Karla Martinez de Salas has had what you might call a life-changing year: She moved from NYC to Mexico City, had twin daughters, and went from being the Accessories Director at W magazine to becoming the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Mexico and Vogue Latin America. Every time I look at her Instagram she is in another country. Literally, I don’t know how she does it. Add to that she has a reputation as being one of the nicest (and most hard-working) editors in the fashion industry. I’ve know Karla on and off over her career at various magazines including W, T/New York Times magazine, and Vogue and couldn’t have been more thrilled when she agreed to take time out of her schedule to talk to TFI.
Please introduce yourself to the TFI reader: In addition to being a mom of twins, I’m the editor in chief of Vogue Mexico and Latin America. They are two different magazines. Everyone always thinks of Latin America as one place but it’s not. We have one magazine for Mexico which is Vogue Mexico, and then we have Vogue Latin America, which is everything except for Brazil. And we have distribution everywhere—in the Caribbean in the Caribbean Spanish-speaking countries, Central America and South America, in Florida, Texas, California, even North Carolina. We produce two different magazines that are similar but different. For Columbia, Chile and Peru we have inserts each month for each of those countries with local content for those markets.
What’s your favorite part about running a magazine? I think people don’t understand exactly what it means to be an editor–what we see and have access to and the amazing amount of creativity we’re exposed to. With magazines, you’re really seeing something from beginning to end, and it’s this process that’s incredibly creative, but also, very puzzle-solving. You want to feature this person, then you also want to talk about something else—things that are going on. I think it’s a pretty exciting way to propose things to existing and new readers.
I’m really lucky that I get to go to Europe for two weeks and see the shows, though it sounds more glamorous than it actually is. Still at the end of the day, you’re going to an amazing city, with amazing food and people. I think it’s a constant wave of inspiration. Some people say ‘Oh no, it’s not inspiring anymore’ and call it a vicious cycle, but I think it’s very much a creative cycle. You’re constantly re-imagining, re-invigorating. Now, even more than ever, you have to constantly be thinking ahead. That keeps me motivated–to keep challenging other people and myself.
What made you choose fashion magazines in the beginning? This sounds like a jaded answer, but I always loved fashion. I grew up in Texas and my mom always used to get Hola! magazine from Mexico. I always thought that it was interesting to see women and the power of what they were wearing. I think clothing really changes women; it can be very transformational. There’s nothing like the power of a beautiful dress or a great suit. Also, I don’t think it has to be so expensive. I think it’s very much about the piece.
I grew up in El Paso which you wouldn’t think is like very fashion forward, but there was an alternate indie scene, especially growing up there in the 90s. I remember my friend got an internship at Nicole Miller. I was so jealous. I started looking through magazines and thought ‘I’m just going to cold call show rooms.’ I did and someone picked up the phone and I got lucky. They took me as an intern. It was actually at Aeffe show room with Michelle Stein, who you know.
How are Vogue Mexico and Vogue Latin America alike and how are they different? In general, if there’s one thing, it is that Latin women like to dress up. They like to wear accessories, and it’s not frowned upon. I think they have a general appreciation for fashion and beauty that’s special. They are very hungry for what’s next.
They’re different in that each of them have, in terms of beauty, their own secrets and methods. And culturally, they’re very different. All the fashion doesn’t look the same, and the women don’t look the same. They take the proposal that you give them and they wear it in their own way, which I think is really cool. You’ll have a girl from Argentina and she’ll look completely different in the same skirt as a girl from Mexico. You see it in the fashion designers. Columbia has a thriving fashion industry. I think Mexico is beginning to awaken more to the scene. I also think other countries, like Chile and Argentina, you buy something there and it’s different and it’s different from what you would buy in Paris. I feel like each is offering its own kind of unique stance.
What are your goals for the magazines? There are so many places that haven’t been discovered in Mexico. Then in Latin America, you have the Atacama desert in Chile, you have the mountains, you have the vineyards in Argentina. I feel like it’s important to promote the countries in the same way that you look at French Vogue and you might want to plan a trip to Paris or somewhere amazing in France. It’s important to show, not only our places, but the culture. A lot of these countries have a traditional kind of fashion, and artisanal fashion techniques that are really amazing and have inspired designers around the world. I would love to give them their due credit.
Also, just general things going on. There’s a big art fair now in Mexico. There’s a huge art fair in Columbia that was this last October. Letting the world know we have amazing cultures to discover. Many Mexicans and South Americans travel a lot. They travel to the U.S. a lot. And since we have distribution in the U.S, it makes us different than the our American counterparts. I want to offer the reader something that is special and unique, it may be a hidden gym in Los Angeles, run by a Mexican, or something in Peru that has yet to be discovered.
What do you like most about living in Mexico and what do you miss most about New York? I know this is crazy but I miss the subway and the ease of New York. One thing I love about living in Mexico is it’s a very family oriented country. And to have twins—you get on an airplane and your child is crying and people ask if they can help instead of glaring at you. They’re very welcoming, the culture is very warm. I love Mexico City. It’s so diverse and different; the energy is great. What I don’t like about it is there’s so much traffic. What could take you ten minutes on a Saturday, could take you an hour on Monday. There’s no way around it. But I also love that in a two hour drive you can be in San Miguel de Allende. It’s a 45 minute plane ride to Ixtapa. And the weather is amazing.
