Why you should care
Because doing good sometimes starts with looking good.
Ewa Minge is hard to miss. What strikes you first is her hair — a lion’s mane of wild, reddish curls. Her face? With all of its sharp angles, an almost musical counterpoint to the hair. Which is why Minge’s look, befitting a fashion designer and besting most corporate heads, is her best advertisement yet. But unless you’re in Europe or part of the fashion-world cognoscenti, you’ve probably never heard of her.
Sometimes called, either as a compliment or less than such, the Donatella Versace of Poland, Minge blends the creativity behind her own distinctive look into designing the world around her. “I had been accepting the world as it had been created by other people,” Minge says from her headquarters in Katowice. “But I also wanted to be surrounded by the world as created by me.” And she’s making that happen big-time. Seventeen years after Minge founded her design house, her creations are bustled into boutiques in almost a dozen major cities, including Barcelona, Paris and New York. Not to mention Poland, where Minge is dressing everyone on some of the country’s top national TV networks, Elite Model Look competitors, Miss Poland and Poland’s former first lady Jolanta Kwasniewska. She’s also a favorite of singers Cheryl Cole and Kelly Rowland and — maybe in a moment of down-market madness — Paris Hilton.
Poland, historically or recently, hasn’t been the first name for fashion and isn’t the most intuitive place to make a fashion statement. That is, if you’re assuming Minge’s 1968 birthplace — cloaked under the graying spread of Leonid Brezhnev’s Soviet sprawl and the ’70s exile of its Hitler-mustachioed President Stanisław Ostrowski — wasn’t exactly a petri dish of couture, you are 100 percent correct. And that, according to Minge, didn’t hurt. The communist regime was difficult for all Poles, she says, “but everybody was forced to be more independent, creative and smart.” In the ’70s, she explains, women hunted for secondhand fabrics and colorful jewelry and could make beautiful dresses and coats using just curtains or canvas. “Everything was possible,” Minge says. An ethos, along with a liberal enabling mother, a painter father and the fall of communism, that put Minge in a position in the early ’90s to start her business. Helped along first by family, then by friends and eventually by co-workers and the first decade of democracy, Ewa Minge came on hard and came along pretty fast.
Not at all surprising given her stylish, soulful use of fashion. It was precisely this bristling sense of creativity that wowed the first fans of her women’s designs and, later, kid’s shoes, sunglasses and furniture. And not just in Poland, but anywhere you find people who give a damn about such things. “There’s something about being from someplace that’s not a fashion hub,” says Michele Edwards, former Ralph Lauren baller, “that makes fashion that comes from those places so exciting. You really get the sense that you’re seeing things you haven’t seen before, because people there are often doing things no one’s done before.”
A fact, given the way the world works, that means absolutely nothing to Minge’s haters and critics, who have more famously described her designs at New York Fashion Week as “jail attire.” “Haute this is not,” sniffed fashion critic Yuan-Kwan Chan, “couture this is not.” There have even been ad hominem attacks crediting/blaming her appearance on extensive plastic surgery, a charge Minge drew the line at when she sued a plastic surgeon with a TV show about celebrity plastic surgery for alleging that she had had plastic surgery. A suit Minge won, even if she closed it off by apologizing on TV for being “so ugly.” “Just because it looks nice, doesn’t always mean it is nice,” said Canadian fashion designer Melanie Benoit Craig. “Fashion is not always, but Minge’s positives clearly outweigh her negatives.”
Which is to say that Minge’s praiseworthy critical recognition is a well-turned cherry on an increasingly large cake. She’s won the International Five Star Diamond Award, Alto Moda’s Next Couture Award and a Gold Medal at the International Fair in Moscow. She was also the first Polish designer to wrangle an invite to the Donna Sotto le Stelle fashion show on the Spanish Steps in Rome. High-end badassery no matter how you cut it. And like many designers, Minge creates clothing that goes well beyond boutiques. She’s designing real clothing for real people to wear, not casually — make no mistake, hers is an upmarket brand — but out and about. To the tune of more than 5,000 monthly units moved in a good year.
Minge has had quite a few such “good years” — even finding time for her two sons and her new partner, the Israeli millionaire jeweler Zuri Mesica — and if she plays her cards right, more good years are hers for the foreseeable future. A future that, according to McKinsey, will see online sales in the next three years at least growing at a rate of 18 percent in the U.K. and 70 percent in China. Minge is also knee-deep in industrial design and furniture. After all, if you’re going to look fabulous, you might as well be someplace equally fabulous.
With that behind her, Minge is free to trundle healthily and happily on, penning an autobiography called Life Is a Fairytale. Kuba Wojewódzki, a Polish TV/radio host and stand-up comedian, opines in Mea Pulpa on Minge’s eerie ability to win in a way that baffles even supporters. He offered a bemused, head-shaking coda for the Polish fashion queen: “I bet after her book’s release that the constitutional court tribunal will declare it grand literature before sending everybody home.” About which Minge demurs, “It was very long and difficult and took a lot of effort, funds and stress.” Can you imagine any single multimillion-dollar business that wouldn’t? “But there’s nothing else in my world I would rather do.”