Karla Martinez is Bringing Mexico City to NYC
Longtime fashion editor Karla Martinez de Salas — who has held high-profile posts at W, T and Vogue — opens up about her career in magazines, her new life in Mexico City and how to look great on any budget. Karla Martinez in her New York apartment wearing Joe Fresh – Silk Long Sleeve Dress
Karla Martinez de Salas has been one of the fashion world’s ultimate insiders for over a dozen years. The erstwhile editor has held positions at Elle, Vogue, The New York Times and W, giving her a ringside seat (front row, of course) to the global style scene. At W, Martinez held the high-profile post of Fashion Market and Accessories Director, overseeing many of the covet-worthy looks that ended up in the pages of the style bible.
She even penned her own monthly column, titled “Keeping Up With Karla” that documented her latest obsessions. Earlier this year, Martinez made a big life decision, moving to Mexico City with her husband, a banker who took a new job in the sprawling capital. While she left the glitz of the publishing world behind in New York, Martinez is still keeping her keen eye on the fashion scene.
She’s working as a personal stylist in Mexico City and continues to design and operate a luxe pajama-inspired label called Piamita out of New York, which is sold in stores like The Webster in Miami, Forty Five Ten in Dallas, Kirna Zabête in New York, Le Bon Marché in Paris and online at Shopbop.com. Martinez is a firm believer in mixing labels both aspirational and accessible (think Joe Fresh) to create the ideal everyday wardrobe.
She tells us about her life in magazines and how to develop a convincing sense of personal style.
Where did you grow up and how did you first get interested in fashion?
I grew up in El Paso, Texas. My parents are from a town in Central Mexico, and then they moved to the U.S. for my dad, who is a doctor. We lived for a time in Florida and Tennessee. When I was younger, my sister and I were the only Mexican girls in the entire school. Everyone else was blonde and blue-eyed. And then there was a Korean kid. But everyone was super nice and my mom gave Spanish classes. I studied marketing at the University of Arizona in Tucson—I thought I needed some sort of business major. I remember buying W—back when it was still in newspaper form—at an Albertsons supermarket, the only place that sold it. I was always fascinated with magazines.
You started in the industry with a series of internships before landing a magazine job. How did that all happen?
During college, I cold-called companies looking for summer internships in New York. One summer I worked at Aeffe [the Italian company that owns Alberta Ferretti and Moschino] and another at W, again after just calling them up. That’s why whenever someone emails me now for an internship or job, I always try to email back. Because someone actually picked up the phone for me back then. After graduating, I moved to Paris and got an internship at IMG Models and then Hearst Magazines. I took a crash course in French—I sat in a booth with headphones—just to learn how to answer the phone. Then I moved back to New York, and got jobs at Elle, Vogue and The New York Times, where Stefano Tonchi and Anne Christensen hired me to be the Market Director, which was awesome because I was an Associate at that time at Vogue. So they really took their chances with me. After five years at The Times, I went to Interview and worked under Fabien Baron and Karl Templer for almost a year. And then Stefano Tonchi got the editor-in-chief job at W and he brought me over.
How you approached your job at each of the different magazines you’ve been a part of?
At Vogue you learn how to please a lot of different people and move a lot of different parts and be very disciplined. At T, we did a lot of still-life sittings, which taught me about creating a beautiful picture. At Interview, I learned pairing the right stylist with the right photographer. And then at W, it was managing a department. And part of that was learning how to help your team reach its full potential.
How did you take what you learned on the job and apply it to your own style and everyday life?
Finding a great, inexpensive item is one of my favorite things. You don’t only have to go to expensive stores to look good. It’s all about the way you wear things and mix things. It’s most important to be comfortable. You can wear a skirt from Louis Vuitton and mix it in with a Joe Fresh T-shirt. It doesn’t matter if it’s super expensive or a very accessible price point, it has to be comfortable and flattering. There’s nothing worse than seeing a woman in an expensive dress with the most ridiculous heels and she can’t walk. If you don’t look comfortable, you can’t be stylish. I think the trick is to make things personal. It’s about the way you wear it. I love finding things at different stores and people being like, “Oh, what’s that?” You should wear the unexpected.
Tell us about Piamita. How did you start that and what’s the concept?
I launched Piamita in 2010 with my partner, Cecilia de Sola. It started as classic pajamas and loungewear and now we’ve expanded it a bit. We’re doing bathing suits and resortwear, with some staples in between. All of it is meant to fold up and pack easily. Our strong point is prints, which are fun and whimsical. It’s all a little bit refined, comfortable and playful!
In top photoKarla wears Silk Ruffle Blouse.