INTERVIEW: InStyle's Leah Karp & Nine West's Erika Szychowski on the 9W♥InStyle Collection

Saturday, March 29, 2014

I'm so excited to share this interview with all of you! Last Thursday I arrived a few hours early, before the official 9W♥InStyle launch party, to interview InStyle Magazine's Accessories Editor, Leah Karp & Nine West's VP of Marketing Erika Szychowski on the collection.  Erika, Leah and I posted up in front of the collection display at Nine West, Houston Galleria Mall to chat about the line, the collaboration, & their careers.

InStyle Magazine's Accessories Editor Leah Karp (R) and Nine West's VP of Marketing Erika Szychowski (L)
Shalanda Turner (ST): I see a lot of amazing things on this wall! Please do tell my readers and I the inspiration for this collection?

Leah Karp (LK): Basically, we were looking to create this season's must haves. Every women's wardrobe needs the perfect clutch that can go from day to night. The cuff that serves the purpose of the stacked arm look in one piece. For the shoes, we have one for the weekend, work, evenings out, and everyday.  They go with jeans, cut-offs, midi skirts, or a mini dress. We wanted to give the women her complete wardrobe in this capsule collection.

Erika Szychowski (ES): I think it's [the collection] the core basic that you need to go from day to night, from work to weekend, just like Leah said. It has all the elements you need to style for the season.

ST: How would you say this collection evolved or changed from the first collection?

LK: We learned a lot. When we started working on the last collection, we were under the gun to get it done and produced in time for our September issue of InStyle.  We sold full price at 90% of that collection, which is incredible. In continuing the collaboration we looked at what styles did really well like the Gamin pump. We brought it back this season reinterpreted in new colors & new fabrications and the snakeskin version has already sold out online. It's still available in stores. I then looked through the market and looked for the voids and tried to fill that void with on-trend styles like the asymmetrical strap on the Aila, & the wedge that easily goes from day to night. The flat sandal was produced with a metal piece that was inspired by a piece of jewelry that I saw in Paris. The collection has a bit of the runway and a bit of reality and makes it wearable and accessible to the real women. 

ST: I love that! We all love what we see on the runway but there's lots of stuff that I can't afford or wear to work!

LK: Exactly!

ST: Personally, I'm a big fan of Izzy, you're ankle strap shoe! I fell in love with it just looking at the flyer for this event! It's so cute and the grey shade is so perfect for Spring to go with the trend of neutrals and pastels, and I'll definitely be leaving with that one tonight! 

LK: Good! We're happy to hear it. It has been a really neutral season. The key with these [the items in the collection] is that they're styles that aren't going to go out of fashion and that's why they're worth investing in. They're also things that go with items already in your wardrobe. It's not like you're buying something just to have it for one event.  These are things that will last you for years to come. 

ST: I agree! I've always been a Nine West shopper. I'm wearing my Nine West cut-out booties from a few seasons ago! I love the price points on this collection and so will my readers. It's great that you collaborated with such an affordable and fashion-forward shoe store like Nine West, and not to sound like I'm sucking up or anything, but InStyle actually is my favorite magazine. It's the only one that I subscribe too. You and all the editors put stuff in the magazine that real people can afford. We all can't afford Gucci unless we want to go into debt.

LK: It's so important to us to have a variety of price points.  It's incredibly important at every run through that we have things for people who are looking to splurge and those who are looking to save. The idea of collaborating with Nine West was a natural choice. I've been in Accessories for almost 15 years and we've used them a million times. It just made sense for our magazine to do it this way.

ST: Who actually initiated this collaboration? InStyle or Nine West?

ES: It was actually a match made in heaven over a dinner in Paris between the Nine West CEO and the Editor of InStyle magazine, Ariel Foxman.  They were sitting down having a conversation about 'How can you bring the InStyle brand into a more 3-dimensional world?'. That surely  goes beyond the pages of the magazine, so over dinner they were making phone calls and telling us to get to work.

ST: Very nice! Ha, get started! 

