Catwalk for a Cause: The Black and White Charity Ball

Minneapolis-based fashion designer Arianne Zager has a global reach, both artistically and philanthropically

On Saturday, April 1, a flock of fashion lovers descended upon the W Hotel in Minneapolis to appreciate the work of five talented local designers, including the acclaimed wire couture collection by Arianne Zager, which showcased in New York Fashion Week last fall. Kicking off what will be a huge month of fashion for the Twin Cities, the show generated quite a buzz within the community. But the guests of the biannual Black and White Ball were there for much more than just fashion.

Arianne Zager’s handspun wire garments, awaiting the start of the runway

Photo by Christa Rayne Photography

Zager, who has already made an impressive name for herself as a designer, is now using her platform to prove that fashion and philanthropy can walk hand-in-hand. At the close of the runway, she took to the stage with her husband, Mikel Freeman, to announce that the ball’s attendees had helped to raise $15,000 for the Mikel Freeman Foundation, a nonprofit that raises capital to help build a soccer facility and community recreation center in Seirra Leone, Africa.  

A small country situated on the coast of Western Africa, Sierre Leone is rich in natural beauty but is financially one of the poorest nations in the world. I’ll admit that I didn’t know much about the distant country before my initial chat with Zager. And Zager herself might have said the same thing many years ago, before meeting her Sierra Leonese husband. Since then, the pair have paid many visits to Freeman’s homeland, and the affection with which Zager speaks of it makes it clear that the country has left a deep impression on her heart.

“There are so many talented and disciplined people there who want to move forward but don’t have the means,” Zager said. She explained that the Mikel Freeman Foundation aims to tap into this potential by giving the country the resources needed to realize it—“creating a lane,” as she put it, so these people have a chance to thrive on their own.  

Zager and Freeman, who first met in Thailand, have both traveled far and wide for their respective professions. But the place where they finally decided to settle their roots and grow their foundation is none other than Minneapolis. Seemingly worlds away from her upbringing in New York City, Zager said there was something about this northern tundra that just felt like home.  

Zager’s work has thrived from her new home in Minnesota

Photo by Clark Creates

“I’ve never met a more open and embracing creative community” said Zager, who radiated an instant warmth that is perfectly on brand with “Minnesota Nice.” “In New York, everyone was sort of like, ‘Look at me,’ but here it’s the opposite,” she told me. “Instead, people are saying, ‘Wow, look at you.’”   

The open arms with which the Minnesota fashion community has embraced Zager has helped make an event like the Black and White Ball possible. Each designer, model, and artist involved in the show donates their time—and does so enthusiastically, as was made clear when Zager invited me to join the crew backstage prior to the runway. The energy in the room was palpable right from the beginning, filled with jokes and laughter as the glam team readied their models for the catwalk.

The pre-runway process begins at the W Hotel

Photo by Christa Rayne Photography

It didn’t take long to see that Zager was right about this community, as I watched these creatives embrace one another and forge new friendships within just a few hours. It was unmistakable that everyone was happy to be a part of the cause, and I soon watched that eagerness translate to the runway.  

Two models who had volunteered their talents for the evening, posing for pre-runway shots

Photo by Christa Rayne Photography

The show opened with a rock-and-roll-inspired couture collection by Alma Mia, setting the tone for the night with plenty of sequins, metallic, and leather, incorporated into visually exciting silhouettes. The accessories were just as bold, ranging from matte black lips to chunky combat boots to lace birdcage veils. 

Ensemble from Alma Mia’s Rock-and-Roll collection

Image taken by author

Next, Vo Nguyen Atelier, a brand focused on traditional Vietnamese dresses, featured their Black and White collection. The star of this line was patterns, and lots of them. Most notably: polka dots, which commanded a range of ensembles, including a show-stopping matching halter tank and pencil skirt set with fur trim. Dark blocky shades, shimmering disco-style sequins, and black floral print (a trend of the night) added flare to these six silhouettes. 

Models showing off their looks by Vo Nguyen Atelier

Photo by Christa Rayne Photography

The third line came from Couture by Helen, which specializes in the customization and modernization of vintage styles. These ensembles played with sheer fabric—quickly becoming one of the biggest trends of 2023—in a bold and exciting way. See-through material dominated these seven looks, incorporating intricately textured lace, black-and-white florals, and a nod to Y2K style with butterfly affixions.  

Couture by Helen made a statement with this lacy sheer look

Photo by Christa Rayne Photography

An ode to the cause painted the runway in radiant shades of orange and red when Nubi Collections showcased their “Sunsets of Africa” line. Quilted fabrics, metallic gold, colorblock stripes, and—a crowd favorite—long flowing trains and capes stood out in this colorful line of eleven looks.

A deep red gown with inventive cutouts from Nubi Collections’ “Sunsets of Africa” line

Photo by Christa Rayne Photography

Finally, it was time for Zager’s collection to take to the runway, and when the first look surfaced, it was as if all the air had been sucked from the room. Zager’s wire collection tends to have this effect. Featured in publications including Vogue Italia, French Glamour, Citizen K, Malvie, and Vigour, and set to showcase for a second year at New York Fashion Week in September, Zager’s bold idea to create a dress out of wire has captivated audiences on an international scale.

Zager’s wire couture looks have received praise worldwide

Photo by Christa Rayne Photography

Tonight’s line showcased her handspun wire in shades of deep blue, silver, and gold, and experimented with an exciting variety of garments, accessorized with chunky cuff bracelets and chokers, ultra-drop earrings, and decorative tassels. Each model was barefoot, and in place of shoes sported brightly painted feet that complimented the wire pieces without overpowering them. The delicate, lightweight frame of each wire ensemble attests to Zager’s meticulous handspun process. “It feels like I’m wearing nothing,” a model told me, commenting on the freeing lightness of her long wire dress.  

A gold wire halter dress by Zager, accessorized with chunky cuff bracelets and ultra-drop earrings

Photo by Christa Rayne Photography

The event closed with a special performance by the Urban Bush Women, a world-renowned dance group that aims to bring untold and under-told stories to life through female perspectives. Their performance, titled “Haint Blue,” was a moving tribute to generations across the African diaspora, exploring “what has been lost and what can be recovered.” Zager designed costumes for their current world tour, and although they did not have a scheduled stop in Minneapolis, the group showed its appreciation by sending three members to close out the Black and White Ball. A better exclamation mark to the already captivating night of creativity is hard to imagine.  

A dancer from the Urban Bush Women, proving that Zager’s couture is not just beautiful but movable as well

Photo by Christa Rayne Photography

Before guests were dismissed to their mingling, a birthday cake was lit and delivered to Zager on the catwalk. It would be her golden birthday the next day—and there is likely no better gift she could’ve asked for than $15,000 toward the Mikel Freeman Foundation, as well as a room filled with the creative community that she has come to love. Zager told me prior to the show that when art is created “with gratitude in the crosshairs, everything else falls into place.” I couldn’t help but think how true this is as I left the Black and White Ball that night. 

As Minnesota Monthly's Style Editor, Emma keeps a close pulse on all things retail, style, and fashion in the Twin Cities and beyond. Since graduating from Miami university in 2022 with degrees in English-Literature and Media and Culture, Emma has accumulated a wealth of experience in both the editorial and fashion industries, including producing a sold-out runway show for Fashion Week Minnesota. A storyteller by nature, Emma has found her passion in communicating the unique perspectives of individuals who make the Minnesota fashion scene stand out. When she is not writing, you might find Emma at a yoga class, thrifting, walking her Bernese Mountain Dog, or drinking overpriced iced coffee. You will never see her in the same outfit twice.