What motivates you? I’m a pretty motivated person in general. Even when it comes to exercise in the morning, I think, ‘Oh, if I don’t do it, I’ll feel bad,’ and I just get going. I think loving what I do motivates me. I like new challenges and with magazines everything is so different on a daily basis. My parents came from Mexico; my dad was a doctor and did his residency in the U.S.. I remember he said, ‘You have to motivate yourself, no one’s going to motivate for you.’ I always saw that he loved what he did and would get up in the morning and was excited. It was a pleasure for him. It’s nice when your job doesn’t turn into a chore. That’s motivating.
Now my daughters motivate me. Especially the importance of women working, and showing them that there’s a work/life balance. You have to show them that you need to work to get nice things and to have that sense of that responsibility. I think it’s important.
One of your attributes that helps you succeed: I think what helped me the most is that I’m pretty diplomatic. And I don’t let things get to me. It’s not like a banking job where you’re working from 7:00 to midnight, but it is a hard job.
I always felt so lucky to have found such an awesome job, especially when there were so many girls waiting at the front door to have my job. It was that sense of I’m going to do the best job, and I’m going to do it with a great attitude. I never thought anything was beneath me. I think that that helped me a lot. I always did it with a smile, even though I wanted to cry sometimes. I gave it a positive spin.
Advice would you give somebody starting out in your field: I think everything is changing. But I still believe in hard work and the whole process of learning. Whether it’s at a magazine or somewhere else, start at the bottom and see how everything gets done. It’s important to be humble and learn from others. And have a good attitude and be ready. Today people create these “personalities” of themselves, but you don’t have to be the next 10 million viewed blogger, overnight. Most people say they want to work in fashion because they love wearing nice clothes. It’s not at all about that.
Life goals: I’m constantly aiming for new goals. Now I think about finding that work/life balance and raising nice girls. My husband and I talk about it all the time; we want to raise smart young ladies who will be responsible citizens and human beings. I think that’s not easy. Then, just growing in my career and growing into my position because I’ve been at the magazine for six months. There are always new things to learn. I think you never stop learning about yourself and about work in general.
Daily goals: Exercising and spending time with my girls. And I think every day is just getting through the different challenges. At a magazine, there can be so many things. Another goal I have right now is to finish decorating my house. We moved recently and we have random food stands holding up our TV. So that’s definitely a life goal and an immediate goal. And talking to my husband, I feel like so many times when he comes home we’re both so tired, we’re like, ‘Okay, we’ll just watch some Netflix and go to sleep.
Three words that describe you: Joyful, forward-thinking, decisive.
Three words that describe your work: Dynamic, ever-changing, and challenging. For many reasons, good and bad, there are challenges on a daily basis. It’s always a challenge, just to be better and be more competitive.
Favorite book/motivational read: I love women in history. I read Lee Miller’s biography. I read Madeleine Albright’s biography. Right now, I’m reading a book in Spanish on Sisi of Austria, Marie Antoinette, and these different queens. I’ve always been inspired by powerful women.
Role models: My aunt, my mom’s sister, was one of my role models growing up. I remember she was the first example I had of charity, which is important to me, especially now that I live in a country that’s not like the U.S., that’s very middle class, and where there are a lot of disadvantaged people. My aunt, who lives in Tennessee, helps immigrants get their lives sorted. She has spent her life trying to help people, especially in this past election, she was taking people to vote. I think that’s really inspiring and important. Career wise, I worked with Virginia Smith at Vogue, who I thought was a really amazing role model. She was always so dedicated and focused on the job, but very much a mother and she keeps her personal life, very personal very private. Then, I worked for Anne Christiansen. I feel like Anne was very much the same. She had just become a mom. In New York, it’s always amazing to see women who work and who have their families and have that sense of balance.
Favorite charities: I started one with my friends a few years ago, called Project Paz, where we help communities in Texas in the border region. We started when the drug violence in Mexico became very chilling. I remember a girl from high school was killed; she was an innocent bystander and had a child. We wanted to call it “Project Paz” because we wanted to be able to give to charities that were doing different things, kind of like a United Way. In the U.S. I always give to St. Jude and Children International. In Mexico there is Keeping Kids in School based in Cancun.
Daily rituals: In the morning, I have a cup of tea, and then I have a trainer who comes to my house three times a week. I shower quickly, see if the girls are awake, play with them a little. In Mexico, we get lunch off. People take an hour, so I try to have my nanny bring the girls and we have lunch together or walk around the park by my office. And I try to always be home in time for bath, even if it means I’m putting them to bed a little later.
How do you unplug? I’m a big series person, a Netflix person. I just started watching The Crown. I unplug by furniture shopping or looking for airplane tickets. I feel like I could spend five hours online just looking at 1stdibs. It’s like a vacuum. I love running. I think that’s a great way to disconnect.
Hidden talents or hobbies: No. I always wanted to play the piano; I hope my daughters can do something like that. I love reading. I love riding horses, though it’s not that easy for me to find time to do.
Do you collect anything: Magazines. I don’t throw any away.
Biggest splurge you don’t regret: Louis Vuitton jeans. Everybody says, ‘I don’t want to spend that kind of money on jeans,’ but it’s what you wear the most.
Coffee/tea: Coffee. Actually, it depends. Usually, I have black coffee with half and half, which I love. But before I work out I like breakfast tea with almond milk—I know, it’s weird.
Heels/flats: Kitten heels.
Manet or Mondrian: Manet.
Follow Kara: Instagram,
Photo by Ana Hop.