ES: Exactly.

ST: Leah, I know you said you were inspired for the metal on Viva by jewelry you saw in Paris. When it comes to all of these designs are you heavily involved in them? Is there a team of designers? 

LK: I worked directly with the designers at Nine West and it was a collaborative process. They were very open to my ideas. I started at the beginning of the season with a book of tears; vintage photographs, things I saw in the market, things I saw on the runway. It [the book] put the collection into an understandable, real-life version that's fashion forward, but still wearable, affordable, & accessible to the Nine West & InStyle customer.

ST:  I read that Nine West is expanding where the collection will be available? Last year it was only available in a few stores. What's the reasoning behind the expanded offering?

ES: Well, last year was a capsule collection and we wanted to ensure it resonated with both their readers and our consumers.  It was very important to us that we made sure it was a good match and that we had the time to really understand what our consumer wanted. We wanted to get out of just being a northeastern concept that's in New York City and just what we know, and live and breathe and become something that actually works globally.  By learning slowly and being in our key top locations, our flagship stores and present within their space, we learned what the consumer wanted and what she had to say about the brand. Bringing the brand back [this season], because we do call it a brand, it was very important to us that it not only went nationwide but went global this time.  We're in all of the overlapping markets where there's [InStyle] publication as well as retail for Nine West.

ST: Congratulations! Also, last time the collection was just shoes and this time you've added accessories. The addition of the clutch and the cuff. Was that a result of how well the collection did last season? 

ES: It was and if you want to do an accessories collaboration and you want to work with the best Accessories Editor in the industry, you better be an accessories brand and not just a footwear brand. It was very important to all of us to make sure that we started to layer in more.

LK: I carried this clutch with me through Europe to the shows there and people asked me everywhere at dinner, at runway shows who's bag it was and I was so proud to say that it was our collaboration.

ST: I bet! I'm an Engineer during the day, so I'm all about efficiency and the best use of things and this clutch is everything.  The fact that I can slip my hand into it to hold it!? That's probably my favorite part because I have other clutches that are so annoying when I have to hold them in my hand. 

LK: Right! It [the clutch] will stay on your arm and it really is the exact size that you need. You can fit your wallet, your phone, your keys, your makeup for later. The colors, black, white & blue also make it so easy to go from day to night.

ST: Yes those colors go with everything! I might be leaving with this too! While we've been talking I've been compiling a mental shopping list in my head!

LK: Haha, It's shopping time

ES: Well if you want white you better do it now because there's only one left!

ST: I'm on it! Just one more question. It's actually on both of your careers. Erika, I read that you were first here in Houston and Leah, being that InStyle is my favorite magazine and talking to any editor from InStyle is exciting I'd like to know how both of you got to where you are today in your individual positions

LK: Ha! That is a long story!

ES:  Ha! That's complicated!

ST: Ok, the short version! 

LK: I will tell you I majored in Economics and Art History. I had absolutely no idea that I would end up here. I thought I'd work on Wall Street and then I ended up with an internship which turned into a job as an assistant at a magazine and then I continued my career that way. I never left the path once I got into Fashion.

ST: Wow, jealous!

ES: And for me, it's the quintessential moment of 'It's all who you know'. I started in Sports & Entertainment. I worked in retail. I worked on Wall Street for a decade. 15 years later, a group of executives I worked with in retail brought me back into retail branding and now I've been in footwear for almost 5 years.  I've done a little bit of everything. It's all who you know. I've never applied for a job and I've never looked for a job, it's all who you know.

ST: That's awesome, I'm hoping to have some of that luck and connection help later on. I'm still doing my Engineering grind. I just came from work and had to take vacation hours to do this interview on the fashion side! 

LK: Well if you love it, you can always make a change, no matter what, you can always make a change in your life

ST: I'm hoping! Well thank you ladies! I appreciate you letting me come in early and taking up some of your time to chat with you! 

ES: Our pleasure!

LK: Thank you! I'm so glad I got to meet you! 


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