1. Life & Culture

Designer Ivanka Ska fashions a wedding around the world

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Published Nov. 17, 2012

It is not unusual for Ivanka Ska to get work offers from photographers. She is a well-known fashion designer in Tampa Bay and beyond, renowned for her dresses and sky-high embellished heels. People want her time, her knowledge, her experience.

Chris Grove did. Ivanka opened his email and glanced at his portfolio online, expecting the usual fare of models in bad poses. Instead, she saw landscapes. Golden trees on plains, lions with hazel eyes, crystal waters, palm trees and pebbled sand. It was different. It was worth a try.

"I can't make it to the photo shoot," she told him. "But I can give you a stylist and models, and I need the pictures right away."

Three months later, Ivanka didn't have her pictures. She was furious.

She didn't know that Chris had a technology job that took him to Africa at the last minute, that he'd tried to get her the pictures but couldn't. And Chris didn't know Ivanka's life was a tenuous mix of fashion shows and schedules and business, that she was mourning the loss of her business partner who had died of a heart attack, that she needed stability.

He offered to shoot her next event for free. She accepted.

Chris came to the event, a party for a visiting prince. He showed up early. Ivanka noticed. She liked people who were on time. He liked her, too, this warm, tall, funny woman from Poland with the sweet accent and chatter that went on and on.

They talked more after that. They became friends. They went to the beach one day and walked together and Chris tried to kiss her.

"Hold on a minute," she said.

"Don't worry," he said. "You'll want to kiss me one day."

He knew he would end up with Ivanka one way or another. He knew things about her she didn't know. He knew she was really a dog person, even though she was too scared of dogs to touch them. He knew she would teach him things, too, help him be better, to care about people and his community at home, not just abroad.

Eventually she did want to kiss him. Ivanka, 41, and Chris, 40, enjoyed the same things. Photography, traveling, the art of masters like Vincent van Gogh and the painters of the Dutch Golden Age, such as Vermeer and Rembrandt. They raised two dogs, boxers named Pepsi and Dutch.

Ivanka loved them so much she kissed them on the snouts.

Chris proposed on a bike ride over the Hillsborough River near their home in Tampa. They thought about throwing a big wedding. In Ivanka's mind, it felt like planning another fashion event, like a job, and she didn't want that. Besides, their families and friends were spread out all over the world.

They figured out a solution.

Ivanka bought a dress off the street in New York City. She had her designer friend Dolly Donshey make her a white hat.

Ivanka and Chris went to Amsterdam alone, to the Rembrandt House Museum, into Rembrandt's studio with his fireplace and his brushes and his paint pills, and they said vows while someone took video. The video went online and all their friends and family watched.

After they were married, the workers from Rembrandt's house presented them a print of an old etching of Adam and Eve.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at or (727) 893-8857.