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BLING FOR THE BALL

The notion of a glass slipper was always wildly impractical, wasn't it? Inflexible, cold and unforgiving, impossibly fragile for all that dancing at the ball.

Why risk it? With the revival of Rodgers ' Hammerstein's Cinderella coming to the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa Oct. 21-26, we wanted to explore a revival of glass slippers with one of the area's most iconic shoe designers.

The Cinderella of today might gravitate toward the modern, decadent shoes of Ivanka Ska, over the top and fanciful, but slightly more grounded than glass. In fact, she might just gravitate toward Ska herself. The two have a few things in common, including bouncing back from moments that seemed pretty bleak.

The 42-year-old native of Poland spent years in Tampa Bay developing her high-fashion clothing line, House of Ska. She displayed her wares in a storefront gallery in downtown St. Petersburg, styled celebrities and was a mainstay at fashion shows in town.

Then five years ago, it all came apart. Her business partner died suddenly of a heart attack, halting Ska's clothing production and leaving her without a direction.

"I was left with such sorrow and confusion," she said. "I didn't know what to do. I had to close the shop and sold everything I had in there. It was a bad economy at that time as well. It was such a hard time. I could not make dresses. My machines were gone."

She'd never thought about designing shoes before. But when Vertical Tampa Bay founder Leslie Joy Ickowitz gave photographs to local designers, challenging them to get inspired, Ska accepted. She received a picture of a puddle. She started rotating the picture.

In her mind, a shoe appeared. That was all she needed to see.

Ska started researching the art of shoe-making and began fashioning gleaming footwear with 8-inch heels and towering platforms. She adorned shoes with upcycled vintage materials like sequins, pearls and satin, inspired by the late Baroque period and 18th century Parisian art.

People started sharing her pictures online. And they started placing orders.

"I was very surprised that everyone was just loving them, and that's what kind of kept me going," she said. "That kind of gives you wings."

She introduced more practical options in addition to the couture, designing for everyone from singers to a doctor who wanted comfortable ballet flats with a little flair. Now, Ska hopes to expand into commercial markets, finding ways to produce her line in the United States.

Her work has been featured in the Page-A-Day Shoe Gallery Calendar, one of those funky things you keep on your desk at work. Her shoes made it into the SHOEting Stars exhibit at the Kunst Haus Wien Museum Hundertwasser in Vienna. And starting this month Ska is part of the 3,000 Years of Shoes exhibit at the Spielzeug Welten Museum Basel in Switzerland. In collaboration with the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery in England, the exhibit features shoes dating back 3,000 years, as well as some worn by Lady Gaga.

"To be paired up in the same room with them, I can't even tell you what an honor it is," she said.

And what about that old-fashioned Cinderella ending, the one with the prince and the love and the happy, sappy life? Well, Ska got married in 2012 and is expecting her first child.

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