“I’m that person who wants to look good, wants to look put together,” says designer Mona Kowalska of her own personal style. “But I kind of want to figure it out once and be done with it.” Of course, that hardly means her look is static. “I hope that I’m evolving over time,” she says. “I see my desires shifting, and you want that reflected in your work.”
Now in her nineteenth year at the helm of her downtown New York–based label, A Détacher, Kowalska has found that this sentiment resonates with customers, who return each season to purchase prints and Peruvian knits in ever-changing iterations. (“In each collection, I try to do something we’ve never done before.”) They also hang on to her older pieces for so long that even Kowalska is sometimes surprised to see them years after the fact.
Raised in Poland until the age of nine, followed by Baltimore and education and work stints in Italy and France, Kowalska wasn’t an instant New York City convert. “It took me a really long time to like New York,” she admits. “It’s really not until I started my business that I felt like I found a community of people and saw where I fit into the city.” Today, she splits her life between her home in Clinton Hill and the A Détacher store and studio in Nolita. She maintains a four-day workweek, leaving her with three days to read — currently Thom Jones’s short-story collection The Pugilist at Rest, after a long spate of crime novels — relax, and let inspiration take her where it may. Another weekend hobby? Exercise — although you won’t see Kowalska’s preferred fitness wardrobe on the runway anytime soon. “I exercise in long johns,” she explains. “I buy them in Chinatown, $10 for a set. That works for me.”
More from the Voice’s spring fashion issue: