Mischa Barton and her co-stars of the FOX series “The O.C.”
So what’s a globe-trotting Uptown boy like Berg doing in downtown Rosemount?
“It was a fast-paced life,” he says. “London, Amsterdam, Milan. You’re sitting at the Palace Hotel in Paris next to Catherine Deneuve, and it’s kind of like, ‘Wow, this is really cool.’ But it didn’t have any warm, fuzzy, comfort-ness to it.”
Born in South Dakota, Berg grew up in Galesville, Wisconsin (pop. 1,427), where he learned to knit from his German mother, Christa. He spent a year at MCAD (“I did all these fashion-sculpture-performance art pieces”) before heading to New York, where he attended the Parsons School of Design and graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology. He returned to his roots in 2003 to be closer to his family, including sister and business partner Monik Oeltjen of Rosemount.
The siblings teamed up last spring to open The Yarn Garage in a circa-1911 building, filling every inch of the 900-square-foot space with antique trunks, dressers and armoires overflowing with hundreds of skeins of yarn. Classes with sassy titles like “Knitting Diva Day” and “Adult Knits Night” quickly attracted fashionistas from all over the Twin Cities.
Berg’s future plans include opening a knitting café (“There’s one on Melrose in West Hollywood and I think the concept is so intriguing”). And he likes that TV show idea (“I see a kind of glamorous, be-your-own designer concept”). But right now, he’s happy being the go-to guy for knitters who want to learn do-it-yourself star style. “I really want to pass on the gift I feel I’ve been given,” he says. “Knitting is my passion, and I want to help carry it forward.”
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This article appeared in the April 2005 issue of Mpls. St. Paul Magazine. Copyright © 2005 by Shelly Thacker Meinhardt. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission of the author.
Minneapolis freelancer Shelly Thacker Meinhardt writes for regional and national magazines, corporate clients, and non-profit organizations. Visit her website at http://www.shellythacker.com.